Sittin' in the Sun, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Sittin’ in the Sun, egg tempera by Daniel Ambrose

Thirty years ago I wouldn’t have considered painting this subject. A bird yes, certainly not a bronze bird surrounded by bougainvillea.

Back then I was interested in real birds, fascinated by how they moved, how their wings unfolded during that precise instant when their feet left the ground and they became creatures of air instead of the earth.

In order to paint them well I had to understand them, had to get my hands on them.

So I studied anatomy with veterinarians, worked with wildlife rescue groups, joined the Audubon Society and became friends with the late Dr. Herbert Kale, an ornithologist who graciously shared his knowledge and gave me access to his collection.

I learned a lot about birds.

And I wanted to paint birds naturally, in their environment. So I had to learn their habitats, breeding plumage and migration patterns at different times of the year. I wanted my paintings to have verisimilitude; the ring of truth, and imbued with an ineffable emotion.

The learning process of incorporating birds into backgrounds facilitated the progression of my art on a parallel path of study in painting. Drawing and painting birds and landscapes from life, I learned about perspective and scale, light and shadow, color and edges.

I chewed on emotion and truth in art.

My paintings became less about birds, less about subject and more about light. The birds got smaller, began flying and eventually left my paintings as I began to explore the idea of light. Natural light in the landscape.

I became fascinated with the idea of light; its physical properties and spiritual connotations, intrigued by its behavior in nature and in paint.

I applied the study of light to the natural landscapes I loved.  Landscapes now obliterated by the growth of civilization.

My mildly obsessive nature kept leading me back to those vanished landscapes. In my mind’s eye were the orange groves, fish camps, horse pastures, and friendly screen doors of my youth. Ruminating in my studio, I’d set out again back to old familiar haunts. What is this! New roads, a big box store where a crystal lake and moss draped cypress trees once lived. The birds and other animals all left in a rush without leaving a forwarding address. Well, its all right, I really need a cheap shirt from China instead. Surely, I’m much better off now.

Surely back then, I would only paint a bird of blood and bone, never bronze.

Back then, when Americans made bronze.

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