Giant Panda
(scroll down for description)
1985, acrylic, 36” x 48”
The giant panda is a close relative of the bears but is not exactly the same. While it appears to be very much like all other bears, the vocalizations as well as the anatomy of the reproductive tract and data from blood protein indicate that the giant panda is distinct from all other bears.

As most people know, the giant panda is a very rare animal that lives in the mountains of China and feeds mainly on bamboo. The habitat is threatened, and the breeding potential is low. The panda is one of the most conspicuous endangered species in the world. Without considerable effort on the part of people who care, the panda would undoubtedly soon become extinct in the wild. This is why it is an appropriate symbol for World Wildlife Fund. I did this painting as part of a fund-raising effort in conjunction with Metro Toronto Zoo, World Wildlife Fund and the People's Republic of China. The timing was appropriate because of the loan of two pandas to the zoo by China.

The concept for this painting presented me with a major problem. I usually like my wildlife subjects to be somewhat subtle and incorporated into the environment. The panda is perhaps the least subtle of all animals with its striking black and white pattern and almost trite 'stuffed toy' image. One theory for the reason for this colour is that they are anti-social and try to avoid each other. This pattern makes them visible to each other before they get too close. I decided to make the strong black and white of the panda subservient to an even more striking black and white waterfall and to lay the panda back behind some mist.

The source material for my pandas came from the live animals at the Metro Toronto Zoo and Washington, DC Zoo. The pose of my subject is absolutely typical. The spine of a panda curves so they sit on their lower back with their legs spread apart forming a very stable triangle. They are evidently almost totally single-minded in their interest in food, which is usually bamboo. I have tried to avoid the obvious cuteness by picturing him as a slightly scruffy old sage of the mountains, reminiscent of early Chinese paintings on silk.