A bit of a bird nerd, I have long been working on a series of bird paintings that attempt to capture the animality and intelligence of birds. I was fascinated by a series of photographs my friend Angela Yang, who lives in a tent in the Masai Mara, took of this oxpecker grooming and eating the pest insects off the backs of Masai giraffes. After asking permission to use her photography as sketches, Angela saw my website and showed my work to her board. I was honored to be invited by the board of the Mara Conservancy to partner with them, and I began to paint and draw a series of giraffes for giraffes. These works will be used entirely to raise awareness and promote conservation for one of Africa's rapidly declining and most iconic species.
This first work, titled the Oxpecker sold to Cyndi Lee and 100% of the proceeds went to funding the anti-poaching teams who work to keep the Mara Triangle giraffes, elephants, and other animals safe from the rampant poaching taking place throughout this area. Because Masai Mara is not only a highway for massive animals migrations every year, but it also sits on the borders joining three separate nations with differing government policies on poaching and border patrols, it has become a very vulnerable and dangerous area for all the species who live there, including the humans.
The populations of giraffes have declined by over 30% in the last five years to say nothing of the critically endangered elephants, rhinos, and large predators of the area. The Masai giraffe subspecies, in particular, is critically endangered as well, meaning at the current rate of decline, it could be extinct within the next decade.
The second work in this series, titled Here Comes the Sun, is a pastel that was inspired by my friend John Ireland’s photography. The photo is of two of my personal giraffe buddies who live at the North Carolina Zoo, where I used to work as a zookeeper. I wanted to include some of the giraffes I have known and loved into this project as a way to feel more connected to their wild relatives I am trying to help protect. This work sold before its completion to Debbie Spanich, and a portion of the proceeds will also go to Mara Triangle.
The third work in the series, another oxpecker painting done in oil is currently in progress and is slated to be shown at the Riverviews Artspace Co-op Gallery in Lynchburg, Virginia this coming March. Come on down for First Friday the evening of March, 4th, 2016 to see it.
Special thanks to Cyndi Lee and Debbie Spanich, both for their support of my art and the giraffes. For more information on how to help the endangered animals of the Masai Mara, please visit maratriangle.org.