Zoophagy. 2011. India ink on paper. 22 x 30 inches. Edition 1-7.
This series, Zoophagy (literally “animal-eating”), addresses very human themes of consumption. Revenge, gluttony, reclusion, and other fixations are among the experiences depicted here, played out by snakes, birds, and insects. These three classes of organisms form a simple food web, which has been inverted and subverted into something abnormal. The animals are anthropomorphized through their encounters as they forget themselves and their natural behaviors. These creatures do not experience obsession as humans do, and emotive expressions cannot be easily found in their faces. So it is within their illogical actions that their humanity can be found.
Nineteenth century naturalist illustration has informed several of the aesthetic choices of this series. The pen drawings have been confined to a small space in the center of thick paper. India ink has proven to be a highly versatile medium for the purposes of this work, achieving both delicate lines and heavy brush strokes, and the lack of color sustains cohesion throughout the series. The animals appear to fall through empty space without any external context, further removing the animals from their natural state of being. The intricate detail makes the images forceful up close but this impact diminishes at a distance. The centralized images combined with the extensive bordering negative space further maintains a solid unity and creates a formal visual impact when the drawings are viewed together at a distance.
Precision was very important so that each species might be recognizable: no poisonous snakes, biting or stinging insects, or birds of prey are featured. This choice was made to increase the level of absurdity in these drawings, that relatively harmless animals find themselves in dangerous situations. In several drawings the specific identity of the subject is relevant and ironic. Mayflies attack an insectivorous woodpecker, and a greedy magpie is swallowed. However, the narratives still remain accessible to viewers without the background necessary for identifying each species. Animals have been used in allegories for centuries and snakes, birds, and insects have a long tradition in naturalist illustrations. This has been continued well into the contemporary art scene in works such as those of Lindsey Carr, Grainger McKoy, Robert Batemen, and Walton Ford. Ford’s paintings have a more political slant, but like Zoophagy, places animals into extraordinary situations with the purposes of metaphor.
Anthropomorphitization is ultimately problematic, as human motivations cannot be ascribed to the featured species. The naturalist style concedes this, but simultaneously highlights the bizarreness of the experiences depicted. Zoophagy’s goal is to balance scientific drawing with contemporary sensibilities to address abstract human obsession.