Each animal in my portraits is a specific and equal Being returning your gaze. It’s that Beingness I want the viewer to grok, a recognition of an equal Other, of sentience. I do not paint the generic. These animals have posed for their portraits. I love them all.
Since 2015, I have met all my endangered subjects on extended zoo visits where I spent hours with these animals over days, shooting images for reference, but often just sitting with them, watching. Keepers share quirks and stories with me about their wards. Back in my studio, all this research finds its way into my portraits, both practically and magically, as I bring that emotional memory to the canvas. I have met my subjects; we have regarded one another. I carry a sense of their presence. We have looked eye-to-eye.
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 textural details without specifically painting them, depending on translucent layers and cheap frayed brushes.
Some of this complexity is rendered invisible in representation, making the paintings seem more photographic than they actually are. In reality, all my blacks are built from colors that appear and disappear in changing light and movement.
It’s possible no more than 15 mature bull elephants are alive today in all of Africa. They’re called “tuskers” because 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.