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.
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and until the day of my complete and utter enchantment, I didn’t think there was much in the world beyond house sparrows, pigeons, and sea gulls. Not a bad metaphor for my life at the time — which was also often drab, noisy and monotonous. But through some amazing serendipity, I stumbled upon a group of bird-watchers in Prospect Park. Before that fateful day, I had never been there before — and I’m still not sure why I went. But the trip leader saw me looking at their odd little group (I had never seen bird-watchers before either) and asked me if I wanted “to see something really special.”
Now, most New Yorkers (especially young female ones) quickly learn that when a stranger poses such a question, the results are rarely pleasant. But I took a chance. And this “really special thing” turned out to be a rose-breasted grosbeak — a magenta-splashed songbird that simply stunned me with its colorful, delicate presence in such a gritty place. It was like Dorothy arriving in Oz when everything turns from black and white to technicolor. A spell was cast. I would never see the world the same way again.
A yes — another resolution! I really really really want to post more often so I hit upon the idea of just telling the story of a painting and I’ll try to do it once a week! So here goes:
Every summer I try really hard to find a way to spend a week on the ocean — I grew up going to the beach almost every day and I just need that fix to feel sane and right. (A week isn’t really enough but so far no one has offered me free use of their beach home so that’s what we can swing.)
We almost always go to Maine which is one of the most beautiful places in the world as far as I can tell so far! And even though the landscapes are incredibly picturesque, I never paint while I’m there. I mostly veg out and drink gin and tonics and bird-watch. This is why I need a place with a deck over-looking the ocean of course!
Wishing you much warmth and light at this darkest time of year…
At this darkest time of the year, I want to thank you for all the light you’ve shone upon me
Thank you for all your enthusiasm for my work, your on-going interest and support,
and especially to everyone who purchased a painting — wow — you’ve made this my best year ever!
I hope the coming season brings you and your loved ones much lasting joy and tons of wild beauty.
Back in grad school, I took an internship solely because I would get to work with a great-horned owl every day. His name was Beckett, and he had been the star of the small nature center for many years. He was blind in one eye, and very imposing, but he captured my heart and mind. Beckett was the first wild animal I had ever locked eye(s) with, and it affected me profoundly. After the internship over, I decided environmental education wasn’t really my thing, but owls? Owls would always be my thing.
Since becoming an artist, I’ve painted many portraits of these nocturnal predators, most of them with Beckett and his successor, Powell the (Barred) Owl, in mind. There’s something so moving about knowing a wild creature — about being allowed to enter, even briefly, into their world. Anyone who has bonded with a cat or dog knows what I mean — animals just operate on a different, perhaps more authentic, plane than humans. And wild birds and mammals — well, that’s a further galaxy altogether. Yet I feel so comfortable and at home around these creatures in way that I don’t always with my own species.
Most of the owls I base my paintings on are from my local wildlife rehabilitation center. These barred, barn, snowy, screech, and great-horned owls end up in there because they have been injured — typically by encounters with cars and other human structures. And while some are rescued, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild, many are not. Their injuries mean they wouldn’t survive and so they become caged ambassadors for their kind. While its regrettable, they also get to educate hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors about the owls that live around them.
So this show is part of my on-going tribute to these owls. I set some of them in flight because they seem truer that way. And others are portraits so my viewers may get a tiny glimpse of what’s it’s like to lock eyes with these fierce, feathered, and fabulous beings.
As I was working on the show, I discovered that a gathering of owls is called a “parliament.” The titles for the smaller paintings come from my imagining what kind of governing body owls might set up for themselves!
I called this show my “White Album” because it features all-white animals that I have encountered on my travels over recent years to places like the Camargue Region in the south of France; Cape May, New Jersey; and most recently, the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill Manitoba. And a few closer to home too!
It was sort of an experiment to see if I could push all-white subjects to be colorful and still read as white. When I was contemplating the challenge, the name “White Album” came to mind. The Beatles were probably the first artists I had ever known. My older brothers and cousins handed down their records to me that I absorbed through endless listening sessions. I remember my first encounter with their iconic double album that came to be known as the “White Album.” It was so different, so sleek, so strange. And the music was a real departure as well!
If you remember that album, it had four glossy 8 x 10″ photographs inside of John, Paul, George & Ringo. As a gift to my oldest cousin Michael, (whom I idolized and who was the coolest person I knew,) I copied each one of those photos in pencil. He ended up framing them. My first collector! That was one of my earliest steps along this long and winding path to me becoming an artist.
So here I am, all these years later — still doing portraits, but as this exhibit will show, instead of rock stars I now paint the coolest animals I know!
So in homage to cousin Michael and John, Paul, George & Ringo, all of the titles of my paintings in this show will be from titles and lyrics of that iconic Beatles album. I hope they bring you joy and perhaps, a song in your heart!
About my style:
Artists often use the classic “portrait” style to show what a particular person looks like and perhaps, to offer a glimpse of their subject’s personality. Using my own twist on this idea, I present these depictions of the wild creatures that inhabit our world. Often interpreted in popular culture as aggressive or “extreme,” my paintings offer a different perspective on wildlife. After studying birds, mammals, and other wild things for many years and spending countless hours observing them, I have come to see most animals as simply beings that are trying to make their way in the world much like we are. So these aren’t just portraits of “a” bear or “a” bobcat, but are in fact “this” bear and “this” bobcat. Indeed, I have met almost every one of the individual animals exhibited here today. And I find my wild subjects quite worthy of consideration, contemplation, and of course, appreciation.
In fact, my passion for these wild animals sometimes takes my paintings close to edge of abstraction. I love playing with the juxtaposition of the real and unreal and testing how far I can take something before it is no longer recognizable. However, I always try to anchor this whirling dance of color and texture with an easily understood and accessible feature — the eye.
Looking — using our eyes — is the beginning of how we connect with the world and each other. By focusing on this feature in my paintings, I hope to offer the viewer some insight (metaphorically speaking) to all that we share with our wild neighbors. I believe that forming these connection deeply is an essential part of what makes us human, and ultimately, humane.