Betelgeuse and a Bee

We can’t predict the future.

But, in some cases, we can make fairly accurate estimations for situations that are extremely likely to occur, thanks to diligent research and hard science.

Betelgeuse, the red and brightest star in the constellation of Orion in the night sky, may be barely perceptible to the naked eye, but this cosmic orb is actually a super massive, unstable star reaching the end of its life, and ready to explode. It could be tomorrow, it could be a million years from now. But one day, it will happen, just as sure as our own Sun will die. Betelgeuse will grow, and grow, using up the very last stores of its energy, and will explode in a fantastically cataclysmic supernova. It will shine like a second Sun. We may as yet be lucky enough to witness such a spectacle, and we are, thankfully, some 430 light-years out of harm’s way.

Image result for betelgeuse
But not every scientific prediction and eventuality can be so epic and so benign to us as the fate of Betelguese. The humble bumblebee, an annoying summer visitor to some, a problem-solving, dancing, geometry-wielding genius to others, has a fate that seems to be hanging in the balance, very much as the stability of the red star in the heavens. Yet the fate of the bumblebee is much closer to home.

Bumblebees have seen a dramatic drop in their population levels, with as much of a third of their US populations having decreased in recent years (http://www.globalresearch.ca/death-and-extinction-of-the-bees/5375684). Bees are not only vital pollinators, allowing countless species of plants and flowers to pollinate and reproduce, but they are also an important part of our own elaborate food chain. From honey in its raw form to soaps, lip balms, syrups and more, bees have been powerful contributors to our desire for sweet tastes, soft skin and juicy lips.

But at what price? Climate change, growing use of harmful pesticides and invasion of foreign species are speeding up the crisis bees face, but ultimately we may be their biggest threat. It’s difficult to predict how soon such a population could crash, whether it is a local crash, or restricted to vulnerable populations or even entire countries. A small, colony-dwelling animal such as a bee is no doubt hard to study, and hard to calculate in terms of accurate numbers and breeding success. With only handfuls of dedicated beekeepers to help with the maths, once again it seems science can only predict what may be around the corner.

I’m not suggesting we throw away that little jar of honey that we love to spoon into our cereal, or to soothe a sore throat after a rough winter, all I am suggesting is that we stop, step back and switch of the lights. Crane your neck up, as high as you can, and see if you can spot Orion among the tango-haze of light pollution. Next time you hear the soft bzzzzzz coming towards your eye, don’t flap your hands to shoo it away. Stay still, stay calm, and take a look.

Frida Kahlo – Columns, Colours and Chronic Pain

The painting left a lasting impression on the depths of my mind, one that I’d perhaps quite forgotten, the same way a haunting piano solo never fails to move me as I remember and sway to its decadent rhythms. The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo is more than just a painting about pain, and more than just a woman in pain painting about pain. It is about what painting does to us all.

Frida Kahlo is the kind of painter that a lot of female artists, myself included, aspire to be. That hard-headed, self-reliant, independent, driven woman that approaches her art as she does every aspect of her life; from her politics to her philosophy, fashion and eventually, a painting on canvas. And yes, she can have a man if she wants, but she doesn’t need one (or maybe she does).

The Broken Column, 1944

The Broken Column is a painting of insight, but also of outward influence. This painting is a deeply intimate portrayal of her struggle; a bus accident in her childhood left her for a time, bedridden, and forever unable to bear children. Frida’s life was sadly cut short at the age of 47, after she endured years of chronic pain, operations, miscarriage, amputation and ultimately, alcohol and medication dependence, not to mention her tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera. Whilst The Broken Column is undoubtedly a personal piece; we can feel the artist’s shattered insides and feel like we should put our hands to the canvas to put support the crumbling column, it is also a painting of external forces. The artist is in control of the paint colour she chooses, the depth and texture of the canvas, even the way she holds the brush, but ultimately, the painting is out of her control. We are all driven by external forces that dictate what we do, what we say, and much as we try to avoid these external chess moves, we are all dictated by them.

