Monday, May 28, 2012

Phil Hale's Fragmented Reflections

It is my great privilege to bring you an interview with the legendary painter Phil Hale, whose dynamic, enigmatic body of work has influenced so many of today's emerging artists, including Ashley Wood, Jeremy Geddes and João Ruas. Though he spends most of his time in his studio exploring new directions and cares little for self-promotion, he was kind enough to do an in-depth interview with me in the lead-up to the "Wild at Heart" benefit exhibition. We are thrilled to feature his painting "Study for Path Vacates" in the show, which continues through June 9th. 

"Study for Path Vacates"


Erratic Phenomena: Soon after you were born in Boston in 1963, your parents whisked you away to Kenya, where you lived until you were 7. Tell me about what brought your family to Kenya, and what you remember about your time there. 

Phil Hale: My family moved to Nairobi when I was four or so — my father was involved in an overhaul of the educational system there. The most significant effect was probably... that I was a bit of an outsider in Africa — that's pretty obvious. And your character is developed in an isolation of sorts, not so socially determined. But it also meant I was an outsider again when I returned to the States. Our town and school in Massachusetts were fantastically homogenous. Any difference at all marked you out.

The African experience was also pretty wonderful, though you don't have much perspective at that age. My mother was an artist and kept a journal with drawings of elephants, warthogs, baboons, all the wildlife — and my parents made a point of exploring while we were there. I copied my mother's drawings, and in some ways was very competitive with her — or at least wanted recognition and approval there. And clearly my parents were unusual in that they were willing to make what was a fairly extreme and unconventional choice — they faced real difficulties there. Some part of their attitude was a family trait.


EP: What sort of books did you grow up on? Do you recall any illustrations that made an impact on you at impressionable age? 

Phil: I was a pretty compulsive reader as a child. I'm sorry to say I read a lot of Enid Blyton in Africa— I can still remember them, so they must have had a fairly powerful effect on me. But I also read some of my mother's books — I am sure she encouraged me. Carson McCullers in particular — The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Probably my first uncomfortable sense of how complicated it must be to be an adult. So: Enid Blyton and Carson McCullers.


EP: You were born into a celebrated family of creative people, including the painters Ellen Day Hale, Lilian Westcott Hale, Philip Leslie Hale and Robert Beverly Hale. Your family tree stretches back to such hallowed antecedents as Harriet Beecher Stowe, the abolitionist author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, whose famous last words before being hanged by the British for espionage were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Even your grandmother and mother were painters, so becoming an artist yourself must have seemed quite a natural thing to do. Was there a certain subliminal pressure exerted by such a raft of accomplished blueblooded ancestors, sort of a familial expectation that you would grow up to do something creative and interesting? 

Phil: That's harder to answer, because my main influence was my mother, who was not part of that lineage. But a very driven and forceful woman in any case. To choose to be an artist was known territory. I didn't have to fight to make my way, the path was already there, and it was part of our everyday life (which is to say museums, libraries, music, etc.).



EP: Your mother and grandmother were both painters, though your grandmother preferred your brother's impressionistic historical paintings to your own comic-inspired renderings of monsters and the like. Tell me a bit about the two of them. 

Phil: My grandmother preferred my brother, a year older, and very much in the eldest-child vein. A sort of precociously responsible proto-adult. I was much more self-involved, not so socially engaged, less obedient and respectful — less capable of being obedient and respectful. And we were a year apart, so I could almost compete. He was a very good and sensitive draftsman. My own drawings could probably be neatly divided into my own work (skulls, hairy pot-bellied monsters, worms) and attempts to do my brother's drawings better than he could (flowers, seascapes, spiders). And because my mother was an artist, the materials and environment was very conducive — invisibly conducive. I painted with my grandmother, as well. But not a lot of praise there.



EP: Your first love was Frank Frazetta, whose work you encountered at the age of 14, when you came across The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta. Frazetta's work was revolutionary. I remember staring at his cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Fighting Man of Mars, fascinated by the lush anatomy and sensuous lighting, but also by the way he represented women as simultaneously sexy, dignified and heroic, which seemed like something of a revelation at the time. Tell me a bit about the impact Frazetta's work made on you and how it influenced the development of your vision. 

Phil: I was in a mall, just becoming a little independent, and saw his first Fantastic Art book at a bookshop. I just couldn't believe it — too much to take in. A comic was comprehensibly simplified, but you could study the Frazettas for hours trying to internalise them. In retrospect what I really loved was the insane (insane!) vitality, and how true it felt to the Frazetta. It was how he expressed it as well, of course. But to a fourteen-year-old, that crazy vitality was just unbelievable. I still think Frazetta is stunning — you may not like it, but it's a pure message delivered in astonishingly effective and informed form. I'm still thrilled by it.


EP: In the early '80s, at the tender age of 16, you were apprenticed to the master illustrator Rick Berry, an arrangement which seems quite unusual in this day and age. For such an unformed artist, Berry's influence must have been overwhelming. How did that come about? What do you think he saw in you? 

Phil: It was pretty overwhelming — I've said this before, so it's in danger of becoming its own cliche, but I left the country to get away from his influence. It was impossible to know my own mind. My work still — often — has a conflict between my natural impulses and what I took from that. He is a very generous guy, and a great believer in collaboration and education. I think he saw some potential in me, but also that he could offer practical help and guidance. It was never set out as a long-term plan, though. It was developed through pleasure in each other's company.


EP: When you were 18, your apprenticeship to Berry ended, and the two of you began sharing a studio with a couple of other artists, while you continued to learn by association. For three years, you worked side-by-side with Berry, and then you decided that you needed to isolate yourself from him in order to extricate yourself from the dominating influence he exerted on you. Was there a catalyst that led you to that decision, something that made you realize you were unlikely to evolve further under his shadow?

