Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies : The Power to Transform
Symbols of Hope & Transformation
The representations of butterflies I paint are larger than life-size. As symbols, the insect carries a significance beyond the small. Symbols are often larger-than-life, embued with meaning of greater worth, than the object itself. Butterflies are emblems of the soul, rebirth, transformation, immortality and more …
Notebook Post: Pointillism Butterfly
It Began as a Boy
I was once as passionate in the pursuit of butterflies, as I am in art. Back then, all insects were fair game for the hunting and capturing.
My collecting of insects wasn’t favorably received. And there are those specimens, that are scarier than most, or capable of a painful sting or bite. I didn’t know it at the time, but an entire industry exists to fill the demands of an insect collecting public. Smuggling and illegal capture is common.
Prized among the insects, butterflies are elusive. They are equally fast and beautiful, and capable of deft maneuvering. Common in our suburban backyard, the fields near our house were rich with their presence. To catch them required persistence, patience and a really good net.
Orange Sulphur Butterfly
Symbol & Cypher: Butterfly
This Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies is a written means for me to explore these complex creatures. I am fascinated by their representations, meanings and our relationships to these interpretations. Something as meaningful as the butterfly demands to be thought about beyond the confines of the canvas.
As a kid, I did not think about the butterfly’s connection to metaphor. I loved mythology then and now. But I don’t recall any clear knowledge of the butterfly’s complex symbolic meanings. As symbols, butterflies are widely prolific. The insect is found in stories and artworks the world-over.
I had no plans as a kid, to grow up and paint butterflies. Nor did I spend much time drawing them when young. But any time spent at art has always been hard to claim. Neither artist nor being gay was approved of, by family or society back then, and sometimes it seems shaky now.
But butterflies are indeed, beautiful creatures, and they are a symbol of change. I am fascinated by the intricate patterns nature makes and how they relate to us on an individual level. In how they tell the story of my life.
Looking back, I wish I had seen myself in the light of transformative power. Butterflies are a great subject for my work as an artist because change has always been a constant. They speak to me as an artist and an individual.
Butterflies are synonymous with metamorphosis. To find a chrysalis and see a butterfly emerge can only be described as magical. Consequently, butterfly gardens are popular summer attractions around the world.
I personally, think this attraction runs deeper than beauty. We have an instinctual attraction and are drawn to these tiny insects. The cycle of rebirth sets alight a spark in our eyes. We witness the power of change unending.
I Was Adrift in the Wind
Butterflies and transformation are analogous. As a semeiotic symbol dancing in the wind, butterflies speak to us of great ideas. In them, we sense nature’s magic.
As a kid, I had a lot of fun chasing butterflies. Long summer days were spent in the pursuit of these brilliantly colored, free-flying flower petals.
Knowledge of mythological connotations came later. Age and reading led me to an understanding, of their significance. And, to the complex metaphoric/symbolic intertwinning that exists between them, and death, resurrection, life or spiritual transformation.
“I can only answer the question, ‘what I am to do’, if I can answer the question, ‘in what stories do I find myself a part.’– Alasdair MacIntyre
The Wind Changes Direction
My first professional experiences exhibiting my work, happened while I was living in Florida. After participating in a few exhibitions, I realized I was fielding a lot of the same type of questions. Chief among those, was whether any of my drawings were available in color.
I made a decision back in the 1990’s. Up till then, I had been working in ink and making black and white drawings. Technical pens eventually gave way to colored inks, oils and acrylics. Like any germ of an idea, it took root and blossomed in full color.
Cell: Red with Orange
I found these questions about color a bit annoying at the time. I was perfectly content with black and white. But the idea set my mind in motion, and color became the new challenge. But it wasn’t until I moved to California, that my quest began in earnest.
Butterflies are a logical choice if you are searching for a colorful subject to paint. Their patterns are intricate and incredibly varied. More importantly for me, perhaps, the insect also drew me back in time.
The thoughtful examination of an insect of any kind, triggers memories and feelings that flood into my brain. Their sight always reminds and draws me back, to long-forgotten, youthful days. In contemplating their forms, I remember a time when life still seemed vast, unending and full of unspoken promise.
Flamboyant Flower Beetle
Butterflies remind me to search for aspects of self I’ve lost touch with. In allowing room for that to unfold in my life, I sense freedom. The butterfly reminds me too, to dream.
Painting butterflies puts me in front of feelings and thoughts that may have been clinging around for too long. I am encourage to let go, and look for light in the darkness.