We all have our own Broken Column, a piece of us that may be a little more fragile than we let on, a deep rooted fear that prevents us from taking a leap off the edge, whether figuratively or literally. Many of us have an unseen column, a disability we haven’t shared, a poem we haven’t shared or a story we never dared tell.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Frida Kahlo

 

You Can Join the Cosmic Nature Project

In case you missed my previous blog posts about my self-titled series of paintings ‘Cosmic Nature’, you can read about them here and here. But this blog is me reaching out to you, my audience, my viewers, the people that matter.

Cosmic Painting
Here’s one that you can help transform into a finished painting

This is your chance to become involved with my ‘Cosmic Nature’ project. I am opening up this project to public collaboration. Send me, through email, commenting on this post or contacting me via Facebook what you would like to see next from this project.

Detail from Night Parrots, Oils on Canvas

Would you like to see new subject matter, perhaps more planets, more aurora? Any idea that you like. Send me your creative thoughts, your silly titles, your whimsical ideas, and I will choose the best three to become the latest three installments of this series. I will create blog posts about each and will give you the opportunity to be involved at every step of the creative and writing process!

So start sending your ideas today! I look forward to receiving them.

Chloe

The homogenizing of nature

Wildlife and Words

Homogenization means to make something ‘uniform or similar’, it is a concept with connotations of blandness and repetitiveness. It could easily be applied to Britain’s high-streets, which are increasingly becoming rows of identical big-name franchises – every town in the country is now guaranteed to contain a Costa. It is one of my greatest fears for the future that this very thing will happen to the natural world as well.

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Birds, Birds, Birds!

Dinosaurs in drag.

That’s effectively what birds are. The scaly-legged, scaled-down and more decorative great-great-great-great grandchildren of the dinosaurs. Whether you believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs or not (but you really, really should), it’s hard not to be fascinated by these animals. Whilst some people are terrified of birds to the point of hysterics (see, it;s the dinosaur connection again!), most find them truly mesmerizing.

From the lonesome, lustful traveller to the birdwatcher to the ornithologist, birds hold a special place in our imagination. Whether it is their beautiful song, elaborate plumes, architectural prowess that rivals the best interior designer, or simply the quirky hopping, head-bobbing that they do so wonderfully. It’s really no small wonder that birds have been depicted in art for centuries. They have symbolised everything from purity to wrath, witchcraft and everything in between. As an artist I find that the bird makes for a truly unique and evocative subject, with a versatility that is difficult to recreate with mammals or other subjects. Birds have their own wonderful colour palettes and their own ready-made canvases, ready for us artists to pounce on.

Below, I’d like to share some of my favourite modern and traditional examples of the beauty of the bird in art and why they appeal to me in the way that they do.

Birds, 1914, Franz Marc

Birds in Art Blog

Hardly surprising that Franz Marc is on this list, but this  particular painting is here for a few reasons. This painting to me is not about a particular bird, or a particular species, but it captures the essence of what it is to be a bird: the pointed beak, the flap of the wings, their vocalisations. This painting evokes that startled feeling that you get when a flock of pigeons suddenly springs up into the air from just under your nose.

Illustrations in Ornithology, published in 1599


Whilst wildly inaccurate, these very early illustrations of Birds of Paradise from Papua New Guinea were not the work of over-imaginative artists, but the restrictions of working from dead specimens collected and traded half way around the world. The trade in paradise birds was booming, but the specimens were dried and traded without any legs or wings, so their beautiful plumes could be shown off in even more exquisite detail. But for early illustrators and ornithologists, this proved something of a puzzle. The theory was that these birds lived in heaven – Paradise, so didn’t need wings or feet at all. A truly beautiful story about a remarkable group of birds, and one I think any bird lover should take the time to read about. More beautiful than any designer dress!
Dodo, F. Hart

This 19th Century painting is sad reminder of the unfortunate story of the Dodo, a bird much loved by artists, writers, and much mocked and exaggerated too. This over-sized, flightless Mauritian pigeon has fascinated me from a very young age, ever since reading Dodos are Forever by Dick King Smith. Again, we don’t know how accurate this painting is as there are very few specimens around today, but this stunning piece of art and others like it are sobering reminders of humanity’s impact on the environment, and the vulnerability of specialised and isolated island species.

