The Stories Behind the Paintings / Love at First Sight

September 5th, 2019

Love Potion #9 / Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36” plus frame

Seeing a rose-breasted grosbeak for the first time was like a dope-slap from the universe: “Wake up! There’s this whole other world — the world of nature — the really realworld that will inspire, uplift, and sustain you!”

It was exactly what I needed at that moment. I was stumbling around in some pretty dark places as a young woman, trying to find my footing as an adult. Commuting to my office job every day, deep in the gray concrete jungles of NYC, had left me numb, teetering on the edge of despair, and flirting with self-destruction. I had given up hope of ever being an artist or being happy.

To this day, I don’t know how I ended up in Prospect Park — a place I had never been before — or why I even noticed the bird-watchers who were exclaiming over the grosbeak. But they invited me to take a look through their binoculars, and seeing that colorful songbird flipped a switch inside me. “Oh right.”Until that moment, I had forgotten how transformative the natural world could be. A place I knew as a child, but had completely lost. That bird led me to leave my corporate job in NYC, move to the wilds of NH, and yes, eventually reconnect with myself as an artist.

That lovely bird brought me home to myself and I will forever be uplifted whenever I see or hear one — which most delightedly, is often.


How Deep is Your Love? / Humpback Whale

Acrylic on (5) panels, 32 x 100”

My happiest memories as a child usually involve food, or the ocean. In particular, body-surfing for hours in the waves off Breezy Point, a sandy spit just outside of New York City. Oh! That moment when you sync up with the ocean and let her take you on that buoyant, wild, exhilarating ride — whew!

Whales carry that same sense of momentum for me. I’ve now swam with humpbacks twice on their breeding grounds off the coast of the Dominican Republic. I had neverdone anything so intense before but being in the ocean felt familiar and safe. And the whales were literally breath-taking — at least until I learned how to use my snorkel correctly.

But seriously, being able to float near a full-grown, living humpback whale in the open ocean — to have her just be there, right in front of you resting peacefully while her precious baby plays nearby — whew!! Or to hover over a male humpback 20’ below as he sings his whale sonata, feeling the notes pulse throughyour body as they travel outward to connect with all the other humpbacks in that ocean? WHEW!

The first time a whale looked me in the eye — I knew my life had changed forever. It felt like I had received a powerful blessing, or perhaps it was a type of initiation, or maybe even a re-scrambling of my very DNA. W-h-e-w.

I keep trying to capture their wonder and magic in paint, while awaiting further instructions, of course.


Crazy Little Thing Called Love / Honeybee

Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48”

My husband and I kept bees for a few years after we bought our first house. I found everything about these social insects to be mesmerizing and would often sit by the hives to watch the worker bees come and go. Sometimes I would get too close and get stung. Sometimes we would open the hives when the bees were in a bad mood or the barometric pressure was plummeting and get stung even more. But sometimes, if I approached them with the right mixture of humility, inner calm, and puffs of cool smoke, the bees would just go about their fascinating business of turning nectar and pollen into more bees — and honey.

I would watch — and learn.

Bees taught me to pay better attention to the energy of other beings around me.

Because if you don’t, there will be a price to be paid.

But if you do, the reward is often sweet and golden.


Wild Thing (I Think I Love You) / Great Horned Owl

Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”

During my first internship in grad school, I partnered with a Great Horned Owl named Beckett. With this three-foot tall winged predator on my glove, I would try to educate packs of inner-city 6thgrade students about the wonders of nature. Unfortunately, their only real interest in was in each other, and they pretty much ignored me.  But Beckett taught mequite a bit.

Despite being old and blind in one eye, Becket took up space in a very real way.

I was slightly terrified of him and yet loved him with all my heart. With his talons gripping my wrist, his razor-sharp beak right at my eye-level, Beckett would hoot out deep, throat-feather-ruffling pronouncements. He waited patiently for me to decipher his owl language and to learn how to tame myself in the face of all his wild majesty.

His most important lesson: there is no need to fear wild things, but one must always respect them. Fear often leads to destruction. Respect, however, can opens doors to worlds you might otherwise never enter.

