Friday, May 31, 2013

Passenger P's.

I took some reference photos today - subject in question...passenger pigeon.  As I snapped the camera I couldn't help but think of other passenger p pics I've taken.  I've come in contact with 3 specimens so far.  How many more will I meet in my lifetime?  I hope lots.  Like super lots.  Like passenger-pigeon-national-tour lots.


  • At one point in time there were 3-5 billion (yeah...freakin' BILLION) passenger pigeons in North America.
  • We hunted them to extinction.  
  • The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in captivity in 1914.
  • Passenger pigeons are awesome.
  • Humans can be careless assholes.

 International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ (2010)

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA (2012)

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, F-town, TX (2013)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Last month I went to Dinosaur Valley State Park and I saw this...

dinosaur footprint

It was hot and there were about a million people crowding around the dinosaur foot print taking pictures and behaving like typical Americans.  We collectively mumbled under our breathe, "This is it?" in regards to the footprint.  

What a bunch of assholes we were.  Yeah...this is it - it's a fucking dinosaur footprint for the love of god, we should have been beside ourselves with wonder!  But we weren't. Even as I lived that moment I felt gross.

And I saw this...

 dinosaur figurines

On the way out of the park I wanted to stop at the gift shop because it was so obnoxious. Sun-faded dinosaurs were posted on top of the shop and sprinkled throughout the parking lot.  There were even dinosaur trashcans.  It wasn't okay to me to shovel garbage into a smiling dinosaur face.  

What was wrong with me?  This was supposed to be a cheerful outing and I was acting like a senile fun-nazi.  It all seemed so cheap.  So I started this painting.

 Dinosaur Valley State Park (in-progress), 
oil on wood, 32"x48", 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

One of my favorite Brautigan poems.

(catfish scribble in workbook)

Your Catfish Friend
by Richard Brautigan

                                                    If I were to live my life
                                                    in catfish forms
                                                    in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
                                                    at the bottom of a pond
                                                    and you were to come by
                                                         one evening
                                                    when the moon was shining
                                                    down into my dark home
                                                    and stand there at the edge
                                                          of my affection
                                                    and think, "It's beautiful
                                                    here by this pond.  I wish
                                                         somebody loved me,"
                                                     I'd love you and be your catfish
                                                     friend and drive such lonely
                                                     thoughts from your mind
                                                     and suddenly you would be
                                                          at peace,
                                                     and ask yourself, "I wonder
                                                     if there are any catfish
                                                     in this pond?  It seems like 
                                                     a perfect place for them."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Path of Phillip

 Phillip 1877, pastel on butcherpaper, 8"x10", 2013

Phillip 2013, oil on vintage wallpaper, 8"x10", 2013

I first saw Phillip nestled in a drawer with others like him.  His rounded belly and toucan beak fit together like two perfect building blocks and his eyes looked like the head of a screw turned to off.

I was photographing animal specimens from Fort Worth Museum of Science and History's collection to gather reference material for drawings and paintings.  It was the moment when I met Phillip that my project shifted, then narrowed and focused.  I wanted to know of the journey that led him to that drawer.

How many hands had he passed through?  What changes had taken place in the world as he traveled from one museum collection to another?  What exactly did his existence mean since having become an object?  He was now a commodity that could be gifted, traded, or sold.

This may not be Phillip's true history, but it is my story of Phillip constructed from the information on the small three handwritten tags that bind his feet.

Phillip is a Collared Aracari (ahr-uh-sahr-ree) which is the smallest species of toucan and native to Central America and Southern Mexico.  He was collected in Panama by Adolphe Boucard in 1877.  That's right folks, Phillip is 136 years old.

Boucard (1839-1905) was a French ornithologist/specimen tradesman, which in today's society would make for an interestingly conflictive vocational combination.  Selling scientific bird skins to natural history museums to build collections and promote public education while at the same time supplying the plume trade which facilitated the demise of many bird species...hmmm...that's pretty jacked up.