Phil: There was no single event — and at that age (and I was pretty naive in many ways), you're not always aware of what choices you're making or why. But I had grown up, and our old relationship was no longer such a good fit. And I could have evolved side-by-side with him as well — that was not impossible. After I moved to England, my art reverted a little to some of the themes and even approaches that I had been set on before he and I met, which is to say more work from photographs and a struggle to find a way to make the painting and the photography work together. This was never a significant part of Rick's practice. I was less comfortable generating images internally — I wanted some part of the actual world to shape the work against. It took me a long, long time to find out how that might work.


EP: In 1985, when you were just 22, you wrote and illustrated a story about Johnny Badhair for the Marvel series Galactus, which played out its final moments in the pages of the magazine Epic. Your interpretation of that character made such an impact that he has haunted your career for decades. You've also been known to revisit him time and again, fascinated by the study in immediacy, extreme anatomy and destruction that the character provides. How did you come to write and illustrate that story? How much liberty did you have to make the character your own? Why do you think you're drawn back to him again and again, despite your desire to break free of your illustration roots?

Phil: The character was really a love letter to Frazetta, initially at least. But I learned a lot through developing the series — it provided some unexpected routes. I was allowed to concentrate on the elements that interested me, and not worry about reinventing it every time — that was an incredible breakthrough for me. I had had a very limited (and unexamined) idea of what was justifiable. And to slowly realise that you could follow what interested you and not get sucked into the obligational work — it was an escape route. From things that didn't interest me.

I think the central theme — which is really about frustration and protest — and perhaps the beautiful struggle, even though you know the effort is hopeless — is a perfectly valid subject for fine art. But it's not acceptable to construct the images like a craftsman. That's tedious and predictable (and I've tried it).


EP: In 1987, you completed 10 strikingly original illustrations for Stephen King's long-awaited Dark Tower sequel, The Drawing of the Three, which paid so well that it allowed you to essentially stop working for five years. Tell me a bit about how that opportunity came about, and what inspirations you brought to creating those memorable images. How has your relationship with Stephen King influenced the direction of your career?

Phil: The King job was a bit of luck. I was put forward for an illustration for a King book a few years earlier (another artist had dropped out), and King liked my piece. He offered me the entire book the next time around, with a ridiculously generous arrangement. I wasn't happy with what I produced, though. I brought more colour into the work — very exciting at the time — but couldn't pull it together; I didn't have the experience or skill to make it all work. It was clunky and unconvincing. Ten years later, in 1997, they were going to release a mass-market version with the original illustrations. That was such a terrifying suggestion that I did them all again at no charge. But the job paid so handsomely that I didn't need to work, and it gave me a chance to do work independent of anything outside the studio. I had a lot of fun. I recorded a lot of music and designed and built motorcycles, experimented with photography and much looser painting. When I eventually had to come out again I was un-hireable.

The largest single benefit that came from the King association — and I hope he sees this as a plus — is that the financial freedom allowed me to move away from the kind of reflexive illustrational practice I had built. A pretty outrageous luxury that I didn't quite understand at the time.


EP: Rick Berry taught you that painting the figure from imagination and memory is paramount, and that painting from photo references is tantamount to cheating. When you moved to London to break free of his influence, that was one of the dictates you were rebelling against, feeling that your paintings lacked some specificity of character when you relied solely on memory to create them. Exploring photography as part of your process, you realized that in working from photographs of the body in action, you were discovering new expressions of anatomical tension and instability that lie outside those generally visualized in paintings. Did you know what you were looking for when you set out, or was photography a process of discovery for you? 

Phil: It wasn't just bodies. I wanted the paintings to have a feeling of connection to something outside of the frame of the image, just as a documentary photograph does. Where the context is a much more complete world that you can never really access, but believe is there. I was also very keen to have what I would consider actual information in the pieces and how I thought about them, and not just something that I had processed and reformulated. The use of photography is such a significant part of how I think about working — it's tough to sum it up. I didn't want to be making things up, I wanted to be finding out about something real and developing an understanding of it in a very pure cause-and-effect model. Also — important to say that Rick didn't see it as cheating, but his practice was based around generating images internally. I wasn't sure I had the same ability — and I didn't, in fact. 



EP: In recent years, you've been exploring photocollage, both as an end in itself, with your strange amalgamations of black metal devices, and as visual reference for your paintings. To a certain degree, you've chosen to preserve the clumsy construction of the photo-collage in the paintings — stopped trying to hide the seams, allowing the piece to be more interesting, awkward and uneasy. While many artists use photocollage as reference, most of them attempt to match lighting and integrate the disparate elements into a coherent reality. Tell me a bit more about why you find this deliberate artificiality and pursuit of an unheimlich quality so compelling. 

Phil: I began doing photo-collage in the early '90s, in part because Photoshop had arrived, and with it you had this unbelievably powerful tool to manipulate imagery. But one of the first things it showed was that that sort of control was not what gave images their power. It seemed much more exciting to make the artificialness of the construction explicit, but to still have the image work — often even more effectively than a groomed treatment. It meant the viewer had to make the connections work, and because they were involved, they personalised the piece, or at least were directly involved in resolving it. I didn't set out to pursue this, but it showed up pretty quickly. I was really thrilled by it. It tells you something about not only how vision works, but about how imagination and narrative works.


EP: Your career has been characterized by change more than most, as you switch gears every few years to stave off stagnation and complacency. For a time, you became known in Great Britain as a portrait painter, contributing several pieces to the National Portrait Gallery. That culminated in 2008 with your portrait of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which you broke from tradition to paint Blair at rest, collar unbuttoned, melancholy and weary, looking away from the viewer, perhaps toward the failures that weighed on his mind. What do you look for in a subject? Are there certain tensions you try to engage in them, even within the typically sedentary compositions that characterize classic portraiture? 

