Ornithoptera Series


More about the Paintings

Superficially the paintings describe the rare Birdwing, or Ornithoptera, butterflies of tropical New Guinea. but, as most of them fly above the treetops, I am really concerned to paint the canopy of the forest on which they depend. For me the leaf structures, patterning, colour and surface quality are of the greatest importance.

For the past thirty years I have been interested in plant structures and growth patterns and recently spent a fair bit of time studying and photographing tropical plants and leaves in Borneo and Malaysia. I have occasionally painted from photographs but I prefer to design imagined leaf structures knowing that somewhere in the jungle canopy there is probably a tree that looks like my invention. I have only once tried to paint the Aristolocia vines on which the ornithoptera caterpillars feed.

I paint with acrylic on 1/8 inch birch ply. With some works I include pieces of local wood, with others pieces of recycled tropical hardwoods. My intention is to ask,“ When, under what circumstances, and for what purposes should tropical and temperate woods be used?”

At present I am completing 4 different series each depicting the 11 recognized species, and some subspecies, of Ornithoptera Butterflies.

Ornithoptera Meridionalis

The Meridonalis is considered the smallest of the Birdwing butterflies and the male is described as “a very weak flyer, which flutters from tree to tree”. It is therefore fortunate that the caterpillar feeds on the poisonous Aristolachia vine, which in turn makes the butterfly poisonous to would be predators.

The females lay 5-7 eggs on the vines in the canopy so they have to fly down to a lower level to meet up with the males.

They are found in the southeast lowlands of Papua New Guinea, but have also been reported in a location in western Irian Jaya.

The name ‘Meridionalis’ is taken from the southern location of this species. The rather similar O. paradisea is found to the north across a high mountain range.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 11.6 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 14.5 cm.

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

Ornithoptera meridionalis
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Acrylic on birch ply & cherry

h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm