Pet Project

With a little help from your dead dog, Kathy Taylor delivers an artful postmortem

NT: Wait. What?

Taylor: While I was working on that painting, I kept coming back to this image; it just kept reappearing. I tried to not paint it, but it kept coming back. It was a warning from the dog to his former master.

NT: A warning about what? Bad investments?

She sees dead kitties: Kathy Taylor paints pets who've crossed over.
Emily Piraino
She sees dead kitties: Kathy Taylor paints pets who've crossed over.

Taylor: No. It was about the loss of a family member. The dog was warning the family about this impending death, and they ignored the message and it came true.

NT: So you receive divine intervention from dead pets.

Taylor: Yes. Animals are our divine messengers. When I'm working, I'm more in a trancelike state. That's true with most artists when they're creating. They call it "being in the Zone," and it's a higher state of consciousness. I might feel like I want to use pink, but I won't know why.

NT: So Fido is helping you select colors. But animals are colorblind!

Taylor: I know. But colors have other properties. Some specific colors have healing properties. It's scientifically proven. All of this is.

NT: Has a dead pet ever forced you to paint something you didn't want to?

Taylor: Yeah, like that one painting where the person died. But I always ask for protection before I start a piece.

NT: You mean you call your insurance agent?

Taylor: No. I mean divine protection. God. When you're in that kind of receptive state, you want to be protected.

NT: One of our cats died last month. (Pointing.) As you can see, we're using her box of ashes for a doorstop. What are some other things you could make dead pets into?

Taylor: Well, I make memorial blocks. They're wooden blocks that I drill holes into and I put the ashes in there. I can add photos of the animal or do a painting on the block. I could make a ceramic food bowl for the surviving pet, but no one has ever asked for one.

NT: I wonder if a painting of Rover or a soup tureen made from his ashes wouldn't just be a depressing reminder that he's gone.

Taylor: I think when you're ready to transform your grief, which can take a year or five years, when you're ready to re-create your pet's ashes into a celebration of your pet's life, it's a good thing. You may never get there, though. You might not want to transform your grief. Ashes are just a metaphor for life. That's what this process I do is about: transformation and rebirth.

NT: Do you think we make too much of our pets?

Taylor: No. There's a woman I know who runs a pet loss and grief program that's nationally known. Losing a pet can be just like losing a family member. Grief is grief; loss is loss. And when you're done with that, I'd like to come in and celebrate the pet's life.

NT: So, if I gave you the ashes from my dead Dalmatian, could you turn him into a copy of that awful painting of the dogs playing poker?

Taylor: No, I make it quite clear that I do symbolic images, and if you want a realistic rendition of your pet, you've got the wrong person. And remember: If you allow me to paint what comes through from your pet, you may get a personal message.

NT: Do you also paint with road kill?

Taylor: No. I feel bad when I see pets by the side of the road, but I usually am working for a family who've lost a pet.

NT: Do people think you're insane?

Taylor: Yes. Oh, yeah. But I'm used to that -- I'm an artist. Still, I get all kinds of comments from people who think it's gruesome or just awful that I do this. You know what's truly awful? People who have pets and they tie them up outside with just a bowl of water. I feel like I'm doing a service, and really special work. As long as I feel that way, that's all that matters.

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