18 x 24" Acrylic on Board2014
Von der Decken's Hornbill Pair
How to buy, general information
I spent Christmas of 2012 in Laikipia, Kenya, a beautiful, arid plateau region of East Africa. This was the culmination of a three week safari with my partner, Guy Combes, and we’d gathered at the stunning El Karama Eco Lodge, owned and operated by notable sculptor Murray Grant and his wife, Sophie, for a reunion with Guy’s extended family. Amidst the holiday revelry, we went for several productive game drives, and I spent every free moment wandering the camp grounds, following glimpses of Blue-Napped Mousebirds and Purple Grenadiers, watching the antics of Vervet Monkeys, and seeing how close I could get to green tree snakes and red-headed Agama lizards before they slithered or skittered out of sight. I did not, however, have to hunt for or wait patiently to see were the hornbills. We encountered two species, Red-Billed and Von der Decken’s, but there was one pair of the Von der Decken’s that were outrageously habituated to the presence of humans and would show up like clockwork whenever we had a meal, both to devour the bits of fruit the staff left out for them on a platform feeder and in hopes of darting off with any leftover scraps from our table. I was captivated by their prehistoric good looks, bold colors, and equally bold personalities. The female in particular was utterly fearless, hopping so close to my camera (within arm’s length) that I had to remove my long lens in order to get her in focus. My favorite moment, however, was watching the male offer gifts of food to his mate. In reality, he was giving her bits of Chevda (a highly addictive Indian snack mix) that we’d left out in hopes of attracting elephant shrews. In my painting, I’ve traded in the Chevda for a locust (a more natural diet for these birds) but represented their postures exactly as I experienced them.
My goal was to turn this simple gesture of deference between a bonded pair into an iconic symbol, not just of courtship, but of the cycle of life, which of course begins with the pairing of two individuals. With the disc (representing the Kenyan sun) behind them, the livid red ground surface (an only slightly abstracted representation of Kenya’s oxide rich soil) and the bold silhouettes echoing this ceremonial act, a moment in time is fused into an altarpiece, a mandala. I don’t claim to be an expert on Buddhism or Hinduism, but in layman’s terms, a mandala offering is a symbolic offering of the entire universe; though the symbology in this painting is derived from a single moment, rather than the accumulation of centuries old symbols, it is just that. As William Blake wrote of seeing the “world in a grain of sand” and “Heaven in a wild flower” so too am I finding something cosmological in the bird.