Modern artists too can’t help but fall in love with birds. Below are a few contemporary examples that I simply love, and yes, there’s one of mine in the list too!

For Me? You Shouldn’t Have!, Kimberly Kelly Santini

This absolutely charming little painting projects the little diva that seems to shine through in even the tiniest of birds. From singing with gusto to flashing their dazzling plumes, the smallest birds are often the boldest, the most brazen, and some of the most beautiful. If you can’t get out to see them in the wild; go to a sanctuary, an aviary, a pet shop, anywhere you can, and just take a look. Whilst searching the length and breadth of this island for guinea pigs a few weeks ago I got lost in the dazzling array of canaries, finches, quails, sparrows….I was astounded at their little variations, the unique qualities of each tiny little bird; perhaps that is how Darwin felt!

Carmines, Emily Lamb

The beauty and simplicity of this painting does all the work it needs to. The rest is up to the imagination of the viewer.

Wall of Birds Project, Ink Dwell Studio



This massive-scale, stunning work comprises  270 species of birds from all over the globe. This unique piece of art includes many extinct and living bird species from the Dromornis to the Kakapo to the Wandering Albatross, and many other species that have a special place in my heart. Another unique aspect of this piece is that every bird is painted life size and in stunning accuracy and detail, for a magical, bird-map view of the world.
Laysan Waltz, by Me!

Albatross Painting for Conservation
The albatross is my love-affair, my chocolate, my drug of choice. The albatross is a bird that is like no other; mating for life, performing perfectly-synchronised and often comical dances, boasting nature’s most magnificent wings. This seabird is a one of a kind, but unfortunately, it is also under threat in many of its key nesting sites, from Midway Island to Macquarie Island,  so it is a bird that we need to pay close attention to. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with them. You can read more about the making of this painting here.  (This painting is available for €500 to the first person asking kindly. A percentage of the sale will go towards The Foundation for Antarctic Research. I urge you to go and support such a worthy cause!)

Is there a particular species that moves you as an artist? Be it a painter, a writer, musician etc, is their a subject that captures your imagination like no other?

I Eat Meat

This is not a blog about activism, or elitism. This is a blog all about what makes us individual, what makes us human. The ability to rationalise, reason, formulate opinions, and to politely agree or disagree.

I eat meat.

I am a passionate wildlife artist, advocate for conservation, and firm believer in animal rights and animal protection.

But yes, I do eat meat.

Meat has been a part of the  human diet for at least the last 2.6 million years, and even our closest living relative the chimpanzee is known to indulge in meat-eating on occasion.

Our teeth are omnivorous, our brains require extremely high-energy foods, and our digestive system resembles more that of a carnivore than a herbivore – we don’t have a four chambered stomach, a rumen, or an appendix that does anything more than go septic and occasionally rupture.

But my argument here is not that meat is or isn’t an important part of our diet. It is about how we can eat it.

I am very lean, so whilst I admire those who adhere to a plant-based diet, I feel that our diet, and mine particularly, should be just that, plant-based, not plant-only. A good dose of healthy protein fuels our brains, our energy levels, and provides us with vital nutrients and minerals that plants simply can’t provide.

I believe that the eating of animals is not ethically wrong, but the way that we consume them certainly is. Nature is cruel; animals are slaughtered on a daily basis; babies ripped from their mothers’ wombs by hungry, slavering predators, wild dogs chewing on the legs of their prey, consuming them alive, or the Komodo dragon, that gives one bite and leaves it victim to die an incredibly slow, painful death from infection.

But nature doesn’t know any better. We humans have the unique perspective of rational thinking, of empathy, and I suspect that this insight developed pretty early on in our meat-eating habit. We developed weapons and hunting tactics to dispose of our prey as quickly and as cleanly as possible, to avoid unnecessary injury to ourselves or our victims.

