The raven is one of those wild creatures that inspire so many emotions! Over the eons, humans have attached so many meanings to ravens: magic, mystery, and foreboding. Is it just because they are so dark in color? Or because they are scavengers and in wilder places and more ferocious times would most likely be seen hanging around near predator kills or even more gruesomely, battlefields? In that light, it’s easy to understand their association with death, I suppose. But more modern study has uncovered a surprising depth of intelligence in all corvids, but particularly ravens.
So my New Year’s resolution is to tell the story behind my paintings more often — since almost every one has one! The Winter Solstice seemed like an auspicious day to start, so here goes…This painting is inspired by a real live polar bear I met way up north in Manitoba in 2013. On a windswept tundra, I spent an afternoon observing this majestic, awe-inspiring wild animal.
I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to see him and be able to drink in his beauty, power, and mystery. I’m not ashamed to tell you I cried. It was that awesome.
AND the next day I got up early and there he was again — just on the other side of the fence that protected our lodge. I sat alone with him for almost twenty minutes — it was such a moving, powerful episode in my life. Eye to eye, face to face, heart to heart with an 800-lb wild creature — holy moley. He could have left at any moment, but he stayed. For whatever reason, he stayed. I felt blessed.
I’ve always longed to be able to communicate with animals in a meaningful way. But until that happens, I paint them over and over, trying to immortalize them in my art as one way of knowing them better.
I’ve come to realize that my paintings are like prayers: sincere offerings of thanks for the inspiration and joy these wild creatures give me; my humble invocation of their beauty and power; and perhaps, most of all, an ardent plea that they continue to exist in this world.
(If you look closely, you can see my prayers for the polar bear literally inscribed on the painting.)
It’s amazing that it’s already time for my NINTH annual open studio! How crazy is that?
It’s so much fun to invite people in and show them everything I’ve been doing. I love seeing folks that I don’t get to see that often and meet new ones too.
Yes, it’s a lot of work. But I think it’s totally worth it. And kind of necessary. Yes, I believe in what I’m doing — but I also need people’s feedback. Do they get it? Do they understand what I am trying to say? Being an artist means spending a lot of time alone with your work and yourself. My open studio is often a big reality-check.
Luckily — and this is probably because those who show up wouldn’t if they weren’t already predisposed to like my art — so far it’s always turned out great! I’ve realized over the years how much I feed on the energy of all the folks who come out. It is so so gratifying to hear that people do get what I am doing, that they often LOVE it, and many times — that they want to take it home! (After all, this is my business — I need to pay for all that paint…)
And since I consider every painting a part of me, of my soul, when someone says they love the work, I feel the love too. It’s a lovely thing to feel. Who doesn’t love being loved? We are after all still children at heart I think. I know I am!
I want to use my work to speak for the animals, to celebrate nature, and ultimately to bring more beauty into the world. I think these things are really, really necessary. This is my calling. So yeah, the positive reinforcement goes a long, long ways on those days when I forget, or get lost, or wonder if it’s worth doing.
So thank you so much for all the kindness and love. Just so you know — it makes a difference.
So I have been working feverishly on my latest show which is now hanging in the Kimball Jenkins Estate in Concord for the summer. The opening is Thursday, July 16th from 5 to 7 pm — if you are nearby, please come. I think this show has some of the best work I have ever done in it! Here’s my artist statement for the show.
Rosemary G. Conroy / Artist Statement for “Spirit Animals” Exhibit
The title of this show, “Spirit Animals” is a play on the concept of inspiration and dedication. It dawned on me recently that my artwork is a form of a prayer for the creatures that I paint: a sincere offering of thanks for the inspiration and joy they give me; a humble invocation of their beauty and wildness; and perhaps, most of all, an ardent plea that they continue to exist in this world.
This sounds vaguely religious, yet I don’t really adhere to any particular faith. This probably disappointed my parents, especially after they sent me to twelve years of Catholic school! But I am a deeply spiritual person. It’s just that my most sacred moments happen in the fields and forests and the birds, insects and mammals I find there are the most divine thing in my life.
Coincidentally (or is it?), I also spent twelve years working in the environmental field before becoming a full-time artist. It was another kind of religious upbringing: There was a strong community — I loved being part of a group of devoted people. We had dogma: ours was dedicated to making the world a better place. It felt righteous — how could it not — we were working to save the planet! And it required a kind of faith to believe that we could. But there were also dark nights of the soul. Often it seemed we were losing more ground than we were gaining (still does, I must admit.) These realizations lead to despair. The antidote? To go out and be in the natural world and get lost in it’s beauty and immersed in its wonder. (Of course.)
Now I am a monk it seems, having retreated to my studio where I devote myself to nature — but in a new way. I’m twelve years into being a professional artist and this is what my work is: A fervent prayer to anyone who might listen to consider, in every sense of the word, the wild ones.
Many of the pieces in this show are literally embedded with my incantations, my prayers, my wishes (which may sometimes look like scrawls but really are words), for these blessed creatures to survive — and thrive — alongside us.
