Fewer creatures stop us in our tracks the way that a skunk does. The unique defense mechanisms that skunks have against predators fill us with fear and derision. The telltale odor of a skunk places the species in a unique category of the most obnoxious animal know to mankind.
If you keep your distance and observe these creatures going about their business, however, you will discover that they are fascinating animals.
Skunks have beautiful black and white fur that looks soft and luxurious (I have never dared to touch one, so I don’t really know what their fur feels like). Each one has a slightly different pattern. Some are more black than white, while others have greater areas of white that almost obscure their black areas of color.
They move across a lawn with a bouncy/wavy sort of motion. The movement is both graceful and playful, with a sort of comedic style to it. They typically are solitary creatures as they move about quietly in the twilight hours.
They appear happy-go-lucky to me. I think of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” when I see them bouncing along through the urban landscape. It is ironic that a creature so reviled by mankind seems completely oblivious to our derision, and thoroughly enjoys itself as it moves along its path.
As I shared in a previous post, I have spent a lot of time in the last year and a half observing wildlife creatures in my city of Canton, OH as I delivered newspapers in the early morning hours of the day. The animals that I have observed have inspired me, and I am articulating that inspiration in a series of paintings. I have seen many skunks in my travels. I have also, ahem, smelled their presence many times when I did not see them. A skunk painting (see above) had to be a central part of the series.
You can view the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019. You can also watch my painting progress in social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I hope my paintings inspire you to look at these animals in new ways as the animals have inspired me to do.
Hum the tune to “Happy” the next time you see a skunk, and I guarantee you will never look at them the same way again.
For the past year and a half, I have been creeping around in my car in the early hours of the morning, pondering deep thoughts, observing the late night culture of my city, watching the urban wildlife seek refuge from my high beam headlights, and delivering newspapers to the few people who still subscribe.
The haunting melody of “Keep the Streets Empty” by Fever Ray weaves its way through my mind as I endeavor to complete this nightly job – a menial task perhaps, but one that puts me in an interesting place of contemplation.
Memory comes when memory’s old
My mind often wanders to memories of lost loves, long gone career paths, and all those hopes and dreams that never quite materialized. I ponder about how I got here, and where will I go next?
The answers are few, but the questions are many.
At 2-3 AM, there are a surprising number of people walking in the streets of Canton, OH. I do not know why. They do not seem to be causing trouble. Just walking from one place to another with seemingly aimless determination. The weather does not matter. They are walking in snow, rain, thunderstorms and fog.
Canton is not a city where there is an accepted reason to be out late at night, unless you are making early morning deliveries like me or driving a garbage truck. There is trouble on the streets, but not from these silent wanderers. They are likely victims, not perpetrators. The people I see walking in the night seem to have little to claim in life beyond the clothes on their backs and the cell phones in their hands.
What is their purpose? Are they afraid? Are they so hardened by experience that fear no longer matters? Are they oblivious to the dangers present in the night? Has our world served them well? Do they ponder deep questions like I do?
Do they whisper in their minds, “Morning keep the streets empty for me,” hoping that no harm will come to them as they forge ahead along their paths?
Karin Dreijer Andersson who wrote the lyrics for “Keep the Streets Empty” has remarked about her mesmerizing song, “It’s supposed to be a deer singing,” which makes some sense to me. Imagining the perspective of a deer is something that I often ponder in my wee hour journeys. There are many deer stalking the streets at night, and empty streets are a blessing for them. I interrupt their communal forays into the night as I follow my own path. They watch me with wary eyes, sometimes scattering as I come upon them in the dark.
There is a peacefulness in my observation of the wildlife scurrying around as I sojourn through the early morning. There is unrest in my thoughts, though. The overpopulation of humans in the natural habitat of these creatures means many will not survive.
My artist sensibilities compel me to creatively record my journeys in some way, yet I am frustrated with the unsettledness of everything around me. I seek resolution and balance and hope in my art. I am lost as I seek a thread of that in this.
Everything seems wrong to me in our world of late.
We encroach upon the habitats of other creatures, then complain that they are pests to our privileged way of life. We run ram-shod across the earth and cause irreparable harm to the environment, threatening numerous species of animal and plant life, as well as we threaten our own species’ existence.
Society has organized around principles that grant great wealth to a few, moderate wealth to some, but far too little wealth to many. We mock and disdain the people who cannot seem to amass wealth, all the while laying out the conditions that limit their opportunities to do so.
And then we wonder why they wander the streets in the early hours.
How do I find balance and resolution in that?
Karin Dreijer Andersson also claims that her song is a duet. Is the deer singing to another deer or is the interaction between the deer and humanity?
Perhaps the song, and my own musings about life in the early morning are allegorical. Animals and humans all seek safe passage, regardless of the complicated paths that we take. We interact in such a way that, as we pursue our own survival, we consider that for others as well, or do we?
So many questions.
I have no creative work yet to capture the depth of my musings. The urban wildlife whom I have encountered as I travel along my morning paper route, however, have captured my artistic attention. The deer you see above is the first in my Urban Wildlife Series. I will share more paintings of these fascinating creatures in subsequent posts.
Who knows where it will all lead?
I will be leaving the streets empty myself soon. I am ending my time as a newspaper carrier in a few days, so I will no longer be on this particular journey. The memory of the silent nightlife – the people and the creatures of the night, however, will remain with me.
I am speaking with groups of middle school students today about what it is like to be a professional artist. Not a difficult topic for me, obviously, but it is still a challenge. When you speak to youth, you always feel a compulsion to leave some kind of impact and impression upon them.
And that is really kind of silly.
The last thing kids want from you is YOUR wisdom, because, you know, they always know more than you do.
I am not being sarcastic. Kids DO know a lot, and they have a different perspective on things than those of us who reached adulthood long ago.
I respect that. I have found that I am better off if I let THEM leave an impression on me, rather than vice versa.
I expect to learn a lot today.
Teach me guys, and ask me questions. I will try to make it a reciprocal exchange.
I was going to put together a PowerPoint presentation, but I decided against that. Young students are very tech savvy these days, and PowerPoints are boring.
Since my trajectory into making a career out of my art has been built upon using social media, and the school that I am visiting has WiFi, I am instead putting my presentation right here on my blog.
The presentation is all about images. I will post a few here, and see where it leads.
And I hope that some of my readers will give my students some comments to consider as well.
So, what would you like to learn about being a professional artist? And what would you like to learn from my students?