As the intelligent species, we have a moral obligation, if we do wish to consume meat, to do it in a way that causes the least suffering. Why condemn a hen to a life of confinement, disability, darkness and disembowelment, when that hen can be provided high quality food, adequate movement and a flock? Financial gain, increased productivity and a twisted air of superiority.

There are more cattle than humans on the planet today. The more our human population swells, the more our demand for beef swells with it. Cattle are an enormous contributor to global warming, producing vast amounts of methane, and they require large amounts of land and grain to bring them up to slaughter weight. In fact, cattle need ten times more land then pigs or chickens do.

Switching away from beef, we can perhaps save vast amounts of land and grains that could be directly consumed by humans. We can use this surplus land to raise pigs and chickens in more ethical conditions, giving them sunlight, room to move, socialisation and enough freedom as any pet deserves.

Eating meat is not without its problems. We are rapidly running out of space for ourselves and our need for food. Climate change is exacerbating the problems of drought, famine, over-cultivated and deforested land, making it more and more difficult to grow crops, to feed  our animals.

I have of course, barely touched upon the cruelty of animal slaughterhouses, not because I wish to shy away from the topic, but because this subject is already extremely well-known and contested. But at least there are people within animal husbandry seeking to change this; take Temple Grandin and her work with some of the biggest cattle raisers in the US and around the world, adopting simple yet radical tactics to ease an animal’s suffering once its fate is determined. Even such simple things as changing the way they are led into the slaughterhouses; the colour and the texture of the ground the walk on, can all ease their journey.

As much as I enjoy meat, I feel that it is my responsibility to make the right decision, even though it may be a sacrifice to choose one item over another. I am lucky, I can make that choice. We are victims of our own success; we can raise and enjoy such a huge quantity of beef is a great sign of progress, however, taken to an extreme, the consequences start to outweigh the benefits. There is no need to go to the extremes of raw eating or veganism either, it’s all a matter of common sense, and a little bit of empathy. Obviously eating less meat is good for us health-wise, and environmentally.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/beef-uses-ten-times-more-resources-poultry-dairy-eggs-pork-180952103/

http://www.nature.com/articles/nature16990.epdf?referrer_access_token=Dvw4Oy4jOcYXUeaNGq1HhtRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0M8YcVenEcO7CgRz5HSvoTFoxs-22vo5cVzlc-7sejkjL83ZSX8tCP9TAi4GEE5frJaJMgJRLWWJOIVMjH_elhYqsIPOiJI5TaBhYGLDw1ehi1v_AH5K1C2YWQ4wP9TT8S5w6WQcrc78tOVXtZS8mezAVwWMde_WZRvetX3FPXoo_SnbBgNY1hePpzJ-7oDAA8%3D&tracking_referrer=time.com

http://time.com/4252373/meat-eating-veganism-evolution/

http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/19/temple-grandin-killing-them-softly-at-slaughterhouses-for-30-years/

The Story Behind the Painting: Life at Last Light

Life at Last Light represents the resilience and adaptability of the raven to an urban environment.

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If you’re visiting New York, you might just catch sight of a raven. Just goes to show that if you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere. Oils on Canvas, 2017, available for €350 for the first asking nicely

Ravens are highly intelligent, sociable, and highly adaptable, but even with their skills, life in an urban environment is tough, from winging your way through glass disorienting skyscrapers to traffic, pollution and an unhealthy and unnatural diet. But the raven is one of nature’s hardy immigrants, and has embraced life in the concrete jungle. This article of Crows and Ravens Making a Comeback in New York was part of the inspiration for this painting, as I was searching for a suitable species to represent my feelings of home, as an immigrant myself (born in the UK, now living on the island of Malta).

This painting is the first of two in which I am reflecting on home, perhaps with homesickness, perhaps with admiration, and more than a little humility for the millions of refugees that have been forced out of their homes due to famine, conflict, political uprising, or all three. I talk about this in two previous blog posts here and here.