Elana Schwartz, Animal Style

Elana Schwartz grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After spending time in California at art school and Montana at taxidermy school, she has returned to Albuquerque: wood and carving knife in hand. She now creates large scale wood sculptures in a studio garage close to the house she grew up in. Seeing her figurative works as conduits between real and imagined worlds, Elana’s work suggests a strong undercurrent of spirituality. As she proclaims: sculpture has the capacity to make any space a spiritual space. We sat down with Elana to discuss wood working, her animal influences, and Greek mythology.

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What have you been up to lately?
Currently, I am working on three projects. I usually just focus on one, but I decided to mix things up a bit. The first one is a large scale (larger than life-size) sculpture of a woman with six tits and a goat face sitting in lotus position on a lily pad. The second one is a lamb with a woman’s face. I haven’t decided on the pedestal yet for that one. And I am also working on a sort of shrine wall piece that involves a lot of relief carving. I am excited about this piece because I have never experimented much with relief and I am really having a lot of fun with it. Also, I think going smaller scale might help me market my work to a larger crowd.

You graduated in 2012 from University of New Mexico. How has it been making work since you graduated?
I am at a turning point in my career because I am realizing how important networking and marketing is to being a successful artist. I am a bit of a hermit so it is a big transition for me to get out there in that way. I am very excited about all the projects I am working on now and it has been helpful to connect with other artists in the community.

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What’s a typical day like for you (when do you wake up, how long do you work for, do you take breaks, etc)?
I have been spending my days working at the only Jewish deli in New Mexico and go to my garage at around five till I am exhausted. When I have days off from work, I try to go to my shop right after I eat breakfast and then stay until as late as I possibly can. Sometimes I take a nap on the dog bed in my shop, but it is getting really cold now so that is getting harder to do!

Your wood sculptures are really bizarre and beautiful. I’m so curious about your process. How long do you spend on each piece?
It is really hard for me to gauge time when I am in my shop. Sometimes I spend all day in my shop and sometimes I can only be there a few hours in-between other life obligations. A few weeks ago, I arrived at my shop at seven in the morning and the next thing I knew someone came by and invited me to dinner. It turned out it was already 5pm and I didn’t even realize it. When I am in my shop, I get into a certain mode where I forget everything else, even eating and drinking. It probably isn’t that healthy! I probably spend about two to six months on each piece and that could be anywhere from thirty to five hundred hours.

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Do the characters in your sculptures correlate to people in your life, or are they more mythical, abstract beings?

My pieces are mythical beings that I come up with in sketches or in my dreams. I get inspiration from Greek and Pagan myths.

Do you have a preconceived idea of what each work is going to look like, or do you develop one as you carve?
I usually start out with a plan from a sketch but things always change and evolve as I work on them. Even if I try to stick with a plan, my piece usually dictates how it will come out. Wood is very unforgiving so if you make a mistake you have to work with it and make it seem deliberate. When I am completely done with a piece the end result always surprises me, usually in a good way.

You just went to taxidermy school in Montana. What was that like?
Taxidermy school was incredibly fun for me. I went to a school in tiny Thompson Falls, MT and it is absolutely gorgeous there. You can walk anywhere and the scenery is just epic. Once I saw a group of five bald eagles eating a dead deer. I didn’t know eagles did that but it was quite a sight to see. If I weren’t trying to be an artist, I would move to the Montana wilderness in an instant. In the program I learned so much everyday that it took me all that evening to transcribe my notes from the day into legible form. There were only four other people in my class so it was very intimate. We also only had one radio station. Everybody knew all the lyrics to Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” by the last week.

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What inspired you to go to taxidermy school?
I have always been intrigued by the art of taxidermy. It seems to me that taxidermy is just as much of an art form as any other medium. To be able to preserve a dead animal and make it look alert and alive takes a ton of detailed steps and precision. I want to be able to include taxidermy into my art and learn a new skill for my future.

Do you incorporate taxidermy into your wood pieces now or do you keep those two practices separate?
I have ideas of incorporating taxidermy into my wood pieces, but since the program I have kept them pretty separate. In the future, I would like to make furniture that involves taxidermy so people can have functional uses for their mounts.

What are the best and worst responses you have gotten so far from your sculptures?
I love it when people tell my pieces are epic or inspiring. The best feedback I can get is when somebody really critical tells me that one of my sculptures works for them. The worst feedback I have gotten is somebody saying “it’s just wood.” I greatly appreciate all critical feedback, but sometimes I have to make the decision whether or not to listen to people or change my work because of somebody else’s opinion.

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Describe your practice in 3 words.
Transporting. Sacred. Dedication.

Describe Albuquerque in 3 words.
Spiritual. Sentimental. Survival.

Describe yourself in three words.
Spontaneous. Enthusiastic. Passionate.

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What’s your WILD Wish?
I wish that one day I will make a living solely off being an artist. I also wish I had a furry octopus pet that would blob around my house and cradle my head at night.

text by: Anna Furman










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