I began the Hug Series – Hug
Dog, Buffalo Hug, Bear Hug, etc. – during a heartbreak.
The emotional upheaval unleashed powerful energy. Animal
spirits and angels flew into the wound in the center of
my world. The paintings were a kind of sanctuary where
my psyche was restructured by its own creations. Darkness
in my heart like crushed birds became incandescent light.
As paint flowed off my brushes I remembered the magical transformations
I collected in my research of trauma survivors. As orange
swirled into fur, a dog with a soft muzzle appeared on my
canvas to comfort all the hurt. I imagined his keen nose
sniffing the roots of trees and listening for prayers. In
this dreamscape, the animal helpers and winged messengers
embraced anyone sad and alone. A lion lent them agility.
A bear tenderly entwined around a woman gave her strength.
Sunrises appeared in most of the paintings but the sun was
more than a sun because I imagined holding a yellow torch
just off the horizon, lighting the way of anyone lost, turning
what was broken into light. My paintings will outlive me,
so when I paint lions, cows and dogs I get my spirit into
the socket of their eyes, my memories into their pelt to
provide a flame bright enough for me to continue in darkness.
In Africa I visited game parks where zebras, wildebeests,
gazelles, lions migrate with the seasons. Animals are alive
in all their senses – noses sniff, ears rotate, eyes
search – because is one messy moment they become part
of each other. The grandeur of nature is backed by this dark
side. It’s a rough world out there, but we are all
In Lions Drinking their green-gold eyes are deep-throated
as grass on the antelope’s tongue. A kind of holiness
washes the pride when the cubs come out to drink in the pale
light of early morning. By belonging to each other, they
create shelters against hunger and death. Most of my images
of animals emerge from a womb of darkness.
In Elephant Kiss I celebrate their happy pleasure of connecting.
Flamingo Ride and Parrot Journey grew out of my work with
Ann Drake, a professor in my doctoral program who apprenticed
with a healer in Borneo who initiated her into the shamanic
To the rhythmic vibrations of her drum, we journeyed into
inner worlds, called the dreambody, or energy body which
knows our purpose and place in the universe. Our journeys
were usually on the backs of eagles, bears, antelopes. With
the help of power animals, we removed unwanted energies which
hindered the work of our soul.
I began painting because eight years of graduate school – wordy
cerebral analysis - cut me off from my inner world. Much
of me had little to do with diagnostic labels. Ideas set
up closure and boundaries and blocked communication with
my unconscious. My essential self seemed connected to nature
Painting uses the same energy as prayer and meditation. In
my best paintings, the images evolve without interference
from my conscious mind. I listen and see with my body in
a different way. As images flow from my hand, I am connected
to some deeper self and something larger than myself. I cease
to be conscious of myself as the one making the painting.
I paint to find out what my heart knows.
Eye to Eye – Encounters with Wildlife
Photo exhibit at Shetland Park, Oct. 2013
Our vehicle followed a leopard as he hunted. A spotted ghost, he vaporized into treetops for a lookout. After targeting some impala, he descended into bushes, his spots mingling with the tangled limbs. His cushioned feet moved silently and delicately as a dancers. Only an ambush would catch the swift-footed impala.
Up ahead the impalas’ heads bent in feeding. The leopard was out of the brush, slithering through grass, on his belly. Head low, green blades brushed his whiskers and blinked his eyes as he crawled. Shoulders like pistons rippled his taut skin.
I held my breath, every cell on high alert. The wind carried the musty decay of the long dead but did it carry the scent of the leopard, closer to erupting into fangs and claws.
But he wasn’t invisible to the baboons who let out an alarm. Impalas heads jerked up, eyes widened, ears cupped, they barked a warning.
Knowing the gig was up, the leopard marched into the open. His feet, no longer dainty, stamped up dust into the frenzy of squirrel, monkey and birds calls. The impala eyes, ears and calls followed him as well as our Land Rover, a huge metal body, with rubber feet and many moving heads, arms, and cameras.
We stayed back a respectful distance as he climbed an acacia tree and stretched out on a branch until the panic calls stopped. Then he leaped down and sauntered over to us, smelling our tires. Rubbing against the vehicle he slithered over to me at the side of the truck.
He peered up and leaned forward as if the say, “I couldn’t help but notice that you are stalking me.”
We held each other by our gaze. I felt his poised alertness in my muscles as our stare locked. Tiny hairs on the back of my neck lifted as I drank in the flecks of yellow in his green eyes.
I took in the air he exhaled. I was dazzled by the chords he struck in me. An ancient part of us knows his wildness. We are both made of blood and bone and trying the preserve the one life we have.
My trips to Africa started with my love for baby animals. Painting them led to a safari to get reference photos for more art. I craved being in the brush seeing creatures I’d been painting for decades, so I took up photography. Here are a few of my other encounters with beings with whom we share the earth.