I am on a mission for the next month or so to try to deeply understand the laugh. I want to know what makes us do it ... and whether or not I can learn to somewhat control it (either my own laughter, or others’). There are many reasons for the gawfaw and I’m going to begin with a thing I understand well.
Most of the time I am a wildlife painter and I’ve found over the years that most artists, patrons, and supporters take their jobs far too seriously. Granted, using the skill to help animals in rehabilitation centers, or educate city dwellers about life in the wild, is all a good thing. But, once in a while, we really need to let go of the seriousness. I had somebody tell me one time, when looking at my drawing of a duck, that I had the incorrect number of feathers at the base of the neck and I really ought to make gunk like that correct. Well, damn it man! I’m not generally a feather counter. I don’t ever want to be a feather counter. I just want to paint my pictures.
So, that’s what I did for years until, some time ago, I was one of those ‘fortunate’ painters who was ‘discovered’ by an international fine art print publisher. It was, I was told, every wildlife painter’s dream so I signed the contract with high hopes of building a reputation as one of the chosen best of the best. Funny thing (and not funny in a way that makes one laugh, funny, as in – ironic), my new publisher wanted me to be something I was not. Robert Bateman. Carl Brenders. John Seerey-Lester. He sent tear-sheets and instructed me to copy subject and style. I didn’t take that sort of direction well and my five year contract was in jeopardy before this horse ever shot out of the gate.
What did I do? Since every wildlife painting I created during the life of the contract was to be first considered by the publisher, I opted to find a new sort of creation – and I went all out. My family and I busted our guts while we made up the most absurd critters, including scientific data, as well as a new public image for myself. I began with an anonyomous bio, which accompanied a ridiculous photo where I tried to sport a mullet-like hair-do with style. I will not bore you with the long, full version but will, instead, just pull a couple of paragraphs to illustrate my pompous point:
Like many wildlife painters in America, Livvy has come to her craft through an emotional and intimate familiarity with our natural surroundings. She was raised in the nearly uninhabited surroundings of Nikiski, Alaska and responded more directly than the average person to the fundamental appeal of the wild. Unlike most sourdoughs, however, she expressed a natural aptitude for drawing and her relentless wanderings on paper weaved the larger story of her vicarious journeys. Though she continues to paint mainly wildlife subjects, the collection of paintings gathered for this volume reflect an extravaganza of sorts; a focus that is a little less on the typical, and a little more on nature as seen through the lens of the mind. Primary emphasis is placed on Livvy’s rich messages relating to her youthful foreground of local habitat that may be, perhaps, closer to her heart than the heritage of any other part of the world.
Today Livvy, who now lives in the sort of southern part of the Pacific Northwest, is a semi-public figure and the recipient of many compliments and accolades. She is regarded by many as a premier nature artist and fervent conservationist. For others, she remains an enigma. However she is observed, her prime directive for her aesthetic compositions shall possibly serve as an inspiration to provide opportunity to explore more fully the complex beauty and sublimity of our own natural world. It is a mission she accepts with pleasure, vowing to always stay true to her brush above all else, for the beauty, peace, and truth found there have no equal.
Livvy says that her art has very much to do with perceptibility, which forms the basis for many beautiful wildlife paintings. “It is hard to see an animal in the wild,” she explains, “Cuz they always run away.” Often, the only chance to get close is to postulate the harmonies of colour and texture, and then paint that and share the experience of being within the intimate world of the animals. As an artist, it’s important to take advantage of the creator’s biggest advantage and render the scene with such reality that the impossible becomes possible.
No truer words are spoken for Livvy, for her infinite patience and delight in caressing her brushes against the Bristol, or just caressing her brushes, give us all a glimpse into her moments in paradise. Most surely, if she thought more detail would make her work more beautiful, she would strive to visually articulate more detail. In a sense, perfectionism is her disease and the consummate venue to allegorize her reverence for the wild and infinite beauty of nature and fantastical things within her.
My publisher blanched when he read my pompusly verbose new bio ... and I’m saving you an abundance of annoyance by only posting half of it here today. Still, as with him, I’m sharing with the bio a collection of twelve paintings which brought my point home. I will post them over the coming weeks, one by one, along with the 'scientific' data and story behind how it came to be. Back in 1997 I was pained by the thought that for five long years I’d have to leave my natural inclinations behind and avoid painting straight up wildlife. Fortunately, I found a way to use humour to lighten my load. The beautiful thing about humour is ... laughter is a natural pain killer, and that’s especially true when one is dealing with a pain in your butt.
COMMON NAME: Polarcam
Species: Arcto humpteus camealious. Other names include spitter, double do, snot rocket, magnum, and polar rover. The polarcam can be confused with the middle eastern desert dog.
General facts: Polarcams are arctic carnivores that grow 8 to 12 feet tall (including the humps) and can weigh up to 1380 pounds. They feed primarily on arctic hare, but also eat other creatures such as ice worms, arctic fox, seal, and the mighty beluga whale. Their greatest and most feared weapon is their projectiling spit-balls. Whether hunting or defending themselves, they can quickly work up a mouth full of saliva and spit with remarkable accuracy. The subzero temperatures of the arctic region almost instantly freezes the warm mouth fluids and the resulting flying balls can range from 1 to 4 inches in diameter, weighing up to 3 pounds each. With an amazing target accuracy of 98.7 percent at 25 yards, the polarcam fears very little and never tolerates anything found near his home range. The distinctive double humps act as a food cache that holds devoured meats and allows the beast to live up to three months between meals. It is speculated that arctic penguins once shared the range of the polarcam, but found themselves defenseless against this large and aggressive animal. They can run nearly 53 mph hour and may swim up to 4 miles in ice laden waters.
STATISTICS: Polarcams sleep standing and have no recorded social order at all. Always solitary, it is unknown how they reproduce or develop. No female has ever been seen and it is speculated that they live in a harem type situation in some sort of ice cave, perhaps being tended to by a dominant male, or servant of the dominant male. In one reporting, a secret mission brought a researcher within 25 yards of a large male that was frolicking in apparent play on a field of drifts. The 8.3 minutes of satellite feed showed a delightful animal at ease. Unfortunately, the beast detected the human and much desired analyzation of the spit ball phenomenon ensued. The scientist has not been heard from since.
HABITAT: North American Arctic and surrounding regions. Resides mainly on the arctic coastal plain and most sightings have occurred around and about the Point Barrow area. It is strongly advised to never approach this animal. It is orally recorded that 13 humans have been killed by the polarcam and wounds inflected on survivors appear quite similar to a gunshot wound from a 357 magnum pistol.
** Sunrise on the Arctic Coastal Plain
Gouache on Bristol Board
In 1977, at age 16, I was allowed to visit the Arctic Coastal Plain at Point Barrow. One of my fondest possessions is the certificate that proves I crossed the Arctic Circle during a time when non-oil-industry citizens were not permitted. What impressed me most was the frigid cold in July and the truth of the midnight sun. The place was absolutely desolate. I felt so tall in a land without mountains or trees, standing on frozen ground and spying the curvature of the earth from my five foot five viewpoint. No plant grows over six inches tall there. It is a frozen desert, really. I wasn’t allowed to explore and did not find any animal life at all. I could not get over the idea of a frozen desert, though, and imagined the perfect animal had I only been permitted to go find it. When creating the crazy wilderlife in 1997, I dug up the memory of that place and included a Polarcam for fun. It is true. I don’t like to paint what I have not seen, yet sometimes my mind supplies pictures far too fantastic for my own good. I can’t help it. I am Alaskan.