I call him LL Scrub Jay. He’s a Western Scrub Jay that hangs out in the necto-plum tree outside of my studio, and I feed him peanuts from time to time. He and his buddies turn up in my “bird a day” sketchbook (full disclosure, I don’t always have time to draw a bird a day, but I try).
I’m pretty sure the neighbors think I’m bonkers but when I do my pathetically bad scrub jay call he usually shows up for a few nuts, and this makes me feel like we have a “relationship”, which resulted in this painting:
Flash forward a bit to when I was asked to contribute a piece to the show “Boxes of Death 5”, in which artists are all given a 2′ high wooden coffin to paint/alter/play with. The blank casket arrived on my doorstep at about the same time that I read an article about how Western Scrub Jays have funerals. When one finds a dead comrade, they start up a loud screeching call — but not to warn other jays away, to gather them around. The assembled birds all perch near the dead bird’s body and screech together for as long as 30 minutes. (You can read more about this right here.) That’s when I decided I would create a funerary piece about LL.
In my paintings I’ve often toyed with the idea of an animal kingdom where the critters have dragged elements of human culture back into their world, and pondered what sort of things they might take a shine to and value. With the idea of “pouring one out” in remembrance of a fallen friend, I decided the background for the piece should be hand-painted labels from Olde English 40 oz bottles — as close to “gold leaf” as a bird might be able to scavenge.
Which started to come together something like this (with the help of my studio assistant, who feels there should be massive amounts of feline hair in everything I do).
What other sorts of embellishments might a bird have access to? Years ago when we were picnicking in Joshua Tree, we shared some scraps with a scrub jay, and once he’d had his fill he flew off to rustle around in a nearby bush. He returned to us and dropped a small shiny object in the middle of our picnic — it was a small brass 9mm shell casing. I can only imagine he thought it was a fair trade, that we would appreciate this piece of shiny human stuff. Or he was trying to give us a clue (like Lassie, “Bark! Bark!” “What Lassie, little Timmy is trapped in the well?”) to some nefarious crime, but we didn’t follow up on it. We were busy moving to San Francisco from New York. Remembering that bird holding the metal shell casing in his beak, I decided the coffin needed bottle caps, which I’d been saving for gawd-only-knows-what-project, and which I went to friend Phil Horton’s machine shop to drill.
“Boxes of Death 5”, with work by 50 artists, will be traveling for a series of four one-night-only openings — try to catch one if it’s in your neck o’ the woods!
PDX Antler Gallery -10/3
SF Gauntlet Gallery – 10/8
LA The Chun – 10/11
SEA Piranha Gallery – 10/17
“Boxes of Death is an art exhibition where 50 artists are each given their own coffin to do with what they want. The idea spawned from Kane Quaye, a famous coffin maker from Africa. His philosophy was that a coffin should not just be a pine box, but something that represents the person inside and their life. Each artist in the show uses the same coffin canvas format to create their own artistic statement surrounding the preconceived notions and ideas of the coffin shape. The people in the show have a chance to step out of their comfort zone and faced with the idea of death, react to it.
The result is a visually compelling installation contrasting repetition and individuality. Boxes of Death showcases artists from the farthest reaches of the continental US as well as some international artists and highlights an incredibly diverse range of creative backgrounds.
Sponsored by Rudy’s and Juxtapoz, co-curated by Roq La Rue, the 2014 Boxes of Death tour show has grown to include 50 artists and has evolved into a four stop tour. The artist roster includes world renowned painters, illustrators, graphic designers, motorcycle builders, tattoo artists, assemblage masters and print makers.”
You can find out more about the show right here: Boxes of Death 5