Night Vision evolved out of my strong desire to learn more about the wild creatures that share the 58-acre farm my husband and I own in the Driftless Region of southwest Wisconsin. I love all animals, and feel sad that we see relatively little of our “farm-mates” during the day. Even animals that aren’t nocturnal by nature are often forced by fear to lay low over the daylight hours.
Over the past five years, I’ve set up a motion-activated trail camera at various locations around our property. The camera uses infrared digital technology to take photos—day or night—without the intrusive presence of a human operator. Through this camera, I’ve gotten to better know the wild friends that live around the farm. I have also enjoyed spying on my horses with the trail camera during this time. Horses only sleep for a few minutes at a time, so I wanted to know what they do all night (and if the dominant pair was bullying my smaller, older rescue horse).
From the first time I uploaded trail camera photos to my computer, I knew that they would lead to paintings. I have always painted animals, and I have always been a narrative painter who tells visual stories.
My paintings usually feature bright, colorful images. But for the Night Vision series I thought I would really shake things up for myself by using color in a totally different way. With the exception of the first few “learning curve” paintings, which employed various shade of black, all the works in Night Vision are composed of colors mixed so subtly that the images appear from a distance to be monochromatic value studies.
In general, it is my hope that the animals featured in Night Vision come across as the individuals they are, not as stand-ins for, or as symbols of, an entire species or the attributes we humans assign to them. (If I paint a pig, I’m not painting “gluttony”; I’m doing a portrait of that pig.)
Conveying the individualism of these subjects was not easy or always possible, however, given that we make so many of our assumptions about others from studying their eyes. Depicting “night eyes” as captured by the camera—white circles or oblongs—challenged me to convey my subjects’ essence mainly through gesture and expression. In spite of this challenge, I absolutely love the accidental reference to the visual language of comics found in these cartoonish blanks.
On a walk during a break from painting one day I startled a large doe who was standing in our creek, drinking. She had a distinctive face, and when she looked at me I realized that I recognized her from photos taken on my trail camera. I’ve always thought that animals are unique individuals with quirky personalities, inherent rights, and self interests. But that moment with the doe crystallized this thought into an unshakable conviction that individual animal lives matter.
There is no end to the list of ways in which our entrenched, unexamined sense of “human privilege” and species-ism harms other beings, from deliberately killing for sport or convenience to gradually making our entire planet unlivable for all. It is my hope that Night Vision will not only briefly elevate viewers (as I feel elevated when I soak in other people’s art) but also encourage people to appreciate the animals surrounding us and perhaps treat them more kindly.