Early last week, I read about the dead birds washing up on the beach at Mallacoota, one of the towns ravaged by Australia’s terrifying bushfires. I was struck by a photo of the rainbow lorikeet in this article, its colours shocking streaks of blue and yellow amidst the black. It was an image that stayed with me over the days that followed. When I lived in Australia, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, it was the rainbow lorikeets I grew to love the most. They would appear on my little balcony overlooking Mosman Harbour, and I’d be enchanted by their bright colours and their curious, trusting personalities. For the most part, I loved my time there, and though there are other things I miss about living there – being able to walk alone at night, the beauty of Sydney Harbour, it’s the birds I still miss the most.
And so, while I was driving along after a doctor’s appointment on a hot Friday afternoon, I suddenly felt compelled to paint a rainbow lorikeet. This is generally how I paint nowadays – only when I feel compelled (it’s hard to justify otherwise, when more paintings simply add up to more clutter in my space). It was two days later, on Sunday afternoon, that I finally painted the bird. Here, I pictured a rainbow lorikeet rising like a phoenix from the ashes, some of which have transformed from black to green. Using lipstick is tricky for work like this, as I don’t have the range of colours I need. I would be much easier to use oil pastel or coloured pencil, for example. But I wanted to use lipstick, so the colours are an approximation of the impossibly vivid real thing. The words written into the bird read “You will not destroy our beauty” – I made a spontaneous decision to add them after I’d completed the painting.
Other artists and ilustrators have created tributes to Australia in the wake of the devastating bushfires. Beyond the response to this catastrophe, many artists have grappled with how to tackle issues like climate change in their work. This study suggests that visually appealing, hopeful works are most effective in prompting action. My own work – at least in this particular case – is deeply personal, an emotional response to something I care about. My intention is not to prompt action, though if an image I create stirs someone to take positive steps, that would of course be a good thing.