Phil: The portraiture was something I had done since I was a teenager, but in part because it had been part of my family's history, I had never pursued it seriously. And it is so tough and demanding that it requires pretty complete attention for a long time before you even start to understand what the problems are. Then you have to find your own way to test them. Unless you are going to be a mannerist, it is pretty clear what the standards and expectations are. Very unforgiving, and you find out a lot about your weaknesses very quickly. It was extremely demoralising.

I was lucky in that I became part of a circle of portrait painters in London, all exceptional painters (including James Lloyd, Brendan Kelley, Stuart Pearson Wright and others — Justin Mortimer was another, but we had a separate friendship). My work looked weak and a bit fraudulent next to theirs. I might have expected them to be privacious or careful. But they were (and are) a wonderful generous group of people, mutually supportive to an almost absurd degree. I spent ten years doing portraiture. But by the end, I knew I wasn't really cut out for it. It didn't quite line up with my actual abilities or inclinations. Though I still do them, still enjoy them.

One of the surprises was that I never had to have any emotional or psychological insight into the person. They presented themselves and I tried to carry that over faithfully and without interfering. That is why the portrait of Blair turned out as it did. It is in fact an extremely accurate likeness of him as he appeared; there was no political or personal agenda at all. I prioritised that over making the composition racy, or unstable, or mechanically leading.



EP: It's my understanding that you admire the work of John Singer Sargent, and I believe I can feel his influence on your work in a certain tension he engages in his portrait subjects. What do you find most intriguing about Sargent's viewpoint?

Phil: He's just such an astonishing painter. The equivalent of the guy who runs the three minute mile — for pure paint handling, he's utterly in a different league. I'm not saying his art is the most profound. But technically, there is so much to learn. Again, demoralising and difficult.


EP: In recent years, wishing to break out of portraiture, you began painting a series of abstracted skulls and faceless heads shrouded in darkness, repeating them ad infinitum with subtle changes. You've spoken of daily painting as an exercise to force yourself to get better by repetition of a specific practice. This seems to be an almost meditative endeavor, in the sense that Buddhist mantras can be drawn or written as well as spoken. Do you see yourself as seeking some kind of transformation or enlightenment through this practice of evolving repetition?

Phil: It certainly has meditational qualities — and, related to this, when I'm working on a project, I often listen to a single CD every day until it wraps — one of the great pleasures of my working life. My head drops into gear with a clunk when the first song starts, fantastic. But the repetition has a very practical aspect. I'm often microscoping on a particular aspect. It helps to hold all of the variables steady except for one. It makes it absolutely clear what is happening. That is one of the crudest engineering-style tools available, but enormously helpful.

And it is also... that I am always trying for (at least) two contradictory goals — to produce something with the minimum of intrusion and effort (which compromises accuracy), and the desire to make it as faithful as possible (and this is clear because I often have a reference). So the repetition allows me to leave something, to avoid polishing the life (and also the veracity) out of it. But to still have another shot at extracting more. I'm trying to learn about what is there (independently of me), and about how the image interacts with my vision (in my case, an ability to pull structure out of form).


EP: You've entitled an ongoing series of your work "Mockingbirds." In nature, mockingbirds will incessantly repeat the same incidental sequence of sounds over and over again until something new catches their fancy — car alarms, meowing cats, croaking frogs, shrilling insects. Similarly, you have focused your attention on repeating a few familiar images over and over again, with subtle variations — the death's head shrouded in darkness, the shirtless old man wielding yard tools, Johnny Badhair endlessly plummeting through an electric blue sky. What does this "mockingbirds" concept signify to you? Is there a certain satisfaction you derive from plumbing an image to its utmost? Why do you think you find yourself so obsessed with those particular images? 

Phil: Again, you have already answered most of this. Often I'm attracted to an image without having any sort of conscious or intellectual framework. I hope it is not some dumb adolescent impulse (though that is there as well), but rather a synthesis of experience and a sense of potential. I don't have a specific expectation beyond wanting something unexpected to alter and redefine the piece. It's possible to be pretty clear about what is happening in the pieces, and why they would appeal. But that makes me uncomfortable, because it would sum them up, when I would hope that they can't be contained in that way. Some of them can be seen to work on an almost idiotically straightforward metaphorical level, but I don't think that is the true content.

I should also say that I wanted those pieces to be, piece by piece, unstable. They only really worked in any comprehensive way as a show. The individual paintings are too unstable. Obviously the painter and the viewer have very different needs from the work. But after the fact, it's the viewer who is keeping it alive — that's a lot to ask. When I was involved in motorcycle racing, I heard it said that the ideal race bike is the one that wins and then falls to pieces on the other side of the line — it was designed to exactly fulfill its function. Anything else would have compromised the central requirement.

You have to be willing to produce weak and stupid and ineffective paintings for a while.


EP: Another recurring element in your recent work is the sometimes almost violent introduction of abstraction into an image, where a realistic figure might be abruptly truncated by a surface or partly obliterated, as if their existence in this reality is conditional and might sputter out altogether in a moment. You've said you try to cultivate a willingness to operate almost on the edge of collapse. Are these abstracted elements intended to activate the image in some way, lend it a sense of potential that mere description might lack? Would you say painting is more interesting for you when there's some fear or risk involved? 

Phil: That's absolutely right — to the point that anything that I say is really unnecessary. Activating the image, introducing something that jolts it or forces a confrontation or problem, or a barrier that the viewer has to overcome. Or even a contrast to some of the more reassuring elements. I am talking in ideals, what you might hope to allow. If nothing is at risk, it is harder to believe the piece is necessary. Why should it be necessary, anyway — that is a bit of a ridiculous term, and maybe bit of puffery. But you have to try just to get things moving and active.


EP: I sense something like a self-loathing in this constant shape-shifting, a tendency to distrust your own instincts as puerile or craven, or perhaps a conviction that your true work still lies ahead of you, hidden by the clutter of preconceptions and habits you are struggling to break through. Would you say there's any truth to that?