I feel so honored to have known him and am so grateful for his wisdom.


What Is This Thing Called Love? / Barred Owl

Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36”

The second owl I got to work with was a sweet old soul wrapped in the soft brown and white feathers of a barred owl. “Snappy” as we called him, taught me how to reach across our inter-species barrier with body language. A slow blink, a long exhale, and a relaxing of tension in the shoulders would help me ground and also help calm this small fierce being on my glove. Our attempts to charm our audience went so much better if we started from this place of equanimity.

I’ve since learned to use these same signals with other animals including my dog, cats, sheep, chickens and even my husband from time to time. Mammals also respond to a quick lick of the top lip, which I believe is an expression of non-aggression. I’ve used these gestures to reach out to wild bears, bison, and even a whale once. I don’t know if it always helps, but how could it ever hurt to offer friendliness to other beings?

I am so grateful to Snappy for teaching me these basic wild idioms. He was such a generous being, giving up his freedom (and even one wing) to teach me — and so many others — about the magic and wonder of his species. I hope to continue these language studies so that someday I may be able to converse more fluently.


Love At First Sight / Barn Owl

Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”

This painting depicts one of the wild ambassadors of the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences (VINS), located just across the river in Quechee, VT.

This painting is really my tribute to allthe raptors that gave up their freedom to help educate our species about theirs. Each of the hawks, owls, and other birds on exhibit there has been injured in some way and can’t be released back into the wild. So they live in cages and quietly reflect back to us the consequences of living in our world. Each one also offers profound lessons in dignity, fortitude, and beauty.

It is a rare thing for a person to be able to study a wild creature for hours on end without having to suffer deprivation and discomfort. I am so grateful for VINS and it’s wild captives for giving me the chance to know them better. I have studied them all and painted many of them over and over.

How humbling an exercise it is to try to improve my art through mimicking theirs!


Love Will Keep Us Together / Black Bear

Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”

My first real encounter with a black bear was in the woods of Ely, Minnesota, near the shores of Lake Superior. I was sitting on a porch with a group of people when a huge black bear walked up the stairs and sat down on a bench nearby. Every one gasped. And then we all broke out into huge smiles, of course!

This is why we were all there!

This was the start of a four-day course with Dr. Lyn Rogers who would introduce us to the wild black bears he had been studying for several decades. He had pioneered the technique of radio-collaring bears without sedation, simply by getting them to trust him. Once collared, he could track the bears and eventually, he invited other lucky people, like myself to come along.

Over the course of the week I got to observe black bears closely, hang out with a super-chill mother and her two rambunctious cubs, and yes, got to look many of them in the eye. What beautiful beings they are — curious, often funny, and alwayshungry, of course!

I am so so grateful for that time and the work that Dr. Rogers and his amazing staff do to help bears and people get along better.


(Don’t You) Love Him Madly / Polar Bear

Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”

When I was nearing my last big round birthday, I felt the need to do something dramatic and unprecedented. I had just found this temporary tattoo that said “Be Brave and Be Brilliant.” Yes! I thought, that’s exactly what I want.

And so instead of being practical, I took some of the money my mother left me and went to find polar bears in the tundra of Manitoba. I had previously studied black bears in the wild and that encounter left me hungry (like a bear!) for more.

The highlight of the trip was when I got up early and found a young male polar bear hunkered down outside the fence that secured the camp we were staying in. I sat down a respectful distance away, and we shared a few magical moments together.

I felt brave. And the bear was so brilliant.

It was the best birthday present ever.


 

I Think I Love You (So What Am I So Afraid Of?) / Grizzly Bear

Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”

If there is ever an animal that demands respect, it is the grizzly bear.

The shamanic lore about these bears stretches back beyond the limits of knowing. The Greeks named the brightest constellations after bears, and the Tglinlit tribe referred to bears as the “Mother of all Animals.”

Yes. This is how bears feel to me.

I met the model for this painting a few years ago on the Atnarko River, a salmon river deep in wildest British Columbia. She was fishing with her two cubs as we drifted by in a small boat.

