Wanted to share my latest piece with you all! My dear friend Sarah approached me last month to commission this painting of an American white ibis (Eudocimus albus). She’s from Miami, and wanted a painting of this bird that feels so emblematic of home. Have you been to Florida? There are so many beautiful stilt-legged […]
We take solace in nature by appreciating its form. The colors of leaf and sky, the plants carpeting the surface of the land, the shapes of branch and riverbed. When I paint I am trying to capture this beauty, the form of living bodies. But nature is not defined primarily by form: It is defined by relationships.
There is an old building near where I live in northeast Washington, DC, where something is terribly wrong. Or rather, it’s not that anything is wrong or evil there. Things have simply drifted out of balance.
In the heat of summer like an iron on our necks we loaded up the cars with guitars and snacks and drove West for the first time in my life. Drove nearly 1,000 miles without stopping, watched the green Pennsylvania hills smooth out like a furrowed brow into the plains of middle America, hot clear yellow air as far as the eye can see like a throbbing headache over the fields. The weather forecast said Unhealthy Air Quality and my lungs ached and eyes itched. We wore masks into a rest stop, only once in thirteen hours of driving. It is the summer of the plague in America. If we drove fast enough we knew it wouldn’t catch us, not yet, for one more day.
I have found aphids on the tomatoes and the kale, like fat microscopic green sheep, slowly sucking the leaves dry; cabbage worms on everything, eating beautiful laminated holes out of the greenery; I have found mealybugs, white and fluffy like little clouds or downy feathers; and one long-limbed brown spider, elegant and stretched out as if drawn in two strokes with a sumi-e brush, who might have been the one that bit me the other day.
When I wake up it is into what feels like another dream. That’s why. Being awake is not so different from sleeping. Today marks four weeks from the day we decided to stop leaving the house. Shortly thereafter the city caught up to our decision; all nonessential business closed, and people were ordered to shelter in place. Because nothing changed for us when this order was made, I didn’t fully comprehend it until last night: That even if we wanted to go out to a bookstore wearing masks, there are no bookstores. There are no record shops or jingling doors to walk through or bars with beers on draft. Everything is closed. DC is a ghost town now. No one leaves their homes. The entire city is dreaming, just like me.
The birds are comforting because, like I said, they truly don’t care about this. They don’t know what’s happening. It’s springtime. A week ago, I watched a gumdrop-red male cardinal feed his tan-colored girlfriend mouth to mouth like kissing, in my driveway. A week ago I watched a crow gather stripped tree bark for a nest. Seasonal migrants are crossing through my DC neighborhood on their way northwards. They will only be here for a few weeks. They aren’t mammals, the coronavirus won’t hurt them. They aren’t humans; they haven’t heard about this. Thank god.
Above you is gray infinity, below you thousands of feet of empty black nothingness. Cold water, in which gargantuans swim like untold secrets. Every now and then they break the surface with knife-like black fins, release sighing breath that echoes off the mountains and back to your ears; underneath you, they call to each other with voices like violins. But mostly, waterbird, there is nothing for you but silence.