In the popular imagination, John James Audubon is revered as a naturalist, and renowned as America’s “foremost painter of birds.” Audubon was also an avid hunter and skilled taxidermist, and amassed a huge collection of bird specimens over the course of his lifetime. The Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College holds a collection of thirty-five of these birds. Working on site at the museum, I am currently engaged in a slow process of re-drawing Audubon’s birds, from painstaking observation, almost two hundred years after his seminal paintings were made. Once beautiful living birds in a much wilder North America, these tiny fragile creatures are now faded and falling apart, their battered feathers, twisted feet, and misshapen bodies are delicate, fragile, and preserved in deadly arsenic. My desire is to see these mysterious birds in a straightforward manner, to see them as separate from and in counterpoint to Audubon’s romantic legacy.
In this work I relate closely to Audubon's practice of intense, rigorous observation of nature. I emphasize and honor the process of drawing - its demands, its slow pace, its way of revealing the nuances of a particular bird gradually, in layers, in a gradual accretion of revisions and corrections on the paper. However my works diverge from Audubon’s in a conceptually significant way: Audubon drew birds to advance an idealized understanding of a species, while in my drawings I aim to simply observe an individual specimen, focusing on specifics and including imperfections.
As much as I am attracted to Audubon’s achievements and legacy, it is difficult for me to understand his prototypical nineteenth century approach to learning, categorizing, and collecting. I love the spirit of optimism it originated from - Yes we CAN know the world! But I am disturbed by its attitude of dominion over nature, its assumption of superiority, even of stewardship. It is my ambivalence about this period, and its scientific paradigm, in combination with my fascination and sense of romance for these tattered but still wondrous specimens, that draws me to Audubon’s birds.
Artist Bio / CV
2008 MFA Studio Arts, Maine College of Art, Portland, ME
1996 BFA Painting, SUNY Purchase, Purchase NY
2008 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
2002-6 New York Studio School, NYC
EXHIBITIONS AND SPECIAL PROJECTS
2011 “CACOPHONY,” in Sea Worthy, Flux Factory, NYC
2010 Solo Exhibition: Currents6, Annual Emerging Artist Series. Curated by Elizabeth Finch, Colby Museum of Art, Colby College, Waterville, ME
Beyond Purview, New Art Center, Newton MA
The Echo as an Original Sound, With Christopher Carroll. FiveSevenDelle Project Space, Boston, MA
Float: Buoyant Things, a Sinking Feeling: An Evening of Short Videos. Curated by Caitlin Berrigan. PROGRAM, Berlin, Germany
2009 Content/Community. Curated by Liz. Geller. FiveSevenDelle Project Space, Boston MA
Emma’s Walk, An Anti-Versary Event, Labor Day 2009. NYC
Historic Interpretation: Artists Interpret the Historic Collection, Peabody Historical Society, Peabody MA
Domestica, Eel Space, Chicago, IL
2008 The New Constructionists, SPACE Gallery, Portland, ME
Maine College of Art MFA Thesis Exhibition, ICA at MECA, Portland, ME
2007 Boy Mechanic’s Boat Launch at Walden Pond, Concord, MA.
FELLOWSHIPS, AWARDS, HONORS
2010 Puffin Foundation Ltd. Artist Grant
Berkshire Taconic Foundation, Artist’s Resource Trust Grant
2008 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture: Zorach/Bingham Fellowship
2006 Puppet Lab, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, NY
2005 Studio Fellowship, Center For Furniture Craftsmanship, Rockport, ME
2011 Art New England, “Gina Siepel: Currents6” by Carl Little, Jan/Feb 2011
2010 MetroWest Daily News “New Art Center Exhibit Challenges Viewers’ Perceptions,” by Chris Bergeron, Oct. 3
Colby Echo, “Maine Artist Explores Kennebec Region, nostalgia,” by Esther King, Nov. 3, 2010
2009 Acousmatic Theater Hour, WFMU, hosted by Karinne Keithley and Jason G. “Emma Goldman Labor Day Spectacular” (radio profile)
Journal of American Craft, “Native Funk and Flash (Part Two),” by Allison Smith