According to his oldest tag, Phillip belonged to Museum Boucard for roughly 23 years. I'm not sure if I'm translating this correctly to mean Boucard's personal avian collection perhaps in Paris or not.  Unfortunately no Facebook posts for Boucard could be found and he had yet to register for a Twitter account.

Around 1900 Boucard sold off most of his collection and Phillip was moved to the U.S. National Museum in Washington, D.C. (a.k.a. Smithsonian) where he resided for about 67 years.  At least a portion of his time was spent in the school collection.  It is my hope that Phillip was surrounded by some hot co-ed Aracaris.

He migrated to Westport, Connecticut in the spring of 1967 to Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum, renamed Earthplace, where he did a short stint of less than a year.

Then in the fall of 1967 it was on to his current home, Fort Worth Children's Museum now Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

It was on May 6, 2013 that our paths crossed.  I took him out of his drawer and ever so delicately set him on a nearby table.  I looked at him from every angle and dreamed of his life.  How many people like me had come across Phillip thinking they had discovered him for the very first time?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Turkey vulture skins and feet...check.

Turkey Vulture Skins (L), pastel on butcherpaper, 11"x14", 2013 
Turkey Vulture Feet (R), pastel on butcherpaper, 8"x10", 2013 

I drew the skins onsite at FWMS&H's off-view collection and the feet were drawn from a photo I took from FWMS&H's on-view exhibit.  Sure...I may have to eat cat food until next payday, but I can mark a couple of frame jobs off the list.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Don't act like you're tired of hearing about this.

This past Monday was a beautiful day capped with a big warm blue sky but I spent my afternoon shielded from the stellar spring day inside a warehouse photographing dead animals.  Animal.  Specimen.  Collections.  I know, I was over 2 years ago that I first took a sketch book into one and the obsession began, but I feel like the subject is still so new and large with wings fresh and unfolding.

I'm still putting together the pieces of what these odd and beautiful spaces mean to me. It's such a special place and one I feel that is not entirely mine to share...yet.  I could only muster up the guts to post these three photos.

 northern flickers

 delicate frogs


I try not to move or manipulate the subjects, I want to capture them as I found them. They were placed in their new existence by caring hands concerned with taxonomy, not aesthetics, which makes for fascinating, narrative-invoking groupings for a novice naturalist like myself.

I visit collections to gather reference material for paintings but more importantly to gain an understanding of the space where the outdoors and the indoors meet.  Ah yes...the ghastly overwhelming topic of nature vs. man.  What better place to research the subject than inside a man-made building filled with animal carcasses?

Okay, the outdoors comes face to face with the indoors...let's do this.  At first I thought of this space as a gentle overlay of two places but the more time I spend there, I realize that it is more like a delicate intersection and delicate does not translate to peaceful.  It is an environment where conflict often begins.  Take a tree root and a city sidewalk for example - one is constantly trying to overtake the other.

So visiting and documenting specimen collections is how I explore this concept while indoors.  Got it - check.  I found the reverse when on my recent artist residency at Madrono Ranch.  What is one way to explore this concept while I'm outdoors?  The photos below did it for me.  Freakin' reflections...who knew?

So what does all of this mean?  I have no idea.  
All I know is that I'm going to keep doing it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Turtle shell.

Turtle Shell, acrylic, 2013

The journey of life provides everyone with a unique arsenal of knowledge.  There are no two people on the planet or beyond that share the exact same library of info.

This information is learned through experiences, most of which are general survival tools - fire is hot, traffic is dangerous, cats cannot be trusted, etc.  But there are a few nuggets of knowledge that are so random that you would never in a million years even think of seeking them out...but somehow, here you are, toting around bits and pieces of weird wisdom.

For example,  I now know that if you are going to paint on a turtle shell then it is best, in regards to paint application, to boil it.  The surface becomes smoother and matte, allowing for a little bite that the paint can adhere to.

But, if you want to enjoy the turtle shell for all its natural beauty (sans paint), then you should let nature have its way with it.