Passing Through

The mixed media painting of a humpback whale that started my Spirit Animal series.

Passing Through - GARDEN.jpg

Although I have been making art and caring about the welfare of animals all of my life, it wasn’t until 2010 that I decided to put these two passions together and to dedicate my art practice towards depicting animals.

It would have been easy to leap into doing pet portraits or realistic animal portraits from a photo (and indeed many artists that I admire and respect are known for doing exactly this), however for me personally that route wasn’t about honouring wild animals and relaying my concerns. For me, it felt like the antithesis of my passions.

With that distinction, I needed to determine what types of animals I wanted to focus on in my practice, and it was clear that wild animals of British Columbia, in particular those that are living in urban and suburban areas, are of most concern to me.

As someone who lives in ‘the burbs’, I frequently encounter raccoons, bears, coyotes and now and then hear about cougars nearby. These animals are also often the subject of news coverage- whether it be the animal impacting humans in some way or a human deliberately impacting one of them.

Exploring the nature of wild animals and how we impact them remains the underlying theme in all of my art, regardless of medium and style.

This piece, Passing Through, was created in 2017. I made it after a lot of thought around how animals evolve and change because of human behavior.

Passing Through - Sarah Ronald.jpg

I often think about what animals must think of us and our technology, and although I understand that they live in the moment and in a reactionary and non-judgmental way, I wanted to depict the moment of change, the moment when an animal encounters something foreign and then changes course as a result.

I sometimes like to equate this to how humans might react to an alien spaceship in the sky: this would be a defining moment in one’s life: the before the UFO and the after the UFO …(small series about this below).

I wanted to figure out a way to depict the before and after effects of an experience, like a doorway or portal where one side represented the pre-impact and the other side represented the post-impact.

However I didn’t want to depict something so literal as an actual door or portal.

At the time I was working on a lot of whale based pieces, and I realized that I could perhaps visually achieve the concept by using a bubble field and incorporating interference paint.

So I set out to create the piece. It took about a week to make, including the whale drawing, the painted background, and the layers of resin finish. I was pleased with the final result and the piece became a pivot point for the direction of my future artwork.

How could I accomplish the same concept without the use of some sort of visual doorway?

Finally it dawned on me that it was the COLOUR that represented the change, not the physical object that animal passed through. And so I started drawing a lot of animals with single colour changes in their bodies to depict these ‘Degrees of Enlightenment’ that they had experienced.

spirit animals - trials2.jpg

It wasn’t long after my first 30 or so small studies like this that I started to expand on the ‘degrees’ part of the enlightenment: animals don’t just go through one instance of human impact, they are constantly going through them, and so it makes total sense to use multiple colours on a single animal to reflect the multiple changes and adaptations that animal has gone through.

With researching into colours I naturally came across a lot of information on Chakra’s, and although I don’t necessarily intend for this series to be tied to this area of study, I do greatly appreciate the message that there is more to life than what can be seen by the human eye.

Like wild animals in suburban settings, you have to tune in and be receptive to something beyond your own life situation and your own limited perception of the world (and even before that, you have to realize that your own perception of the world is actually the cause of much suffering…but I refer you to the Dalai Lama or Pema Chodron to dip into that field further).

Around this time I had a consult with Pennylane Shen (aka Dazed and Confucius), who got me thinking even more about how these colours were being applied when she referred to them as being ‘dipped’ in colour. While she ran with that idea during our meeting it got me thinking that I needed to further change how I used these colours…I didn’t want them to simply be dipped, it missed the mark of what I was intending.

After taking Pennylane’s advice to give the animals a physical location (and following my own instinct to run away from the animals being dipped), I started to play around with incorporating the animals into abstract paintings that I had started and things began to come together.

Rather than having the animals isolated, incorporating them into an expressive environment was like acknowledging their connection to the land (albeit somewhat foreign environments), while simultaneously acknowledging that we are making them change in order for them to continue to live.

This is one of my favourite bodies of work because it embodies all of the elements that I set out to do in my art practice and it is also very accessible to viewers. I invite you to visit my ANIMALS / Spirit Animals gallery to see how the work continues to evolve.

Published Dec 29 2018