After yesterday’s vulture post, this seems appropriate, as it’s also about death, resurrection and the cycle of life.
I did this painting about this time of year five years ago or so. I guess you could call it a plein-aire still life. Although I’m afraid landscape escapes me, I do love to paint outside, and back then I was doing a lot of it. One day I was tramping around in the woods, despairing of ever finding a composition I could handle, when I came across this little jewel lying on the forest floor.
I’m really not sure what animal donated its skull for the occasion. It didn’t seem quite like a deer skull – perhaps a sheep? Anyway, I loved the way Life was just reaffirming its hold on the old bones in the form of delicate Spring Beauty blossoms lovingly embracing them.
I like to think of my find as Nature’s brilliant reply to the old concept of Vanitas. Instead of a meditation on the transience of life and futility of pleasure, it’s a vibrant affirmation of resiliency and the triumph of life even in the aftermath of inevitable death and decay.
You might think it strange to claim the vulture as a favorite bird. But I’ve always loved to watch them in flight, gracefully riding the updrafts. Contrary to popular myth, they don’t hang around waiting for their prey to die, but feast only on ready-made carrion.
While this may seem morbid (not to mention unappetizing), think about it for a moment. The vulture provides a critical service by effectively disposing of remains that would otherwise pose a health risk to the population of the living.
For a bird of prey, the vulture is amazingly gentle. It has no need to be violent or predatory. In fact, you might say it lives a perfect, Zen-like existence. Not many things want to eat a vulture, yet its food is freely offered by every creature that walks the crust of the Earth.
Spiritual meaning of vultures
Many years ago I was privileged to spend three months working and living in Costa Rica. Of course I visited the museums in the capital, San Jose. While there I noticed many images of vultures. I learned that the native Central Americans believed that the vulture was responsible for carrying the souls of the departed up to heaven.
This painting was influenced by that belief, and to honor the natural cycle of life and death – each of which is truly just the other side of the other.
This one was done on impulse. I had pulled out a bunch of scraps of watercolor paper, many of which had been used to demonstrate washes, etc. This one was covered with a decidedly pink wash and adorned with a value scale along the right hand side. Probably I should have tossed it, but as I stared I began to imagine a bear looking back at me.
I’m told the bear is a healing totem. When I looked it up this is what I discovered it also stands for:
Strength in the face of adversity
Finding one’s way back
Focus on the practical side of life
Not surprisingly, these are all major themes in my life right now…
Do you ever get messages from animals, or feel a spiritual connection to them? I’d love to hear about it!
A couple of weekends ago we had some business in Minneapolis and decided to stay an extra day and make it an outing. So we headed to one of my favorite places – the Minnesota Zoo!
Of course I’ve always been a horse nut. Since I didn’t bring my paints on the trip, I was thankful to be able to snap a few photos of the Asian Wild Horses before my camera battery died. (I’m also thankful that nobody seems to want to call them Przewalski’s horses anymore. What a mouthful!)
I was intrigued to learn that Asian wild horses have a different number of chromosomes than domestic horses – 66 instead of 64. I wonder if that has any connection to the fact that, unlike American mustangs, they have never been domesticated and are truly wild creatures?
Their primitive appearance provides a living link to the prehistoric animals featured in the famous Lascaux cave paintings. Painting them, I hoped to capture the spirit of the animal and its timeless connection to the natural world.
Asian wild horses are one of those wildlife success stories that lend hope for the future. When I was a kid there were none left in the wild. Today there’s a thriving herd of over 300 Asian wild horses roaming free on the steppes of Eurasia.
The title I chose for this sketch, “The Return,” pays tribute to this creature’s indomitable spirit, as well as the dedication and hard work provided by zoos around the world, without which the Asian Wild Horse would have disappeared forever.
I believe every painting is a self-portrait to a certain extent. The painter leaves not only pigment but the mark of his soul on paper or canvas.
If art is anything, it is footprints left on a journey. By studying what painters and other artists leave behind, one can follow the moods and sensitivities not only of individuals, but of history itself.
Personally, spring could not have come at a more meaningful time for me. Something is breaking loose in my soul and breaking a long winter’s hold on my spirit. The creative force is beginning to flow again.
Have you ever come out of a long creative winter? What do you think caused it? What helped you along the way?