"in earth's embrace
fence stones grown mossy
how deep the years run"
I had the joy of dropping off the commission piece "Magpie Muse" to its new home with Haiku and Tanka Poet Meghan Jones this past Friday. And as I completed the piece last week, and visited with Meghan, I was able to reflect on the collaborative symbolism and concepts behind the painting and thought it would be fun to share.
This particular commission started off quite serendipitously. I happen to be picking my son up from summer art camp at the Leighton Art Centre when a woman asked for me at the counter in the gift shop. She really wanted to know more about the "artist who does the birds". And funnily enough, they steered her a few feet away to where I was standing. We met, hit it off and had a quick conversation. Meghan asked if she could follow up with a commission request. Of course I agreed and the process began...
Meghan decided to commission a magpie (not a bird everyone is fond of), because she is a member of the Magpie Haiku and Tanka Poets, and wanted something special to display at an upcoming event where they would be selling their anthology "A Pebble in My Shoe". She wanted to draw people into the table with something visual, and enjoyed the style of birds I had on display in the Leighton Art Centre gift shop. We had some initial conversations and I acquired some poetry books I could utilize in the piece (the anthology for inspiration and another book to rip and paste into the painting). It was important to Meghan that the painting really brought out the colours on a bird that most people think of as black and white, but actually has gorgeous hues of green, blue and purple when the light catches the feathers. Luckily I had the perfect reference image from the main bird photographer I utilize for my references, Dave Mussell.
I chose Meghan's favourite poems, along with some bird imagery and poetry and carefully ripped it out of the poetry book she gave me permission to do so with.
I decided to place the ripped pieces in the bark of the tree (it is subtle but you can see it if you look closely), and also a few pieces along the sides of the painting. The trick was to paint enough over the paper to look like bark, but leave enough poetry shining through that it was visible.
The magpie I created in colourful pthalo blue, pthalo green and dioxazene purple, as well as chiyogami paper and blocks of white and payne's gray. The result was so vibrant, that many people didn't even recognize the bird as a magpie at first (even in my reference image) and noted that "it's actually beautiful" (not likely magpie lovers to begin with).
The final layers of tissue and spatter were added. The tissue was chosen by Meghan as it reminded her of the neolithic symbol for life, which she felt was appropriate for what the painting meant to her. We both also liked how the strong swirls pushed the small conifer tree in the painting into the background, as though looking at it through a fog.
Overall, this inspired piece was a joy to work on. I have also been looking at magpies in a different light these days and indulging in reading more poetry. Meghan was thrilled with the result and brought it with her to sit at the table where she sold her group's books. She tells me it now sits in a special place in her home.
What bird hold the most meaning to you?