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It's sealed up but scores of starving chicks are poking their heads through the cracks, mouths agape. And the print on the wall by her boyfriend, the artist Mat Collishaw, which is a self-portrait wading through a river, catching fairies in a net. 'When it was finished, and Alex's girlfriend saw it, she said she didn't want it in their bedroom.' Alex's girlfriend, for the record, is Charlotte Casiraghi, Princess Grace of Monaco's granddaughter. A blood-red tattoo on her wrist, acquired when she was 19, reads 'for sake' – for Sophie, for Arden, for Kate, for Emily (Kate is her mother, Arden her father, Sophie and Emily her sisters).First exhibited at the group show (2009) is only a still life, but somehow it's deafening; sucking all the energy from the room. And then there's the coffin, which neither of us has mentioned yet. School was a girls' grammar, and then a comprehensive in Oxford, which meant a daily two-hour round trip on the school bus.She has been reworking one to order for the artist and dealer Alex Dellal, who wanted it the same, only smaller. 'I spent most of my teens totally knackered.' Squeamishness, in her family, was not an option: she remembers 'hanging out of the car window' while she and her mother drove the stinking corpses of goats up to the abattoir to be turned into dog food. Together with an assistant, Kim Wagner (whose sense of humour is 'even sicker' than her own, she says), Polly spends her days slicing open little creatures, removing the entrails, the brains and the eyes, then painting, preserving and wiring the skin.It's what she loves doing and besides, a corpse 'has to be fresh or you can't work with it.A magpie perches ominously on top of the receiver of an old Bakelite phone. A love bird puffs up in front of a tiny mirror, while standing on a rug of white mouse skin.
Only one thing is amiss: there's a lifesize coffin between us. Things I never thought about much before' – and she 'attacked' the angst of it all by having a party at The Club at The Ivy for 'about 100'. And then you notice out of the corner of your eye the posy she has fashioned out of dead bird heads, stuck on stems. Early memories include being dragged out in the middle of the night in her nightie, to help herd escaped goats off the road, and the sound of her mother screaming when she found 19 decapitated chicken heads in the garden the morning after a fox raid. How could you get poignancy out of a ball of fluff with eyes?
A big dark-stained box on stilts, right beside her coffee table. ' She is popular among her fellow artists – you can see it from the 30th birthday presents hanging on the wall: a life study from Peter Blake; a double self-portrait, with affixed pubic hair, from Tim Noble and Sue Webster; a vile monster sketched by Dinos Chapman with 'Happy Birthday Polly' spewing from its mouth. And the blackboard she has chalked up with a record of what's in her freezer (one turkey vulture, one chiffchaff, three small stoats). Polly bred hamsters, which lived in the bath, or 'huge runs that my dad would knock up for them'. ' She is the youngest of three sisters in a close family.
Slightly sick yet eminently covetable, it has been bought by Kate Moss and Courtney Love, and promoted by Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and Damien Hirst, whose gallery Other Criteria is selling her latest series of work, , in which a balloon seems poised to carry off a bedraggled pheasant chick.
Gothic yet strangely compassionate – such little bodies, so tenderly preserved – her work resonates with questions: who is this artist, and what dark secrets drive her?
When I arrive at her work-live studio space in Bethnal Green (just over the road from a tombstone carver's), Polly Morgan welcomes me in, as pale and fair as a Madonna. But I think the fact is – this sounds pretentious, I know – that I was just an artist, though I didn't know it. They dwell on frightening subjects and that's what people want from them, isn't it?
Her voice is soft and kind, and she goes to the trouble of heating up some milk in a saucepan for my coffee. I didn't come from an artistic family and I didn't know any artists so it took me a while to work out that was what I wanted to do. ' Polly grew up in the Cotswolds, the granddaughter of a Church of England vicar (formerly of St Margaret Lothbury, in the City) and the daughter of an impoverished gentleman farmer who bred goats, llamas and ostriches.