Phil: A great question... Well, it's necessary to act against yourself, or nothing can happen. Or at least to try to place myself outside of the control of my own self-delusion. In any case, it's probably accurate, but partial. The self-loathing (that is probably too strong) is more that I am the only one who really knows when my behaviour is cowardly — choices made out of some kind of failure or weakness. That's not unforgivable, obviously. The shape-shifting is more useful to talk about in specifics — the black heads were done at the same time as pieces in a more familiar vein. They were not a closet I locked myself in for the winter. But they allowed me to do pieces where the physical response of the paint was more important than shepherding it into some appointed position. They were a kind of practice and way of habitualising a particular expectation and response. The portraits in particular are vulnerable to over-determining, and it not only kills the piece, it reinforces a counter-productive approach — you're structuring your reflexes. A lot of effort trying to drop bad habits.


Phil Hale's painting "Study for Path Vacates" will be on view at Thinkspace in Culver City through June 9th. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Axolotl, the Margay, the Tarsier & the Tree-Kangaroo

Tonight is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Michael Alvarez "Four Animals"


The Axolotl, or Mexican Walking Fish, is a salamander that does not undergo metamorphosis, but rather reaches adult size in its larval form. The Nahua people, who named it, dubbed it “water monster” in their tongue. It is endemic to Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in central Mexico, but Chalco was drained completely in the 1970s and Xochimilco has been reduced to a series of canals. While the axolotl is seriously endangered in the wild due to habitat reduction, water pollution and predation by non-native fish, it is a popular aquarium pet and is used extensively in scientific research due to its ability to regenerate limbs.

The Margay, sometimes known as the Tree Ocelot, is a spotted cat native to the primitive rainforests of Central and South America. A skilled climber, the margay may live its whole life above ground, chasing birds and monkeys through the canopy. Unlike the ocelot, it has rotating ankles that allow it to climb head-first down trees and hang from branches by only one foot. Just once a year, margays meet to mate, which usually results in the birth of a single kitten. Due to their solitary lifestyle, they are naturally sparsely dispersed in their rapidly-vanishing rainforest environment.

The Tarsier is a tiny primate that lives only on a few islands in the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia. Each of their enormous eyes is as large as their brain, and they can rotate their heads a full 180°. Uniquely adapted for climbing, they have long fingers and elongated tarsus bones in their feet, from which they get their name. The only entirely carnivorous primates, they are mainly insectivores, but also prey on bats and birds, even catching them in flight while leaping between trees. Natives of the Philippines consider it bad luck to catch a tarsier, as they are believed to be the pets of spirits who live in the giant fig trees. Indeed, tarsiers may commit suicide in captivity due to the trauma of loud noises and being touched. All 10 species of tarsier are in decline from severe habitat loss.

The Tree-Kangaroo is a small, elusive marsupial native to the rainforests of New Guinea and Queensland that is adapted for life in the trees. In contrast to their terrestrial kangaroo cousins, their arms are proportional to their legs, their ears are small and bearlike, and many species have colorful orange and golden coats. On the ground, they are slow and clumsy, but in the trees, they move swiftly and surely, using their long, muscular tails to balance. Excellent leapers, they are able to jump to the ground from 60 feet up in a tree. Of the 14 species of tree-kangaroo, most are in decline, and several species are critically endangered due to habitat loss and hunting for their meat by the indigenous population.

Wild at Heart: Kirk's Dik-dik

Tonight is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Brad Woodfin "Zik-zik"




















Kirk’s Dik-dik is a tiny rabbit-like antelope that lives in the dry savannahs of eastern Africa and stands just 14 inches tall. It has rubbery hooves adapted for rocky terrain and an elongated, prehensile nose that allows it to cool its blood through panting when under heat stress. When startled, dik-diks make quick zigzag leaps, dashing for cover while uttering an alarm call that sounds like “zik-zik.” Truly mated for life, the dik-dik will sometimes commit suicide if its partner is killed. Though it is vulnerable to a great many predators, it is usually able to elude them by darting away at speeds up to 26 miles per hour. While dik-diks are not currently endangered, their habitat is perpetually under threat from agricultural expansion.

Wild at Heart: The Frog

Tonight is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Mia Brownell "Still Life with Cochlea Translating on Helix"




















There are more than 5,000 species of frogs in the world, as various as the sapphire-blue Poison Dart Frog, the transparent Crystal Frog, and the leaflike Chile Darwin’s Frog. In ancient Egypt, the frog was a symbol of fertility, as millions of frogs would be born after the annual inundation of the Nile, which brought fertility to the barren land. The Egyptians worshipped a frog-goddess called Heqet, who presided over matters of procreation and childbirth.

Despite their marvelous variety, the frogs of the world are facing vast and overwhelming threats to their survival as a species, including water pollution and acidification, habitat reduction from dam construction, irrigation and climate change, introduced diseases such as the devastating chytrid fungus, the herbicide Atrazine and the soft plastics component Bisphenol, both of which chemically castrate frogs, introduced predators such as sport fishes and the cane toad, and poaching for the international pet trade. It is believed that at least 170 species of frog have become extinct in the past 10 years, and thousands more are on the brink, including the Panamanian Golden Frog, the Poison Dart Frog, the Interior Robber Frog, the Mountain Chicken Frog, the Crystal Frog, the Harlequin Mantella and the Table Mountain Ghost Frog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Kiwi

Tomorrow is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Leontine Greenberg "Habitat Loss"




















The Kiwi is a flightless nocturnal bird endemic to New Zealand. Before the arrival of humans in New Zealand around the 13th century, New Zealand’s only mammals were three species of bat. All of the ecological niches normally reserved for mammals were taken up by birds such as the kiwi, which had no predators and hence no need for flight. Given this unique situation, the kiwi evolved some rather unbirdlike characteristics, such as near-winglessness, a keen sense of smell and long hairlike feathers. Once bonded, a kiwi couple is monogamous for life, and may stay together for 30 years or more. The female lays the largest egg for her body size of any of the world’s birds, after which she requires the male to incubate it for 80 days.

