Putting things together.

I’m finding it difficult to assemble all the miscellaneous components I’ve written and researched together into a cohesive rough draft for my thesis. Despite having done this before – the past few days have felt much like walking through water with sodden clothing and steel toed boots. I have little to show for the effort but fatigue.

So what do the tough do? They get going! (To the studio, where they can completely ignore the whole “thesis” thing. Hey, if there isn’t work then there’s nothing to write about!)

I worked on Lily Eaters for a while, discovering that I can go over the gouache with graphite and the result is rather perfect. I don’t believe I’ll have to worry about the media looking intentional now. I should have known that the answer would be so glaringly obvious. I brought up the paint a bit and decided to photograph some of the new grouping of birds while it dried.

I carefully moved my still life to its rather ghetto-fabulous cinder-block platform so I could have my utility table back for photographs, brought in and set up lights, and started deciding on what birds to play with first. I was trying to figure out the best position for the table to catch the natural light from the window when I tripped over a light and sent it sailing into my very delicate lily still life…

The clump of plants on the right is rather beat up now, the stems snapped, the leaves are shredded and disorganized, the main stalk from the middle group was dislodged but I was able to salvage it in the end at least. The carnage. I didn’t cry though, I was proud of myself… I thought I would cry.

And then my camera battery died.

While my battery charged I stewed and decided to start a new bird painting to distance myself a bit from the things which are currently a major source of frustration. Several hours later I came up with the painting below.

Yellow-Breasted Chit

That’s right – it’s pink.

I’ve been sort of irritated by this piece of pink paper ever since I bought it (sale item) and in the mood I was in after the model and dead camera I guess I felt ornery enough to handle it. I needed to be in an “I dare you…” mood to take on this salmon-pink monstrosity. Don’t get me wrong, I love pink in my work – but as an accent – not a backdrop.

I immediately fell a little bit in love… it’s like those animals that are so ugly they’re cute – this is so garish and bold it sort of works. I’m going to add in some other birds and then tone down the paper a bit with some gestural patterning in a lighter transparent shade of the paper itself (or graphite, I haven’t decided). In the end, the biggest success was the ideas generated while creating this work.

Page from my studio journal.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with groupings of dead birds since I first saw an entire drawer full of sparrows at school – I’ve been piling up each group of birds I check out to take weird line-up shots of everyone together. It’s unnerving how images of slave ships and holocaust and plague victims are conjured up by such arrangements. This very connotation has made me reluctant to pursue this imagery beyond photographs.

As I’ve become more aware of, and more comfortable with, what my work is saying, I’ve allowed myself to entertain this path more in-depth.

I’ve been completely astounded by the recent stories from Beebe, AR, and Labarre, LA, about dead birds falling from the skies. It’s very coincidental that this sort of event occurs when I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with larger groups of birds. It’s also quite interesting that I used to live near both places and actually stopped in Beebe on the way to and from my parents house multiple times a year. Ozark, where over 100,000 of one specific species of fish have turned up dead, is also on the way to my mom’s place.

The apocalyptic nature of such events occurring on or near New Years is curious. Birds like Blackbirds are often depicted as harbingers of ill tidings or omens throughout many cultures and myths.

After the death of my friend Kathleen’s cat, Werther, I began to realize that although death features so significantly in my work – the pieces often deal with so many things other than death. At some point I don’t think some of these works really deal with death at all – or maybe I just don’t deal with this aspect.

I saw my feathered subjects in a much different light today. I started thinking about how afraid most people are of death. As a society we separate ourselves from death – we reduce death to colloquialisms and grief is private because it makes people uncomfortable. We do everything in our power to exercise control over the inevitable. We try to contain death in some way so that it doesn’t consume us sooner than it needs to.

Bird feet on ornithology specimens are almost always crossed, resembling the crossed arms of a mummy. The comparisons to deceased human beings continues. Not only are these bird feet oddly reptilian and ancient, they’re also bound with a string and tagged, like bodies in a morgue.

It dawned on me today that this binding is also a form of constraint, containment, and control. I’m reminded of a topic I once visited in my MA work – Babylonian demon bowls. Babylonian’s would inscribe the image of a demon, bound at the hands and feet, on the inside of earthen bowls. These bowls would be buried upside down at the corners of the home or near cracks that could potentially allow demons to enter the home. The binding was a form of sympathetic magic which would physically trap and contain the object of fear.

Layers… more and more layers…. I just have to put them all together.


  1. Megan-
    I think you should leave the pink piece alone.
    It’s kinda perfect how it is. I like how slick it looks compared to your other pieces.

    1. Anna, It’s odd that you should say that because the longer I live with it, the more I like it despite other intentions (but I feel almost guilty liking it!). I sometimes have issues listening to myself in such situations because the awkwardness of the composition makes me feel awkward too. Perhaps I will take your advice. 🙂

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