It’s possible no more than 15 mature bull elephants are alive today in all of Africa. In Kenya they’re called “tuskers.” Their tusks, which continue to grow as long as they live, nearly scrape the ground. When my grandmother was born, five million elephants roamed Africa. Less than one-tenth that number remains, and they are being decimated. The sixth great extinction is underway. 40% of all species on Earth are seriously threatened. This time it’s our fault.
I paint portraits of endangered species because I am concerned about their survival. My intent is to bring to life another being that is present and self-possessed. I want the viewer to recognize an equal Being looking back.
In 2015, I began to meet all the animals I paint. To find them, I travel to zoos. Where possible, I spend days visiting and revisiting the same animals, sitting with them, watching, taking pictures, speaking with their keepers. Most of them regard me in return. Back in the studio, my sense of the animal is present as I work. These are distinct and specific beings, not generic representatives of their kind. Each looks the viewer in the eye and claims their right to be. My responsibilities as their advocate seem to grow with each painting.
The painterliness of the surface is of great interest to me. As a self-taught artist, my most important tools have always been experimentation and observation. I want to pull together the spiritual and the earthly in my work, to get to the essence of my subjects. I am not a photo-realist. My interests lie more in fur-ness than fur and I experiment continually to achieve the textural details of their hide or skin or fur or feather without specifically painting it, depending on translucent layers, textures, and cheap frayed brushes.
Some of this complexity is rendered invisible in representation, making the paintings seem more photographic than they actually are. Surface texture and subtle variations of color disappear before the camera. In reality, all my blacks are all built from colors that appear and melt away in changing light and movement. Details in the shadows come and go.
10% of the sales of my endangered species paintings and prints is donated to animal conservation in the field.