Though they are much revered by the Maori and are the national symbol of New Zealand, all five species of kiwi are endangered. While historically they have been threatened by deforestation, their remaining habitat is now well-protected and the main threat to their survival is non-native predators, such as dogs, cats, pigs, ferrets and stoats.

Wild at Heart: The Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey

Tomorrow, May 26th, is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Laura Bifano "Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys"




















The Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey is an arboreal monkey native to the mountainous forests of China that lives in bands ranging in size from 5 to 600 individuals. With four months of winter snow cover in their alpine habitat, they tolerate the lowest average temperatures of any non-human primate in the world. Found at elevations as high as 11,000 feet, the monkeys subsist mainly on lichens, supplemented by seeds and fruit in season. They are threatened by habitat degradation across their range, and are especially impacted by peasants gathering dead wood for firewood, as it provides a growth substrate for the lichen they eat. The golden snub-nosed monkey population now stands at between 8,000 and 15,000 individuals. Many of them live in national preserves, where they are touted as one of China’s national treasures while being further stressed by ecotourism, as exposure to humans can result in lower reproductive rates and greater vulnerability to disease.

Wild at Heart: The Bumblebee

Tomorrow, May 26th, is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Bumblebee "Nightlight" (detail)


There are over 250 species of Bumblebees in the world, all with soft, fuzzy coats in dramatic patterns of black, yellow, red, orange, white and pink. Bumblebees are not aggressive, and will usually only sting in defense of their nest, or if they are hurt. Like their relatives, the honeybees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young. Unlike honeybees, they do not store honey, because only the queen lives through the winter. Upon waking alone from her winter hibernation, the queen builds her nest, usually in a hole in the ground, preparing wax pots for food storage and wax cells to lay eggs in. When the larvae hatch and the young bees mature, they leave the nest and mate. The following spring, the surviving queens start the process all over again.

Bumblebees are good pollinators, and are often used in agriculture. Declining bumblebee numbers may change native vegetation drastically, as plants that rely on them for pollination could die out completely. Their greatest threats are the widespread use of pesticides and introduced diseases from commercial bees. Dozens of bee species have quietly disappeared over the past 30 years, including the Shrill Carder Bee, Cockerell’s Bumblebee and the Rusty-patched Bumblebee, all of which are on the brink of extinction. Efforts are underway to add Northern California’s Franklin’s Bumblebee to the Endangered Species List, in hopes that recognition of the bee as endangered might also raise the alarm about all of the other bee species that are in decline.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Clouded Leopard

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

David Jien "Clouded Leopard"


The Clouded Leopard is an unusual cat that has distinctive large cloud-shaped markings and a strong, elongated tail that is often almost the same length as its body. It ranges from the Himalayan foothills, through Southeast Asia and China, and on the island nations of Sumatra and Borneo. With flexible ankle joints that can rotate backwards, it is the best climber among the big cats, able to climb down vertical tree trunks head-first, climb upside-down and to dangle from slender tree branches with its hind paws and muscular tail bent around the branch. There are three clouded leopard species — the clouded leopard of mainland Asia, the Sunda clouded leopard of Sumatra and Borneo, and the Formosan clouded leopard, native to Taiwan, which was believed to be extinct since the early ‘80s, until a hiker came across one dead in a trap on Dawu Mountain in 2011.

Because the clouded leopard prefers remote primary tropical rain forest, it is threatened by large-scale deforestation for logging and agriculture throughout its range. It is also vulnerable to subsistence hunting, as well as poaching for the illegal pet trade, for its beautiful spotted coat and for its bones, claws and teeth, which are used as a substitute for tiger in traditional Asian medicines. Its elusive nature and remote habitat make it impossible to know how many clouded leopards remain in the wild.

Wild at Heart: The Red-Shanked Douc Langur

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Andrew Hem "Red Got Shanked"




















The Red-Shanked Douc is also known as the “costumed ape” because of its extravagant appearance. The most colorful of all the monkeys, it sports maroon stockings, long white gloves, and a golden face framed by a white ruff. An arboreal species, it lives in undisturbed evergreen broadleaf forests in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where it spends its days jumping effortlessly from tree to tree in search of small tender leaves, flowers and fruits. A playful, social animal, it behaves cooperatively with other members of its group, sharing food and even caring for orphaned infants.

During the Vietnam War, the red-shanked douc’s forest habitat was devastated by Agent Orange, and the colorful monkeys were frequently used for target practice by soldiers. After the war, the forest was further decimated by logging for coffee, rubber and cashew plantations. Today, natives hunt the douc for food and for its body parts, which are used in traditional medicine, as well as trapping it for the illegal pet trade. Though no one knows for sure how many red-shanked doucs are still alive, it is estimated that its numbers have declined by at least 50% over the past 30 years.

Wild at Heart: The Sun Bear

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Kelly Vivanco "Royal Sun Bear"

The smallest of the bears, the Sun Bear or Honey Bear inhabits the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia, where it feasts on fruit and insects. In contrast to other bears, it has short, sleek fur that is brown-black in color, with an orange horseshoe-shaped marking on its chest. A primarily nocturnal creature, it is an excellent climber and rests on branches during the day. The sun bear has a 10-inch-long tongue that it uses to probe inside crevices for its favorite snack, honey.

