Back in grad school, I took an internship solely because I would get to work with a great-horned owl every day. His name was Beckett, and he had been the star of the small nature center for many years. He was blind in one eye, and very imposing, but he captured my heart and mind. Beckett was the first wild animal I had ever locked eye(s) with, and it affected me profoundly. After the internship over, I decided environmental education wasn’t really my thing, but owls? Owls would always be my thing.
Since becoming an artist, I’ve painted many portraits of these nocturnal predators, most of them with Beckett and his successor, Powell the (Barred) Owl, in mind. There’s something so moving about knowing a wild creature — about being allowed to enter, even briefly, into their world. Anyone who has bonded with a cat or dog knows what I mean — animals just operate on a different, perhaps more authentic, plane than humans. And wild birds and mammals — well, that’s a further galaxy altogether. Yet I feel so comfortable and at home around these creatures in way that I don’t always with my own species.
Most of the owls I base my paintings on are from my local wildlife rehabilitation center. These barred, barn, snowy, screech, and great-horned owls end up in there because they have been injured — typically by encounters with cars and other human structures. And while some are rescued, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild, many are not. Their injuries mean they wouldn’t survive and so they become caged ambassadors for their kind. While its regrettable, they also get to educate hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors about the owls that live around them.
So this show is part of my on-going tribute to these owls. I set some of them in flight because they seem truer that way. And others are portraits so my viewers may get a tiny glimpse of what’s it’s like to lock eyes with these fierce, feathered, and fabulous beings.
As I was working on the show, I discovered that a gathering of owls is called a “parliament.” The titles for the smaller paintings come from my imagining what kind of governing body owls might set up for themselves!