Birds in Art 2010

Ran screaming around the house when I found out this morning via email. Dogs wagging tails, but looking concerned, until they realized I was ok. Ivan (the Pyr, the guardian of all), plunked down in my computer room to keep an eye on the situation to be sure I was alright…. I made it in Birds in Art this year. Can’t believe it. Only made it once before with On the Run in 2005, and I submit work almost every year (since 2002). Anyway, the relief-printed pull-toys made it in this time–that’s why I’m so excited–it isn’t the medium I usually submit to Birds in Art.

box with 2 pull-toy chickens

"Back in the Day, Poultry Edition" • mixed media assemblage (hand-colored relief prints, wood, acrylic, farm journals from 1800s) • 27" tall

For those who aren’t familiar with this event, Birds in Art is an international, juried show they hold every year up in Wausau (WI) at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. There really are wildlife artists from all over the world who come to the opening celebrations, so it’s a pretty amazing event. Every year, many of the Master Wildlife Artists from years past show up, so it’s really thrilling to meet them in person. Some of the Master Wildlife Artists from years past have been Carl Brenders, Robert Bateman, Guy Coheleach, Maynard Reece, and many others (including Owen Gromme in 1976–the first year). Andrea Rich was the Master Wildlife Artist in 2006, and she is one of my all-time favorite woodcut artists–really incredible work.

So, Back in the Day, Poultry Edition will be at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum for this year’s Birds in Art Exhibit, opening weekend Sept. 11, 12. Public opening on Saturday, Sept. 11, details to follow at my exhibits page.

New work (Gallus…)

Gallus americanus obesus
7 1/2 ft x 6 1/2 ft
mixed media

chicken, white, broiler, obese, printmaking, acrylic, feed sacks, mixed media

Now on view at 15 seconds, at the Art Lofts.

This big guy is modeled after one of my broiler chickens. For those unfamiliar with chicken breeds, there are different types of chickens for different purposes. All hens will lay eggs, and you can eat the meat of any chicken, but some breeds are made to excel in different ways. The Broilers, or Cornish-Cross, or Jumbo Broilers are bred to have big breasts and lots of meat. They grow quicker than other breeds, sometimes (as with the Jumbo) freakishly so. Unless you restrict their food intake, the Jumbos can have major leg problems (legs facing other directions or legs unable to withstand the weight of the chicken’s body… Yes, it can be horrific). After one season of raising these Jumbos, I swore “never again.” I still grow chickens for meat, and usually I do get chicks that are Cornish-Cross, or Broilers, but not the Jumbos. If managed carefully, they can grow up without leg problems.

But they still grow amazingly fast. And huge. I’ve got some 14 lb. broilers in the freezer (that’s 14lbs. dressed). I grow them because I’m a lazy cook. I like to be able to take one chicken and make literally weeks worth of meals out of the one bird (freezing dishes for later, etc). I also love the taste of fat chicken–the fat is what makes the meat (and the dishes) have so much flavor. Granted, moderation in eating this type of food is key, but I’d much rather eat a small amount of fat chicken than a “normal” or large portion of lean.

This said, I must say that there is something freakish about these birds, and stereotypically American about them. Supersized. In contrast, the French have these petite little 5lb Crevecoeurs, Mottled Houdans and the 6-7lb Faverolles. Those are their utility birds–for eggs and table. We have Jumbo Broilers. In 6-8 weeks they can weigh 4lbs and can be butchered then (or at the other extreme, wait till the end of summer and butcher at 20 lbs.). They are huge, white, obese things and to me, mirror the current culture and our struggle against human obesity. There’s no mystery here though–their genetics are such that they are always hungry and will eat continuously. Who wouldn’t be obese with those kinds of genetics? Also, these are sedentary birds. I raise them on pasture, but the extent of their exercise is to waddle out in the morning and plunk themselves down in front of the feeders and start scarfing down. This is what they are bred for–their genetics make them always hungry and thus they just pack on the pounds almost literally overnight. I have to take the feeders away during the day so that they don’t have leg problems, or keel over from heart attacks when scared (this did happen that year with the Jumbos…. I’d have to softly talk when I approached the barn in the morn to open up, otherwise, if I opened the door and they didn’t see/hear me coming they would startle. A couple of times, a broiler was so startled it just fell to the ground and died–perfectly healthy the night before).

So, this piece sort of encapsulates the essence of the American broiler chicken, taken to extremes (and allowed to grow older than the typical processing age of 6-8wks)–huge, obese, sort of freakish, a bit scary, wider than tall, good eatin’….