Due to its fierce claws, the sun bear fears few predators other than humans. However, it is rapidly declining throughout its range as a result of deforestation for agriculture and the elimination of “nuisance bears,” which are blamed for destroying crops. Sun bears are also poached for their water-repellent fur, for their bile, which is used in Chinese medicine, and for their paws, which are considered a delicacy when roasted and are also made into bear paw soup.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wild at Heart: The American Bison

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Stella Im Hultberg "A Sacred Journey"




















Vast herds of American Bison or Buffalo once roamed the plains and forests of North America, from northwest Canada to as far south as Mexico, and east all the way to the Appalachians. The first trails made in North America — used by the natives, then by settlers, and finally by the railways — were the paths pounded by bison as they migrated to and from their feeding grounds and salt licks. Capable of running 40 miles per hour, pivoting quickly and jumping six feet in the air, bison are agile and difficult to confine because they can jump over or crash through almost any fence.

From a population of perhaps 60 million at the beginning of the 19th century, bison had been hunted to near-extinction by 1889, when there were only 1,091 surviving. Bison were slaughtered wholesale for their skin, which was used for robes, rugs, and belts for industrial machinery. Unlike the Native Americans, who used every part of the bison, commercial bison hunters took the skin and left the meat to decay on the ground. But there was a more sinister reason for the bison’s decline — racism and greed. The decimation of the bison herds was encouraged by the U.S. Army, not only because it would open the range to ranchers, but because they hoped to drive the native people from the plains by depriving them of their main food source. When the bison population neared extinction, conservation legislation was proposed, but was vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant, who felt that destroying the natives’ way of life was the greater priority.

In the late 1800s, seven different ranchers took it upon themselves to rescue the few remaining bison, and started their own private herds. Many of the descendants of those bison have been reintroduced into protected reserves that were once home to wild bison herds. About 30,000 bison live on reserves today, and are managed for conservation purposes. Another 400,000 are raised for their meat, though many of those have been cross-bred with cattle. Today, the only herd of bison in the U.S. that has lived in the wild continuously is in Yellowstone National Park, which now harbors a herd of 4,000 bison descended from 23 mountain bison that survived the slaughter of the great herds, sheltered in the park’s remote Pelican Valley.

Wild at Heart: The Spirit Bear

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Kelly Vivanco "Royal Spirit Bear"




















The Spirit Bear or Kermode Bear is a subspecies of American black bear that is native to a small area of rainforest along the coast and islands of British Columbia. It eats green plants, berries and salmon, and hibernates inside giant hollow trees. About 10% of the spirit bear population sports a cream-colored coat, resulting from a recessive allele in their genetics, rather than a tendency to albinism. Its white coat, which was beneficial during the glacial era, allows spirit bears to be nearly invisible to salmon in the daytime, making them very efficient salmon hunters.

Many believe the spirit bear owes its continued existence to the First Nations, especially the Tsimshian tribe, who have long revered the bear and refused to hunt it or speak of it to fur trappers. In fact, the bear was considered to be mere legend by settlers until its existence was confirmed by a crusading naturalist in 1905. The Tsimshian call the spirit bear Moksgm’ol, or “Spirit of the Rain Forest,” and believe that Raven, who created the world, made the spirit bear white to remind the people of the era of ice that came before, giving the bear the power to guide chosen people to special places and promising that spirit bears would live in peace and harmony forever. Due to the isolation of its habitat, the spirit bear has no instinctive fear of humans, which leaves it vulnerable to poachers, and its population may already be reduced to between 400 and 1,000 individuals. Its continued existence now faces an even greater threat — the Enbridge Northern Gateway, a tar sands pipeline which is proposed to cut through the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world, and the spirit bear’s only habitat.

Wild at Heart: The Elephant

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Henrik Uldalen "Untitled"




















In the wild, Elephants can live for 80 years or more, and females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. With the largest brains of any land animal, they have been known to demonstrate intellectual behaviors including grief, altruism, compassion, self-awareness, art making and the use of tools. The African elephant once roamed the entire continent of Africa, and the Asian elephant ranged from Syria to northern China and the islands of Indonesia. These abundant populations have been reduced to small groups in isolated areas south of the Sahara and in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. In 1930, there were believed to be as many as 10 million African elephants. By 1989, when they were added to the endangered species list, there were only 600,000 remaining, less than 10% of their original number. At the turn of the 20th century, there were an estimated 200,000 Asian elephants in existence. Today there are about 40,000 left in the wild.

Demand for ivory, combined with habitat loss from human settlement, has led to a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the last few decades. Born Free supports many elephant protection and conservation efforts, including providing resources to the Elephant Transit Home in Sri Lanka, which cares for orphaned elephants until they are old enough to be released into a nature preserve.

Jillian Ludwig "Jusqu'a la mort"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Wildebeest

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Martin Wittfooth "Night Lights"

The Wildebeest or Gnu is a curious-looking antelope native to the plains and forests of Africa that sports the head and horns of an ox and the mane and tail of a horse. They can live as long as 40 years and may reach 5 feet at the shoulder and 600 pounds in weight. Each year, Africa’s wildebeest herds undertake a long-distance migration, moving their range from dry areas in the wet season to wet areas in the dry season.

Though the wildebeest population is still numerous and under active management, it is experiencing sharp declines. They require vast swaths of uninterrupted wilderness for their annual migrations, which inevitably take them outside protected reserves. Among their greatest threats are fences and roads, as these barriers prevent them from reaching watering and grazing grounds. In 1983, authorities built thousands of miles of fences across the Kalahari, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of wildebeests, reducing the herd’s population to 10% of its former size. Often sought for an African delicacy called biltong, wildebeest are still threatened by hunting across most of their range.

Wild at Heart: The Giant Panda

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Kelly Vivanco "Royal Panda Bear"


For the Chinese, the Giant Panda is a symbol of peace, and indeed gifts of pandas have been used as peace offerings in China’s diplomatic relations. An adorable-looking bear native to central China, the panda is actually rather moody and not particularly social, preferring to roam alone through the forest. Though it is technically a carnivore, 99% of its diet consists of bamboo. Its thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its mountain habitat, but has historically made it vulnerable to poachers. However, panda hunting has been illegal in China for the past 50 years, and poaching has declined sharply due to harsh punishment for those caught with panda pelts, up to and including the death penalty.

