My Artist’s Statement

May 30, 2019

Soon after I got my artist-in-residence gig last fall, I started preparing for our joint show. In just three months, I needed to pull together enough finished works to fill my part of the gallery and on top of that, I had to write up descriptions of each work, submit my CV, and provide an artist’s statement and a bio. These assignments sent me into a tizzy. Not making the art—that part was comparatively easy—it was the writing because, y’all, I hate writing about myself.

I spent who-knows-how-long researching artist’s statements and writing and rewriting. After numerous false starts, here’s what I came up with:

I am an artist and illustrator depicting birds and richly colored florals in gently surrealistic compositions. As the pace of habitat destruction and climate change accelerates, my work places the viewer in close proximity with animals most people rarely see but whose lives they often affect, albeit indirectly. Each painting is an intimate encounter with the individual, communicating both personhood and a sense of enchantment. I divide my time between my fine art practice and creating digital illustrations for pattern design. I have a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where I, not surprisingly, studied birds.

Even though it is accurate and true, my artist’s statement doesn’t really reflect what was going on in my mind and in my heart, then or now.

I am still an artist and illustrator. Although it’s funny how these roles have switched places in recent months. During my residency, I was focused on fine art and painted like crazy. Practically all of 2019 has been about illustration, mostly about me trying to get better at particular skills like perspective and drawing people. When I contemplate the pile of wood panels in the corner of my painting studio, and think about what to put on them, my thoughts are more about how to create narrative than how to create “gently surrealistic compositions” surrounded by “richly colored florals.”

My highfalutin phraseology about habitat destruction and climate change doesn’t really communicate my feelings about the animals I paint and draw either. In April, Douglas (my ornithologist husband) took me over to campus to watch the migrating Vaux’s Swifts going to bed for the night in a huge chimney. (If you’ve never seen this kind of thing, watch as thousands of swifts entertain a cheering crowd of onlookers in Portland, Oregon.) The swifts we watched a few weeks ago were only about 200 or so but as they zoomed around the evening sky, I longed to take them in my arms and tell them how grateful I was to see them and how glad I was that they were back from their long migratory journey. Honestly, I just stood there in awe and joy.

The truth is, my heart is totally on fire with love for birds and nature and creation. And when I see them doing what they do, just living their ordinary lives, I am so moved that my chest aches and I often just burst into tears. Just yesterday, watching a tiny Lesser Goldfinch eating weed seeds in the yard, I was completely enchanted. And that enchantment is what makes me want to be an illustrator: I can try to share those experiences through my art, telling a story in a way that allows someone else to share that moment, too. That’s my hope, anyway.

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