The Whitney Western Art Museum, Cody, Wyoming, has acquired The Measure of a Wingbeat (2023).

abstract oil painting

2023, oil on canvas, 48 x 52 inches.


Notes on The Measure of a Wingbeat

My ongoing body of abstract paintings, Avian Witness, developed in part as a response to the growing divide between the natural world and the manmade environment. As wild habitats diminish, I turn to primeval forces—animal migration, magnetic pull, and wind—for inspiration. My work evokes natural patterns as they intersect with the human-modified landscape. Birds still migrate, yet often over vast built-up expanses of large cities.

Between and above gestural swooshes of color, the initial layers of my paintings are created by silkscreening facsimiles of 19th-century handwriting fragments. These bits of historical letterforms signal human culture. The layering is akin to archeological strata, the literal “ground” of the earth, the landscape. The paintings gradually become representations of historical time; the deepest buried layers feel ancient. On upper surfaces of the paintings, angular patterning represents road grids, agricultural fields, wind turbines, electric transmission lines, and other modern manmade infrastructure.

My pen and ink drawings of Western birds are the basis for large curvilinear traceries on the uppermost layer of the paintings. In The Measure of a Wingbeat, bird forms are not obvious; instead, it is the movement of flight that is transmitted.

In making these paintings, I envision how opposing systems of human development and natural forces might coexist in a harmonious ecosystem.

The title of this work suggests the impossibility of quantifying the wonder of watching wild birds migrate through our built environment.