Pandas are currently confined to six remote areas in the mountains of China, as much of their natural lowland habitat has been destroyed by agriculture and development. Because they can consume up to 30 pounds of bamboo in a day, it is necessary for them to travel to new locations once the bamboo supply in their area is depleted. The fragmentation of the bamboo forest into small mountainous pockets can make migrating to new food sources challenging. Currently, the panda is one of the most critically endangered species in the world. There are between 1,500 and 3,000 pandas left in the wild, though that number appears to be slowly rising due to concerted efforts to increase the quantity and quality of their habitat. About 270 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, mostly in China.

Mari Inukai "Panda"

Wild at Heart: The Hummingbird

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Derek Gores "And She Knows It Fiercely" (detail)
There are over 350 species in the Hummingbird family, as various as Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in existence at just two inches in length, and the Andean Red-tailed Comet, which has a spectacular nine-inch red and gold iridescent tail. All hummingbirds are native to the Americas and drink nectar from flowers, supplementing those sugars with proteins from insects and spiders. Hummingbirds can hover in midair, flapping their wings as many as 80 times per second, and some can fly at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. No other species of birds can fly backwards. When in flight, they have the highest metabolism of all animals, with heart rates reaching up to 1,260 beats per minute.

The Aztecs often wore hummingbird talismans and fetishes, considering them a symbol of vigor, energy and skill with weapons, due to the birds’ facility with their sharp, penetrating beaks. The Aztec god of war Huitzilopochtli was often depicted as a hummingbird, and it was believed that the bravest warriors might return to earth as hummingbirds. One of the mysterious Nazca Lines of southern Peru, believed to be more than 15 centuries old, depicts a hummingbird in flight. All hummingbird species are at risk to one degree or another as a result of insecticides and deforestation, and many, including the Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird, the Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, the Juan Fernandez Firecrown, and the Turquoise-throated Puffleg Hummingbird, are on the brink of extinction.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Wild at Heart: Pet Overpopulation

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Edwin Ushiro "The Golden Hour"

Four million cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters each year — that’s about one every eight seconds. Often these animals are the offspring of cherished family pets. Spaying and neutering reduces pet overpopulation, ensuring that every pet has a family to love them. Many cats and dogs that die as a result of pet overpopulation might have made wonderful pets, but between six and eight million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters every year, far more than there are homes for.

Feral pets are also a threat to many native species, some of which are endangered. Birds, reptiles and small mammals are vulnerable to predation by hungry cats and dogs. Other feline and canine species, such as the Clouded Leopard and the Ethiopian Wolf, are vulnerable to the diseases their domestic relatives often carry.

Wild at Heart: The Gray Wolf

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Mary Iverson "OR-7, Capitol Reef"


The Gray Wolf or Timber Wolf was once one of the most widely distributed of all mammals. They have adapted to climates as disparate as deserts, forests, mountains and the Arctic tundra. As humans simultaneously took over wolf habitat, filled it with livestock, and depleted the staples of the wolf's traditional diet — deer, elk, caribou, and bison — the wolf turned to sheep and cattle to supplement its diet. By the beginning of the 20th century, retaliatory hunting by settlers had rendered wolves practically extinct in the continental United States.

In 1995 and 1996, 21 wolves from British Columbia were captured and reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, where they had been extirpated by 1926, eliminated by government predator control programs. Without its apex predator, the ecological balance of the park had run out of control, with elk and coyote populations exploding to the detriment of many other species of flora and fauna. Since the wolves have become reestablished, decreased pressure from elk and coyotes has resulted in the populations of beavers, foxes and many smaller plant and animal species bouncing back.

Aron Wiesenfeld "Tracks"

Wild at Heart: The Cheetah

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Souther Salazar "Mama Cheetah (with two Baby Cheetos)"

The Cheetah is the fastest of all the land animals, capable of running short bursts at up to 75 miles per hour and accelerating from 0 to 60 in just three seconds. Long regarded as the emblem of kings, cheetahs have been captured and tamed by rulers from the Egyptian pharaohs to modern-day dictators. In the wild, they range over Africa and parts of the Middle East. Relying on their speed to hunt, they avoid competition with other predators, to which they are vulnerable. About 12,500 cheetahs remain in the wild, where they are threatened by increased pressure from other stressed predators, as well as human encroachment into their habitat.

 Earlier this month, Born Free took responsibility for four cheetah cubs rescued from wildlife dealers. They transported them to Enessakotteh, Ethiopia’s first wildlife rescue, conservation and education center, where the cubs joined half a dozen other rescued cheetahs that live at the sanctuary. Some of the cheetahs will need to receive a lifetime of care there, while others can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Rabbit

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Darla Jackson "The Party's Over" sculpture

Though rabbits are renowned for their reproductive capabilities and can become an invasive agricultural pest if introduced to areas with no predators, they are an essential part of the natural order in many places. Efforts to eradicate rabbits from their native habitat can lead to a collapse of the food chain. In the 1950s, a widespread rabbit control program was begun that proved to be terribly effective. A deadly virus called myxomatosis was deliberately introduced into rabbit populations in Australia, France and England, resulting in the total collapse of the rabbit population, which was reduced to 5% of its former size within five years. Not only does the virus cause a cruel, painful death for rabbits, it has also led to the near-extinction of several predators that depended on them for food, such as the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Though the European Rabbit and the American Cottontail are still numerous, there are several rabbit species that are nearing extinction due to habitat loss and hunting. The mouselike Volcano Rabbit, which lives in the mountains of Mexico, has seen its population reduced to about 1,000. South Africa’s Bushman Rabbit, which bears only one or two kits each year, has been reduced to about 200 individuals. The Sumatran Striped Rabbit, only found in the forests of the Barisian Mountains, is approaching total extinction. The unusual Amami Rabbit, which is isolated to two small islands in Japan’s Ryukyu Archipelago, is considered a “living fossil,” as it closely resembles the way rabbits looked five million years ago. Though it was declared a Japanese Natural Monument in 1921, it is still severely threatened by habitat loss.

