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 Tithonus

Tithonus Birdwing

Little is known of the exact distribution of this butterfly although it is known to inhabit the Onin Peninsular in Irian Jaya and one or two nearby islands where it can be found from sea level to 1200 meters.

The golden/green forewings are suffused with an iridescent coppery-orange which, with the wing shape, distinguishes O. tithonus from the similar chimaera.
In the 1911 publication of field notes by C. B. Pratt, he describes finding a flowering tree overhanging a deep chasm, which was attracting large numbers of these butterflies. After trying unsuccessfully for some weeks to capture one, they decided to cut down the tree in the hope it would cause the butterflies to disperse to other flowers. They cut the tree down, but never saw another of these butterflies.

Tithonus was the son of Laomedon, who built the walls of Troy, and brother to Priam the eventual King of troy. He was the lover of Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn. Zeus very kindly granted him immortality but failed to add eternal youth. Consequently he grew older, and older, till he shriveled up and became a cicada.
From Tithonus comes the word tithonic which means ‘denoting rays of light which produce chemical effects.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 15 cm
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 18 cm

It is classified as Insufficiently Known in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

Tithonus Birdwing
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Acrylic on birch ply & maple

h 38.5” w 61”
98 cm x 154 cm