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. This time it’s our fault.
I paint portraits of endangered species because I want the viewer to recognize the equal Being looking back. I am an advocate for their value and survival. My intent is to bring to life another Being that is present, self-possessed and meeting the viewer eye-to-eye.
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, speaking with them. 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.
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, relying 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 can 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 can come and go.