16x40 in | oil finger painting and brush painting on canvas
This pair of bowerbirds is in the middle of a romantic meeting. The way their portraits face each other is reminiscent of a matrimonial diptych. The boy bowerbird holds a blue marble in his beak—a shiny, colorful object he has collected to impress the girl. She is the audience and reviewer of his artistry, and she presents him with a penny as a gesture of falling in love and indulging in his art form. The pupils of their eyes are dilated in intense emotion and the background barely exists: they are focused only on each other. These small portraits are hybrids of fingerpainting and fine brushwork.
The theme and title of my May 2019 show is dedicated to bowerbirds, their Ritual in Pairing. I have been fascinated with them since watching a David Attenborough documentary that followed this uniquely artistic species of birds.
The male bowerbird’s purpose is to become the best performance artist and sculptor he can be. He spends eight years learning how to build a bower of sticks that acts as symbolic portal of love as well as a theater. In Australia, locals much be careful with their shiny trinkets or coins, as bower birds are known to steal them as well as toys, pretty garbage wrappers, and jewels to create an attractive collection around the bower. Surrounded by the carefully curated gleaming pieces, the arched bower of sticks is a mesmerizing place to sit and watch him dance. The female bowerbird is the critic of his work: if his colorful arrangement is flawless, if his dancing and singing is exquisite enough, she will fall in love with him and agree to reproduce. They will never see each other again.
My life’s purpose is to use art to bridge the emotional gap between humans and animals. Complex, ritualistic animal behaviors are often simply dismissed as instinct. I think animals are so much more like humans, I believe they have utterly complex minds and feelings. I feel such a kinship to animals I cannot eat animal products.
Young bowerbirds act as apprentices and students to older masters, spending years watching, learning, and practicing the artistic techniques of their species.
I have wanted to paint a pair of portraits like this since I lived in Florence, in 2004. There, I was struck by the marriage diptych of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. They are so formal and stately—their profiles resemble those of emperors on Roman coins and tell of the richness of their possessions. I wanted to evoke the same noble feel for the bowerbirds and their natural riches. The female bowerbird brings the dowry, the penny, evoking the ancient human ceremonies that tied materialism, reproduction, romance, and art.
The bowerbird species that have the least amount of natural color in their plumage have the most elaborate and colorful bowers. Nature is brilliant!