Red-winged Blackbirds and Rail Fence
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1976, 36” x 48”, acrylic
In the early spring, the red-winged blackbirds move north to their nesting territory. The males come first and begin their spectacular scrapping over boundaries. Feathers fluffed up, heads down with glowing red and yellow epaulets thrust forward, they gurgle their strident battle cries.

The bold, slashing strokes of the rail fence and its reflection attracted me because of the abstract form. It made me think of a Franz Kline painting or a piece of Japanese calligraphy. The dynamic effect of the strokes suggested a Samurai conflict which seemed appropriate for these red-winged warriors.

I did field sketches of the birds and rendered Plasticine models based on the sketches. Then I did paintings from the models on bits of card to the scale of the picture which had been roughed in. I tried the cutout birds in various positions using masking tape. This particular arrangement pleased me most artistically. The fluffed up bird on the left is the dominant one. The sleek bird in the upper right is the fleeing loser.

After I had finished the painting an ornithologist friend informed me that the dominant bird would not normally allow himself to get below the subdominant bird. This scientific flaw bothers me, but not enough to change the composition. I always try to reconcile art and nature in my paintings, but if I had to choose between them, I would choose art.