Jacub Gagnon "Atlas"

Wild at Heart: The Regent Honeyeater

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Frank Gonzales "Regent Honeyeaters"


The Regent Honeyeater is native to the eucalyptus and ironbark woodlands of Australia, where it flashes its “yellow embroidery” feather patterns as it feeds on nectar and insects. Once seen in flocks of hundreds ranging up to 150 miles inland of the eastern coast, its habitat is now reduced to three small areas, and the breeding population is estimated to have declined to less than 1,500 individuals. 85% of the honeyeater’s habitat has been cleared for development and agriculture, and what is left remains fragmented and of poor quality. Efforts are underway to replant habitat trees in its current range and establish captive colonies as a backstop against species collapse.

Wild at Heart: The Flamingo

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Jessica Joslin "Delphine"

Flamingos are a widespread family of wading birds that can live to 40 years or more. Ranging from light pink to bright red, their coloration is caused by the brine shrimp in their diet. The more colorful a flamingo’s feathers, the healthier the bird. When sleeping, they often stand on one leg, with the other tucked beneath their body and their heads curved to the right to rest along their backs. Extremely social birds, they live in colonies that often number in the thousands, with some large lakes in Africa hosting millions of flamingos that flock together in vast pink clouds.

Although the flamingo population is still numerous, it is in decline. They are threatened by a number of unknown diseases, the effects of which are exacerbated by drought and climate change. Their eggs are collected and eaten by many indigenous peoples, and they are sometimes hunted for their tongues, which have been considered a delicacy since ancient times. Currently, their most pressing threat is industrial development on Tanzania’s Lake Natron, which would displace a massive breeding colony of Lesser Flamingos that nests there, comprising three-quarters of the world’s Lesser Flamingos.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wild at Heart: The California Condor

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Benjamin Vierling "Gymnogyps californianus"

The magnificent California Condor is the largest North American land bird, and can live up to 60 years in the wild. It figures prominently in Native American mythology and ceremonial costume. With its 10-foot wingspan, it can fly up to 55mph and to 15,000 feet, and often glides for miles without flapping its wings. Once plentiful in California, Arizona and Utah, the condor population plummeted in the 20th century due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction.

By 1987, there were only 22 condors surviving in the wild. The U.S. government then put a conservation plan in place that led to the capture of all 22 remaining wild condors, which were then bred in captivity at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. The project is the most expensive species conservation project ever undertaken in the United States. Their numbers having risen through captive breeding, condors began to be reintroduced into the wild in 1991. As of December 2011, there are 390 condors known to be living, including 210 in the wild. Though the wild birthrate remains low, the captive breeding program continues to release adolescent condors into the wild.

Jolene Lai "Condor No. 12"


Rodrigo Luff "California Condor"

Wild at Heart: The Grizzly Bear

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Sean Chao "Camouflage" (detail)

The Grizzly Bear is a subspecies of Brown Bear that lives in the uplands of western North America. Brown bears were once abundant in North America, roaming the length of the continent from the Arctic Ocean through to central Mexico. The animal has no natural enemies in the wild — except humans. Needing large amounts of space to forage, the bear's natural range extends up to 500 square miles, and the expansion of human settlement has continuously encroached on their habitat and threatened their ability to survive.

The decline of the quintessential American brown bear, the grizzly, began with the arrival of European settlers in America. In less than a hundred years, they were eliminated from 98% of their original range. The California Grizzly or California Golden Bear, the subspecies which holds a place of honor on the state flag, has been extinct since 1922, when the last one was shot. Currently about 55,000 grizzlies remain in Canada and Alaska, but only 1,200 live in the continental U.S., mostly contained within the national parks of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Waldrapp Ibis

Over the next week, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Christina Mrozik "Brilliance"

The Waldrapp Ibis or Northern Bald Ibis has iridescent black plumage that flashes green and purple, a featherless head framed by a flamboyant spiky crest, and a long curving red bill. The bald ibis mostly eats lizards and beetles, using its long beak to probe the earth for snacks. A migratory bird, it forages in semi-arid coastal steppe and breeds on undisturbed cliff ledges.

For millions of years, the bald ibis ranged over the Middle East, northern Africa and southern Europe. Revered as a holy bird in ancient Egypt, it was viewed as a reincarnation of Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge. Though it has been a protected species in Austria since 1504, it disappeared from Europe over 300 years ago. In recent years, its numbers have been decimated by loss of foraging habitat and widespread use of pesticides. Today there are believed to be about 500 bald ibises living in the wild in southern Morocco and fewer than 10 in Syria. Over 1,000 live in captivity in zoos around the world, and recently, reintroduction programs using captive-raised birds have begun in Turkey, Austria, Spain and northern Morocco.

Wild at Heart: The 'I'iwi

Over the next week and a half, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Caitlin Hackett "Remnants"


The ‘i'iwi or Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper is a hummingbird-like relative of the finch family with a red body, black wings and a long curving pink beak evolved for drinking nectar from the distinctive flowers of Hawaiian lobelioid plants.

About 20 species of Hawaiian honeycreeper have become extinct in the recent past, and almost all of them are endangered. The ‘i'iwi is now considered to be vulnerable because it is rare on several of the Hawaiian islands and has disappeared entirely from another. Because of their specific feeding adaptations, they are vulnerable to the habitat loss that comes with real estate development. All the honeycreepers are highly susceptible to infection from introduced diseases such as avian malaria, avian influenza and fowlpox, to which they have no resistance.