Birdwing Series


About the Paintings

About the Paintings

These paintings evolved when, after a long period of other artistic activities, I found a way of combing my need to get back to painting, with my feelings about the environment. I feel deep anger at the current appalling wilderness destruction and resulting species lose, which is happening across the planet. I have been witnessing it since a child in England in the 1940s, Malaysia in the 1950s and 70s and British Columbia since I moved here in 1969. Destruction is everywhere.

Art making is fundamental to my being but the natural world has always held equal or greater importance for me. It therefore felt very good to develop a way of working that combined both these passions. Having worked with, and taught, current art practice for many years, I found it a surprise to be painting leaves and butterflies. It certainly required a degree of courage to continue. However I comfort myself with the thought that progress in art often requires moving outside of the accepted envelope.

Initially I had no intention of exhibiting these images of imagined tropical plants and endangered insects as they were purely personal, though symbolic, renderings of just a few examples of the millions of animals and plants that, I believe, should be valued and protected in the natural world. I realize though, that with an issue as critical as this, it is important that I try to get these paintings seen.

I have come to think of this work as analogous to the paintings of our cave- dwelling ancestors. It is thought that they painted the wild horses and other Paleolithic animals as a ritualistic way of possessing those prey animals.

Maybe I am painting these threatened life forms as an intimate way of identifying, understanding, and preserving them, or possibly of making them sacrosanct.

Ornithoptera Chimaera

Chimaera Birdwing

  • This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.
  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera.
In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”.

Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

Ornithoptera chimaera is classified as Indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’

Chimaera Birdwing
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Acrylic on birch ply

h 38.5” w 67”
98 cm x 170 cm