I watch the interaction of species. I see animals in a world dominated by humans. Now I am learning about the world they have, the one that doesn't belong to us.
Communities of animals living on their own are increasingly rare. They must accommodate our presence. Herds of deer nibble at the edges of our lawns. Foxes tease our pet dogs by sitting just beyond a fence. All depend on our benevolence to survive. This is not a natural state. Our presence is axiomatic to their circumstance.
I am most interested in farm animals, livestock. Our family business is a cattle ranch in North East Texas. Industry professionals call it a "cow-calf operation". In this set-up, mother cows stay on the ranch all their lives, in herds, much as they would in the wild.
I paint them as they are forced to interact with humans, which they do reluctantly and loudly. I also paint them in their own world, where they are oblivious to us. I document their ordinary days, which always happen in the context of the herd.
A herd is a dynamic organization, sometimes resembling a human tribe. Cattle band together for mutual protection. There are natural leaders and followers. Protecting the young is the collective priority.
On the ranch, there is one group that I see regularly. I am proud that they know me well enough to ignore me. They let me sit among them, and I watch as they go about their activities. I see that they attend only to the present and to their calves. Never bothered by abstract thought, they enjoy a complete lack of self-consciousness. Walk, eat, nurse, rest. Do it all over again.
Yet, there is a sense of their awareness of each other, the constant "checking" to make sure all is well. They move as a group and cover al lot of ground quickly while they graze.
When this happens, I catch a glimpse of life as it might have been thousands of years ago on some distant plain. It is a world without words;there is a rhythm of feet moving through tall grass, and the yank and chew as they graze.
Although beautiful, it is not romantic. It is the opposite. I see how unalike we two species are. While we can understand a little about their lives, out differences are profound.
We must note that livestock animals have evolved by virtue of human choice. Cattle, horses, goats: all would exist in smaller numbers, if at all, were it not for humans' desire to have them nearby. We practice selective breeding to enhance attributes beneficial to us.We crowd out their natural habitats, so they can survive only within our design. It is impossible for us to know what they would be without us.
What remains of their primitive selves? If they live by instinct, don't humans also? Does it matter that the nature of their end determines the facts of their lives?
Questions are constant. Knowledge is not. Documentation becomes important as our society moves farther away from its agrarian roots, and the connection between food and consumer becomes more remote.
I recently read the line, "Life requires context." We have our context; they have theirs. In my work, I examine the effect of contact between two groups, and I try to understand what the context of a herd really means, what significance it has for humans.