I admit it, I have been distracted.
I consider myself not only an artist, but a naturalist as well. And for people like me, who pay attention to birds and plants and bugs and seasons, this has to be the best two weeks of the year. Here in New Hampshire where I live, it’s that sweet spot when songbirds are arriving and the trees are flowering but not totally leafed out and there are wildflowers and frogs and new things popping up every minute! AND the black flies aren’t quite biting yet.
This morning, just sitting in my house I could hear three new spring warblers announcing that they were back — which fills me with intense joy. They are like old friends who you haven’t seen in a long time and didn’t realize how much you missed until they are right in front of you.
Nature is my touchstone when life brings you bad news or things aren’t going well in the studio or you have just those everyday moments of doubt. There’s such comfort in the reliability of each season coming and going. A tom turkey gobbling in the lower field reminds me that life goes on and this too shall pass. And that green of new leaves and fresh grass — so new, so full of life and promise — refreshes my soul once again.
My cup runneth over with spring.
Continuing on with why I am so obsessed with animals and capturing their spirit in my work — I started to think about the steady diet of nature films that I was fed as a child. “Born Free” occupies a big space in my mind, although I was just three-years old when it came out in 1966 and this was, of course, the pre-DVD era. I doubt my parents took me to see it in when it first came out but it was also turned into a TV series. According to Wikipedia, “In 1974, a thirteen-episode American television series was broadcast by NBC, entitled Born Free, starring Diana Muldaur and Gary Collins as Joy and George Adamson.”
It just keeps snowing and when it isn’t snowing, it’s wicked cold. And the sun only shows up for a day at a time and then it’s gray again. Sigh. I am trying to stay focused on painting (polar bears seem appropriate) and while I promised I would blog every week, I got nothing.
OK here’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I really like that sums up really well why I paint.
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
I was thinking about the “why” of what I do — painting animals over and over — and I suddenly had this memory pop into my head.
I was about 19 years old and sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend of the time. I had just found out that my dog “Happy” had died that day.
The memory I flashed back on was of me sitting in that restaurant and BAWLING my eyes out over the demise of Happy. And I didn’t just cry — I sobbed hysterically, with tears pouring out of my face and I’m sure snot coming out my nose. I was completely overcome with grief. I remember being so embarrassed later by how wildly emotional I had been in public — the other diners in the restaurant must have been pretty horrified too. Yikes.
When I had that memory resurface out of the blue yesterday I also had the thought — “Wow Happy’s death marked the end of my childhood, really.”
You see, Happy was more than just a pet. My two other siblings were four and eight years older than me and both male. I was forever trying to keep up with them or do what they did and being constantly thwarted by both being so much younger AND a girl. It constantly outraged me and probably explains my competitive nature somewhat. Plus both my brothers were terrible teases and loved to play practical jokes on me. You never knew when a cup of water might be propped up on the door you were about to open or someone was hiding behind the shower curtain ready to pop out and yell Boo! (I learned to be a keen observer thanks to them too, I suppose!)
So Happy was my refuge as only a dog can be. He was good-natured and goofy and very tolerant of being hugged and petted. We got him when I was five and I remember spending what felt like hours pouring out my little girl heart to him. Of course he TOTALLY understood me. He was in complete agreement about how unfair it was that I couldn’t be an altar boy or be in the balsa wood derby or play with my brother’s GI Joes when he was so perfect for Barbie and had a JEEP. That dog was the perfect little brother I never had.
Happy gave me the solace and sweetness of unconditional love. It’s no wonder I cried so hard when he died. Who wouldn’t mourn out loud the end of such a bond? And I suppose it’s no wonder that deep impression lingers to this day in my art.
BTW: The painting above was a warm-up I did for a commission of a my husband’s cousin’s dog who is a totally different breed. (Happy was a mutt — half poodle/half terrier of some sort.) But every time I see it, I think “That’s Happy!”
Look at those big brown eyes — he still totally gets what I am saying!
If you are seeking, seek us with joy
For we live in the kingdom of joy.
Do not give your heart to anything else
But to the love of those who are clear joy,
Do not stray into the neighborhood of despair.
For there are hopes: they are real, they exist -
Do not go in the direction of darkness -
I tell you: suns exist.
STEP ONE: UNDERPAINTING
I was really into yellow last year and so decided to start with a lovely yellow background and took some basic payne’s grey to get my basic sketch painted. Before this stage, I do a lot of computer manipulation of my images, playing with cropping, lighting, color, etc.
STEP TWO: COMPLEMENTARY UNDER-PAINTING
So I originally thought I would make the polar bear a warm yellow which explains the purple tones. (Purple is the opposite of yellow on the color wheel and by using complementary colors this way, you get a nice vibration going if you let a little of the purple under-painting show through the yellow to come.) I may have been thinking orange for the background? Not sure why I picked green other than I like they way it goes with purple. The bear looks a little surprised by this choice too.