The Art of Transformation
Initially, I thought I chose the butterfly. However, on reflection I think it chose me. I have several reasons for thinking this.
At the time, I had entered a period of intense, personal change. I had moved to the desert of California. I wanted to continue the pursuit of a career in the arts. Neither the move nor the task proved easy.
I was in the process of making some big decisions that would prove to be life altering. Some of those decisions turned out to be wise and led to happy conclusions. Others, as they can, proved disastrous.
In Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies, I explore in depth the butterfly’s relationship to transformation. More importantly, I look at how transformation has manifested in my life. In writing, it is possible to step back from life a bit and reflect. And to use the subjects I paint as a magnifying glass.
Life in the California Desert
After my move to the desert, I began to work as a journalist for a gay publication. I was initially hired to help with layout and billing. The company then sold.
After the new owners took over, I soon began writing biweekly cultural articles. I was living out of the ‘closet’ to a degree I had never done before. I volunteered, and was asked to join the Board of Directors of Greater Palm Springs Pride.
I was enjoying an unexpected, new and exciting life. Everything looked fresh and promising. Being out can be like that. Life was beginning to look great.
Butterflies are Free …
We Are Not Always
My life became something I had never considered. Life in the gay community of Palm Springs wasn’t anything like what I had experienced living in Florida. Or growing up in Ohio. I was full of optimism.
It proved a time of self-actualization. Somehow, in a complex set of moves, I had become an openly gay artist and writer. I became politically active and involved in a community I loved. But, it was also during this time, I sero-converted and became HIV-positive.
In the aftermath of sero-conversion, intolerant of my initial medications, grief and nausea threatened any happiness that had arrived. A tsunami of life-course changes would ensue.
Cell: Yellow with Purple
These changes carried me far afield in both mind, and geography. From the desert I moved to Los Angeles. There I sought treatment at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. This path eventually led me to the marriage, I now cherish.
This wave of change carried us, as a couple, up the coast to Portland, Oregon. After a few years in the Pacific Northwest, we moved still further afield into the Pacific and on to the Hawaiian Islands. The journey hasn’t ended.
Change Can Lead …
To a Path Forward
I capture these many events here, only briefly. The period of time I am writing about spans fifteen-plus years. Now, I look back at the sequence of events in astonishment. I am grateful to be alive.
I stand amazed at how much my life has changed, as a result. While living in Los Angeles, I wrote extensively for a while, about my personal life. It was a trying time.
Those early writings were sometimes read in public, on stage. It was cathartic. When I look at my notes, I realize the message was clearly one filled with need.
I craved peace of mind with life as an artist, with being gay. Those notes also look at some destructive forces. Some of that has made it into the essays in this journal. There was also a need, to escape.
Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center
The Life Group L.A
In L.A, I was lucky enough to work for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. I accepted a position in a social service program called Positive Images. It was written and designed for gay men facing challenging situations.
The program in fact, had seeded part of the transformation I was experiencing. I was grateful, I had begun as a client and in turn, was able to help others. In 2011, I was honored with the ‘Paul Andrew Starke Warrior Award’ by the City of West Hollywood for my work at the center.
In L.A, I also volunteered for an amazing organization called Life Group L.A. Life Group’s mission is similar to the program in which I worked. The nonprofit’s focus is broad, inclusive of women and of those who identify as transgender.
Life Group L.A is inclusive of family members and loved ones, as well. I encourage anyone diagnosed, or knows of someone with HIV and in need, to look towards either of these organizations. Each can lead you to some tools, to transform your life.
The butterfly is a fixed symbol and cypher in my life, therefore, my art. I find it to be, a creature of extraordinary beauty. The butterfly is intricate in form and complex in meaning.
In Shape & Form
The adult butterfly‘s wings are covered in a series of overlapping scales. When handled, these scales come off as dust on your fingers. This is damaging to the insects’ wings. As beautiful as they are, butterflies can also be fragile.
Of the 20,000 species of Lepidoptera, roughly 11,000 are found in the United States and Canada. The butterfly is fanciful, fluttering amongst the flowers in our gardens. However, they serve less as plant pollinators as is commonly imagined.
Both the adult butterfly and its larvae are important as food sources for many predators. These predators include the birds. The larvae, often have fierce and formidable appearances. Although appearance can be deceiving, caterpillars have their defenses. But they are mostly harmless to humans. In effect, the larvae are eating machines. In feeding themselves they gain the energy required to make an incredible change. However, caterpillars can also be destructive to cultivated plants and crops.
