Evolution of an inspiration.

Journey with me down the thematic and stylistic path I have followed for over 25 years, from the source(s) of the original idea to the latest creation. To quote Mickey Hart...

The adventure of composition is a mystery. As long as artists explore new territory, the compositional process will never be the same twice. The Muse has her ways, she hides from you, comes for you in the middle of the night, at midday, at dawn. You must be alert constantly, You must believe wholeheartedly in this divine power. We drink, take drugs, get straight, go to church, be good, be bad. We are always looking for inspiration. It is an elusive gift that can appear at any time. Artists are in awe of it.

The idea started in 1976 with a painting that was part of a special exhibit at the National Museum in Gaborone, Botswana. I don't remember anything about the artist, but the painting was an abstract with bands of horizontal color in Earth tones, and an occasional band of light blue. As a geologist, I immediately thought of rock strata. Later, in December of that year, my wife and I entertained friends from Johannesburg and took a trip out to my field area on the edge of the Great Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. The rains had started the month before and the in central portion of the pans a large shallow lake had formed. As if responding to some signal, flamingoes flew in to build their raised mud nests out where the water would provide a protective moat against predatory jackals, hyena, lions, and wild dogs. On this day, as we stood at the edge of the pans, the whole horizon looked as though it was on fire with the fluorescent pink of a hundred thousand of these great birds.

From abstract rock strata came the idea of painting landscapes with geometric "tapestry" stripes. From the flaming horizon came the idea of using these birds as a totem and theme.

The first attempts (1977 and 1979) were rather crude and eventually ended up in the dumpster. Pictured here is the third try, this one from 1987 - still kind of primitive.

Makgadikgadi Flamingoes (1987),acrylic on canvas 24" X 36"


The next attempt (1994) was more detailed, with more careful gradation of the color stripes. The flamingoes also began to show a bit of personality. This painting is actually part of a triptych - there are two small (9" X 12") satellite paintings, the whole being unified by the horizon stripe.

Flamingoes (1994),acrylic on canvas 28" X 36". The triptych is now part of a private collection in Phoenix, AZ.


At the same time, I was taking the stripe concept in other directions. Seascapes lent themselves well to the approach - check out two examples in my Cape to Coral Gallery. But Africa and the Kalahari still called. See also here.

Then, in 1999, the next flash of inspiration occurred! I was at a business meeting, talking at break time with our chief counsel, and showing her the catalog of my paintings which I had just put together. She in turn showed me photos from a recent trip to Kenya she had taken with her mother. I was intrigued with the photos of zebras on the Serengeti. Somehow it just seemed right - striped animals, striped paintings. How, I pondered, could I create an interesting composition with the stripe theme, but only using black and white? The answer, I realized was to gradually vary the thickness of the stripes to create an illusion of depth. The zebras would provide visual contrast as organic shapes against the rigid geometry of the background, almost like "negative space" paintings. I'm afraid I don't remember much of the meeting as I was busy sketching ideas. To see what I mean, check out Black on White on Black.

Another big step on the journey came from a challenge by my wife to try a striped painting without any animal or plant figures to break up the composition - just let the stripes and the color convey the mood and the message. This resulted in...

Flamingo Fire (2000),acrylic on canvas 20" X 48". Now one of my personal favorites.


The latest idea continues my love affair with those completely absurd birds. It also builds on the gradational stripe idea to give a sense of depth. Compare this scene with the first image above.

One Day on the Pans (2003),acrylic on canvas 20" X 48"


Where will the inspiration lead next? Well, I'm considering another run at a Bushman Sunset. Then, there's also the thought of a moonscape with the Earth hanging in the background. Stay tuned.

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