Filed under: Art News
My last few paintings haven’t had a single bird or animal in them. No, it isn’t an effect of not finding Ivory-Bills. You might say it’s the abstract artist in me trying to break out. For several years, I’ve been doing paintings of the pebbles we see on northern Michigan beaches. They are the closest I seem to be able to come to doing an abstract. However, the realist in me keeps the pebbles authentic. I want to be able to tell if it is sandstone or granite.
I like paintings with stories, and these stones have their own to tell. Formed 2.5 billion years ago as part of the earth’s crust called Canada, they were carried to the south shore of Lake Superior just a couple of tens of thousands of years ago. They emerge from the glacial drift already rounded by their journey, and are further polished by the sand and surf. Granites, schists, agate, basalt, and others mix with the local sandstone bedrock.
I like the challenge of reproducing the grain, texture and colors of these complex igneous and metamorphic rocks. Unlike sedimentary rocks which seem to be composed of ground up, homogenized minerals, these stones proudly display sizable crystal grains and veins of various types and colors. Sometimes the colors are amazing.
The colors are mostly iron oxides forming reds, yellows and ochers, but you do find greens and blues from copper oxides, and the occasional purple amethyst. Whatever the origins of the colors and forms, they seem to hold an endless fascination for me. I can sit for hours on the beach sifting through piles of pebbles, making little piles of treasures I find until biting flies or an impatient wife drive me away. Doing these paintings is an extension of that same activity.
This is the first time I’ve tried some large canvases of stones (“Striped Granites”), and I really like the scale. It has the same impact on the wall as a large abstract, but it maintains my grasp on reality. I’m thinking of working towards a show of my stone paintings, but some of these may slip away to collectors…
I spent last week down in the Choctawhatchee River area, looking for Ivory-Bills with a group including members of my art group, Masterworks For Nature, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Miami University (OH). While we had a large group, we were spread out every day up and down the Choc, exploring various tributaries including Bruce Creek. Some people were heavily camouflaged and sat waiting in likely places. Others explored for IBWO sign, looking for new areas for future stake-outs. The Cincinnati Zoo’s videographer, Pat Story, made a documentary of our trip, and we plan to have an art show at the Cincinnati Zoo based on our experiences on the Choctawhatchee (dates to be announced). We experienced record cold while there, seeing ice in the swamps, shivering through the teens in the mornings, and a chilly 50 degree high most days. It did make it to 70 on our last day. Sigh.
We saw no Ivory-Bills, and no definitive sign. Hanging out with this group, some of whom have spent quite a long time in the field looking for this ghost, gives me a better sense of what the common experience of Ivory-Bill hunters is like. After all, I got spoiled by seeing the bird up close and personal in the first 24 hours of my very first attempt. This trip was more like the usual effort–no evidence found. Some of the more hard-core experienced types were shaking their heads wondering if it is really worth the effort. I thought it was interesting that they gave me a nod when I was present, but then went back to their skepticism. My sighting is not proof to anyone but me. It was too clear, too in-my-face to be a mistake, but it isn’t proof. I’ll keep going back to look, but I fear I missed what will likely be the only chance I’ll have to get a clear photo of this ghost.
I believe our chances will diminish as time goes on. A major airport is being constructed nearby, and will add a lot of noise to the area when air traffic ramps up. As the airport is developed, sprawl will begin to spread towards the Choctawhatchee. As more people move into the area, more weekend warriors, ATV riders, and even bird watchers will descend on the Choc. Despite the abundance of good habitat at the moment, disturbance and habitat degradation may eventually chase the Ivory-Bills elsewhere.
The current issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest (Jan.-Feb ’10) has my article about my sighting of the Ivory-Bill back in ’08. It also has an ad for the print of my painting recreating my sighting. 20% of the purchase price will be donated to Dr. Geoff Hill’s (Auburn University) project on Bruce Creek and area. National Geographic has helped them with specialized robot cameras, which may be our best chance of catching the Ivory-Bills on “film.” If you’re interested in the print and helping out, see my website at: http://www.johnnagnew.com Check the “Prints and Books” section.