I’ve always looked up to dead people. As a lifelong fan of history I’ve felt small and insignificant compared to the pantheon of superstars from all walks of life, whose names and stories are remembered through the ages. I’ve counted as my heroes the ones who made the biggest impact on humanity and our planet. There was a bit of torment in my fanhood. I painted this piece when I kept coming up against the unpleasant reminder that, as enormous as these giants of yesteryear were, they are now gone, and I, little old infinitesimal me, am still here. I have the very human longing to make my mark, express myself, offer my voice, and venture forth into making things happen. But I let a meddlesome comparison—me vs. the greatest minds and hearts that ever lived—make me feel like a peon. Its effect left me expecting less of myself, and daunted by the daring task of getting out in the arena.
I chose to paint my historical friends as colorless plaster busts, a certified gesture commending their monumental contributions, but implying that they bought the farm long ago. To represent myself, I wanted a small animal, but a brightly colored one to contrast the blanched figures that dominate the piece. I attended a bird banding a few years ago, where we caught migrating birds for tagging. Holding a Painted Bunting is like tending a little rainbow. They are indescribably bright, and, like most songbirds, light and delicate. I love it when an animal with which I’ve had a close encounter becomes appropriate for my work. The wallpaper is old fashioned, another nod to history.