We locked eyes for a few shivery minutes.

This is how she looked to me.

I often wonder how I looked to her? Could she hear my heart pounding? Did she feel my respect, my awe? I sure hope so.


Hello, I Love You (Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?) / Bison

Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 36” plus frame

The first time I saw a bison in the wild, I cried. I wasn’t expecting that.

It felt like a reunion with a family member that I didn’t know how much I had missed until we met again. This may sound kind of woo-woo, but many years later, I did a guided meditation to discover my “animal spirit guide.”

From my imagined circle of all the animals, a bison stepped out and head-butted me in the solar plexus.

Ah, I thought. How perfect.

(And yeah, of courseI am a Taurus.)


Can’t Buy Me Love (No) / Moose

Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48” plus frame

Unlike most of the animals I’ve portrayed in this show, I’ve never had the chance to look a moose in the eye, never mindhave one look back at me. But I still hold out hope that may happen on one fine and serendipitous day…

This painting is depicts what that moment will feel like.

To me, moose are the wildest of the wild ones, as they survive best far from the impacts of humankind. I don’t really know if such a place exists anymore.

But I’m glad there are such noble wild beasts still.

And I pray that there always will be.

Amen.


Come And Get Your Love / Rooster

Acrylic on metal panel, 24 x 18” plus frame

I choose not to include the domesticated animals that share my life in this show even though I loved them all at first sight too.

But I wanted to include Mr. Moe, the only rooster I will likely ever know.

He was kind ofwild — noisy, ornery, and horny like all roosters are. And of course, well aware of just how handsome he was.

It was fun to watch him strutting about, serving up his rooster realness.

He reminded me of the boys I grew up with in Brooklyn sometimes.

And yeah, I don’t miss them either!


 Somebody to Love / Raven

Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 40” plus frame

I am so fortunate to live in a place where ravens are always around. It is magical to me to hear them making their funny croaking sounds as they soar by — always so busy! The best time of the year is when the young ravens first fledge and they spend a lot of time making crazy monkey-like yells. Ravens to me are potent magic and I always feel grateful to be reminded of how much enchantment there is in my every day life.


Please visit my website to get more details about any of these paintings. And thanks!

Love At First Sight/ Artist Statement

September 5th, 2019

This is the artist statement for my current show, which is about some of the wild beings I have fallen in love with and have had a positive impact on my life…

Artist Statement by Rosemary Conroy

Love at First Sight

September 6 through October 2, 2019 / AVA Gallery, Lebanon NH

“Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways.”

— Sy Montgomery in How to Be A Good Creature

My life has been punctuated by a series of serendipitous encounters. Meeting my partner of 30 years — ridiculously serendipitous. Having the now famous author Sy Montgomery, (quoted above) as my journalism professor in grad school? What else could it have been? Getting to meet and look almost every one of the wild animals portrayed here in this show in the eye? Divinely so!

Each time my life has intersected with one of these beings*, it changed the course of where I thought I was headed. Each time, it enriched my life in ways still unfolding. And each time, I can happily say, yes it was “love at first sight.”

I’ve never put together what each of my encounters with these wild creatures have given me — some of it is just too hard to articulate. So instead, I painted this show. I did my best to capture their beauty and spirit as a way to express my love, respect, and wonder for them and to honor and thank them for being part of my experience, as well.

Each painting here has a paragraph recounting a bit of the story of how we met — which I hope you’ll find interesting. Each painting is literally embedded with my words of gratitude and prayers for each species — marks often obscured but definitely there. And each painting has a love song for a title— because that’s what each one is, really. I hope the show leaves you humming a happy tune and being grateful for all the wonderful encounters you’ve had with wild ones in yourlife.

I dedicate this show to Sy Montgomery for her continued inspiration, enthusiastic friendship, and bright, uplifting spirit. Without knowing her, I don’t know that I would have had the chutzpah to get eye-to-eye with wild polar bears or swim with humpback whale mommas and babies! Thank you Sy.

*(My encounters with the humans mentioned have been incredibly enriching and wonderful too — but for this show, I’m focusing on the wilder beings.)

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