Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Question

This unfinished painting of a snowshoe hare in a winter landscape has crystallized a question that has been looming in my work as, over the past few years, my paintings have become more realistic and less surrealistic. I used to invent plants and creatures and set them in imagined spaces but now I am happier painting "real" plants and animals copied accurately from nature.

But the accurate depiction of a plants and animals is still not the purpose of my work - it is just the language I use to tell the story. The animals represent me, or you the viewer, surrounded by a world of emotion. For this reason, I do not consider myself a "wildlife artist" or a "botanical artist". I suppose I am anthropomorphising the world, even though I don't dress my animals in cute clothing and give them cell phones and cars. I paint, not so much the world around me, as the world inside me.

I use nature as my language and she kindly provides me with plants and animals more fantastic than anything my imagination can conjure up. I also feel so humbled by the world around me that copying nature as accurately as I can has deep meaning for me. It now feels arrogant to try to invent anything to rival what nature has developed over the Milena. So I have reached a place where the plants and animals are as real as I can make them.

But how far should this go? In this painting I have invented a snowy landscape full of snowberries. This part is scientifically possible. Snowberries, snowshoe hares and snow can all be found together in nature. But now I find I want to introduce some color to this painting and have been tempted to paint one of those beautiful Yuletide camellias with the deep red flowers which would turn my nice sciencey landscape into something imaginary. Should I honour nature by assembling only the elements that she herself has orchestrated? Or should I clumsily throw in all sorts of plants that showshoe hares would never encounter in the wild? Would this be sloppy? Arrogant? I want to be sensitive to my environment. It feels right to honour the natural world and, as I write this, I feel myself leaning toward science and away from fantasy. Surely I can still tell the stories I want without messing around with the natural world.

I welcome any opinions on this "nature" vs "nurture" question. Really it is "reality" vs "fantasy". Robert Bateman vs Mark Ryden. Ouch my brain. Is it ok if I still indulge in a few flying weasels when the need arises?

Robert Bateman

Mark Ryden


  1. Beautiful Jean!
    and I see your hare is asking the same question as you!

    Paint the red flower on a piece of card, cut it out and place on your painting. Peruse for a day, sleep on it then see what the hare and the snowberries say in the morning - that will be your answer.

    Your empathy with nature overrides the realistic details and the surreal creations. Your animals, I can see, are completely at home in both.

  2. Such a large question so early in the year. And just the sort of question that an artist asks.

    I think that since your work comes from your mind and heart- there is already a mix of reality and imagination.

    You honor nature so well in your work regardless of what you can't resist adding.

    And, actually, the Sasquana Camellias do bloom in the dead of winter although the blossoms wouldn't last long in the snow.

  3. I find your work to be absolutely wonderful and truly more real and considerate than nature itself! There is always that subtle point where you begin to re-present something in a way that reveals to us more than just a photograph or simply a still frame out of a nature documentary! Whether it be a mood or a simple struggle for survival your painting doesn't put nature in a box and define it to a "t" (Robert Bateman). Nor does it struggle with what it is or what it wants to be (Mark Ryden). The nurturing of nature is all about us and our understanding of all the things around us. Neither the documentary portrait nor the blasphemy of nature nourishes the soul in a way that man can grasp. Your work, a small format with only a simple but tumultuous background, keeps us keyed in on the very heart of the being that is most certainly front and center. You have given us a creature not that different than the other two artist but in a way that we can relate and be thankful for! Keep up the beautiful work and if I weren't from the other coast I would love to see your work in person! Many Thanks,

  4. I think it is wonderful that you honor nature so much that you want to do it justice, but as we know, anyone can take up a camera and capture actuality. What you are offering is something beyond that, and so you have the 'artistic license' to create whatever your mind finds interesting or relevant or that speaks to you and that you feel would engage we, your audience. Maybe if you wanted a camellia in there, you could think of it as the painting version of "forcing" a plant indoors in the wrong season/climate? Or if you wanted color, your snowberries could turn red from some unknown but scientifically caused mutation?

  5. Fancy finding such a treasure as this blog on a cold winter morning.
    Still in awe of your painting style and the white hare, I came upon your nature vs nurture debate.

    It seems to me that you have done a splendid job of amalgamating the two sides and produced not just a happy, but an exquisite medium.

    Couldn't discover if you are using acrylic/oil on canvas or gouache or even pastel. I know some artists can make that look like paint.