Butterflies are elusive sun-lovers and in my lifetime, some I followed as a child have disappeared. The Victorian days of chasing and then framing them behind glass frames may have disappeared but their habitats are under attack even more. Their complex life cycle is a miracle. Eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf, or blade of grass and left to transform into the hungry caterpillars we remember as children. Greedy voracious appetites who eat to bursting point, storing energy up for its next stage and our parents lamenting the loss of greenery wherever they landed, for these young they have a charm beyond the wildest imaginings. These striped, chubby wrigglers undergo major transformations to become the winged insect we adore in our summer gardens. To find a cocoon, another miracle, perched on twigs, in greenhouses, silk-twined to trees, then to watch a butterfly emerge… a miracle all of us could see, very few actually do. Struggling out, very delicate stretching of new born wings, drying in the sun then whoosh! Release. A few sunny days fluttering about to find a mate, fertilise eggs and then lay them. A race against weather and time. A wet summer can almost decimate a whole population. Not to mind mankind.
We can spray its wild flower food with pesticides or dig up any wild, grassy areas to plant our crops. The most elusive, fantastical creatures who when our footsteps approached, used to flock up into the air, wings flapping to avoid our noisy feet onto the sunny slopes of White Nothe in Dorset – Marbled Whites – I have seen none for 2 years. Not one. The Common Blue, despite its name now very uncommon in my home area of Medway but I was lucky to photograph a few 3 years ago nestled on flowers in a field half an hour from my house.
These new paintings were inspired by the idea that in many cultures butterflies are seen as the soul of the dead; perhaps their metamorphosis a hope that life continues.
Saturday December 2 at 3pm at Castlemaine Studios.
Butterfly 1, painted shortly after the death of my father, started as a skull and gradually layer after painted layer to became the Adonis Blue, sometimes seen in Kent, spectacularly beautiful, carefully located in the box like frame into which we place our dead.
Butterfly 2 portrays a Common Blue landing on a head, as often happens to me and my daughter when out walking or in my allotment. This frame allows humanity to escape the frame somewhat.
Butterfly 3 regrets the loss of the Marbled White from White Nothe in Dorset in recent years. Once upon a time, every step you took caused a multitude of white and black marked wings to flurry in panic in front of you. As soon as you passed by, they settled again on a south facing slope to sunbathe. The disappointment soon led to concern – the human in this painting appears to have removed the antennae of the insect, while its body is almost obliterated by the manmade shape of the frame.
A chilling legacy of mankind, habitat destruction and a wake-up call for 2018 to bring new initiatives to continue some of the excellent conservation work and to allow my child and her generation the chance to see these elusive insects where they roam.