The Great Migration
Monarchs and Swallowtails took center stage when I was growing up. And for many people, they still enjoy this position.
The Monarch maintains somewhat of a cultural supremacy in most people’s minds. With its annual 2,000-mile migration across North America into Mexico it receives it receives a fair share of press and attention. For the adventurous, it is possible to make a trip to the areas where Monarchs overwinter.
It is a journey I hope to someday make. Including it here in Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies is a way to encourage others too. However, there are a great number of books on the market that cover the insect’s journey and life cycle in much greater detail.
Pale green and spotted with gold the Monarchs have one of the most beautiful of all chrysalises. Of its various defense mechanisms, the Monarch and its larvae feed on Milkweed. This gives them an unpleasant taste and is sickening to birds who ingest them. The insect’s pattern and color serve as a warning.
The first Monarchs to arrive in North America during the summer are not the ones who return to Mexico.
Throughout the summer, the Monarch produces several generations. Each time, this carries the insect a little further north extending its range with the season. The last Monarchs of the summer are much heavier in body.
These adult butterflies are born better equipped, for the long flight south. The following spring, it is the descendants of those who survive this arduous journey, who once again begin the historic trek north.
Swallowtails & Birdwings
The yellow and black stripping of the Tiger Swallowtail was a familiar butterfly in my youth. The Swallowtail family contains some of the most beautiful and largest of all butterflies. These include the Giant Birdwings of S.E Asia and Australia which can obtain wingspans of up to 10-inches. The larvae of this beautiful butterfly feed on trees and shrubs, including Cherry, Birch, and Poplar.
Among my childhood favorites, were the Cabbage Whites. I found them drifting lazily over our family garden. These butterflies were not as popular with my grandfather or other neighborhood gardeners. The insect is called the Cabbage White for good reason. And their larvae wreak havoc on both this, and other related food crops.
Butterflies are not largely destructive. But the same cannot be said of the caterpillar.
Orange Sulphur’s or Alfalfa Butterflies are visually intoxicating insects. Their larvae are also destructive. And they cause vast amounts of commercial damage each year. The duality in the nature of the butterfly is clear. The breezy beautiful adults have insatiable eating machines for offspring. It is the act of farming that has placed many butterflies on our radars for extermination. Moreover, it is also the destruction of their native food sources that brings our paths to this collision.
The Role of the Story
It is said, Brahma conceived of reincarnation observing the butterfly’s metamorphic transformation. Ancient Egyptians carved it symbolically into tombs. And Jewish prisoners in Polish concentration camps are reported to have written poems about the butterfly and carved its image into barrack walls.
Stories, histories and myths like these add depth to life. They endow all our lives with deeper meaning. In their telling, light is shed on the many roles we play in life. And the character developing influence of those experiences. These kinds of stories add depth to my paintings and to this post, Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies.
The ancient Greeks used the word ‘psyche’ to describe both butterfly and soul.
In thinking about these stories, I have realized, the question is not just one of what I learn from these tales. On reflection, it is also one that begs me to ask, what kind of story do I want to live. It is one defined by transformations. I find myself asking what do I need to live a healthy, fulfilling life? And how do I define, what that is?
In life, I have played different roles set in different narratives. A few of these roles became habitual. they formed mental ruts that deepened over time. As such, it was necessary to stand back and examine these patterns. Introspection is not always easy. It can be hard, to unravel the tapestry of life. But it is important to look hard at our stories and alter the narratives of those that prove harmful.
Butterfly as Mandala
Symbol & Cypher
I look at these questions and contemplate the power of transformation.
It is all right there in front of me, in the image of the butterfly. I have learned to do this confidently. Without dread and fear. I know I have the power to change. And the ability to grow and to become always more than, what I am now. We all share in this remarkable ability.
The artist of today stands in awe of these artfully drafted insects. Ripples, swirls, zigzags, teardrops, chevrons, stripes and checkerboard patterns defend, deceive, distract, mimic, communicate and entertain.
All of these concepts, realities and ideas, all these colors and patterns have become a source of a constantly renewing source of inspiration in painting, an intricate part of my ‘Constructed Arrangements’ and an invaluable messenger in the life I continue to live. They are the subject of exploration in painting and in Journal Entry: Pointillist Butterflies.