KINGDOM ANIMALIA. Where do I start with this many-threaded story?
I really do not know how to paint right now. I can paint, surely. My skills have even improved with all the practice of Better Angels. Yet I say I don’t know how to paint NOW because I spent three years using only “00” (double aught) brushes, sitting/never standing, usually looking through a magnifying lens. There was a certain necessity for consistency as I painted all those firefighters and it was in the cause of this consistency that I repainted 70 of them when I finally had them back in my possession. But sometimes the point of painting is to let the act of painting lead you. Sometimes something happens. Then you’re somewhere else and something else happens. And how you paint has changed.
So these days I’m painting with bigger brushes again (not huge, mind you, but bigger). Brushes of more shapes and sizes. Using a wider palette of color. (Did I forget to mention that for 3+ years I used only black, white and raw umber?) Sometimes standing up to paint (which uses more of the whole arm and body than sitting and creates a different engagement with the canvas).
I have begun painting ANIMALIA (which I will explain in a bit, I promise), but I am only doings oil “sketches” for now – little practice paintings to loosen me up and help me get a sense of the animal. Hopefully they will also help me get a sense of HOW I want to paint the series. For months now I have been imagining the animals emerging from deep black shadows, where only a portion of them is visible in a glancing light. Now that I’ve begun painting, I have almost as many painter’s questions about the black shadow as about the animal Indeed, those are the only two elements in the paintings. I had also planned to paint them on 16″ square boxes (18 of which I have already prepped), but now, in the act of “sketching,” I think some may want to be bigger. I am liking the possibilities of blackness so much…
KINGDOM ANIMALIA is a project I began in 1999 when I was thematically adrift as a painter. The year before I had switched over from watercolor to oils and was still very much learning the medium. My good friend, role model, mentor and terrific artist, Sarah MacKenzie (sarahmackenzie.com), suggested I give myself a homework assignment. I decided to create an animal alphabet – something I now realize thousands of artists have done before. So in 1999, living in my mountain house which is my favorite of all the places I have ever lived, I chose my 26 animals. Pre-internet connection, I did my research and gathered my photos. Way back then my plan was to make one painting and a totemic staff for each animal.
Then my father gave me all the old family photos and my paintings became about that for the next 10 years.