Respect for Natural:Interview with Chris Maynard

5 months ago

Chris Maynard has worked with feathers since he was twelve. His unique feather shadowboxes are recognized by art collectors, bird lovers, and a wide and interesting variety of people from all over the world. He only has time to turn a small portion of his ideas, which fill many notebooks, into his shadow box feather designs. His favorite tools are tiny eye surgery scissors, forceps, and magnifying glasses passed down through his family. Maynard combines his strong backgrounds in biology and ecology into not only his art, but also a tabletop book and engaging and informative talks on the beauty, function, and meaning of feathers. He’s a member of the Artists for Conservation. Chris’ works have appeared on "TEDxOlympia", "American Lifestyle", "British Daily Mail", "Discovery Channel", and many other world-renowned newspapers, magazines, and TV channels. Additionally, his works are exhibited in Woodson Art Museum, Washington Center for the Performing Arts Gallery, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, etc. He gained many awards such as the 2017 finalist, Art Olympia, Tokyo, Japan, 2016 People’s Choice Award, Coors Western Art Show, Denver, CO, 2015 Merit Award, Society of Animal Artists, NY, and Conservation Artist Award, Artists for Conservation, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2014 Honorable Mention, Animals in Art, Baton Rouge, LA.

OGP:We are honoured to welcome a wonderful and unique artist, Mr. Chris Maynard. In 2015, our members met Chris's amazing feather art work for the first time when participating in the annual exhibition of Conservation Artists in Vancouver, Canada. Later, at the IFC Mall Gallery in Shanghai, China in 2016, we once again witnessed this unprecedented art experience. Using the collected beautiful feathers to create a moving narrative, the finely carved shapes, natural colours, softness and spirituality makes the picture flow, glowing with variety. May you please introduce yourself? Our audience is quite curious about your inspiration to become a professional feather artist.

Chris:My mother was a professional artist as was her father. I was torn between art and the natural sciences and chose the natural sciences as an early career where I ended up working with the hydropower (dams that produce electricity) industry. But when my mother was on her deathbed, I re-evaluated my life and then and there switched to pursuing an art career, following in her footsteps. I wanted to encourage people, through my art, to see the world a little differently by presenting something they are familiar with in a way they are unfamiliar, to make them look twice and really see, in my case, a feather. I think that for humanity, it is vital that we begin to view the world in a different way than we are used to in order to act with more respect for the natural world. I hope my art can promote that in a small way.

OGP:Indeed, humans have never truly been the ruler of nature, but only a part of it. The survival of man and nature are closely related. Humans must learn and go with the laws of nature. Due to the relationship, humanity and nature are interdependent. We should have a deep understanding of the universe, of all things, and life. Your work and style are highly recognizable. Does the use of feather material have any special meaning? In addition, feathers are organic. Can it be stored for a long time? If it’s stored and collected, how long is its lifespan?

Chris:We are just a small part of life here on Earth. Most of the world is nonhuman with just as much reason to be here as us and with just as much awareness in many different and wondrous forms.“My work with feathers gives me a satisfying perch from which to view the world.“ I chose to work with feathers because I, like many, want to fly but I cannot. Except in my dreams. So feathers for me and for most cultures around the world have become symbols for our longing. The represent flight, transformation, hope, and bridges between where we are and where we want to be. Any artist is trying to capture an essence of life. Feathers already contain something of the essence of the birds I am trying to portray. Feathers are naturally shed from birds about once a year, yet they keep their complex structural integrity and their beauty. They are in a way, gifts from the birds--and the birds are still alive. I developed a method using archival papers, glues and pressure to back the feathers, making them stable to cut. Because feathers are light, we often think of feathers as delicate which is a mistake. They are structurally light so the birds can fly. They provide warmth, shelter, and protection for a year until they are shed. They have to last. They have to be strong. Feathers are made of the toughest of animal proteins: keratin, the same type of material in your fingernails. If protected and sealed like they are in my framed shadow-boxes, they will last for hundreds of years, at least as long as the archival cotton papers that back my art. 

OGP:Yes, most of the feathers of birds will be damaged, so it is necessary to moult regularly. The old feathers fall off, and the new feathers will grow out. For most birds, the replacement of flying feathers and tail feathers is carried out in a certain order and sequence, so the birds will not lose the ability to fly. In fact, feathers have been used in many areas of our lives very early. For example, the war crown ar bonnet, usually an eagle feather, is regarded as the most noble symbol by many Indian ethnic groups, and is only an exclusive headdress for chiefs and spiritual leaders within the tribe. Badminton in sports is made of goose feathers. The traditional Chinese dot jade craftsmanship also uses the perfect combination of kingfisher's back feathers and special metal craftsmanship to make beautiful jewelry. In theater art, the feathers on the crowns of Peking opera actors are the central tail feathers of the white-crowned long-tailed pheasants, and the down jackets for winter protection and warmth use grey goose down premium goose down. And you turned them into carving art, we can only say that it is very special and attracts attention.

Chris:I am humbled that almost everyone is drawn to my work. Young and old, Asian and European, and vegetarians and meat eaters all express interest. Of course my prices means that my original art can only be had by those who can afford it. So to have a broader distribution, I have written a book, Feathers, Form and Function with information about the feathers themselves, their meaning and symbolism, and of course, with many images of my art. We are now working on a second and third book. We are also just beginning, through an agent, to sell limited edition prints which will be more affordable. One way I am inspired is through a kinesthetic feeling, the feeling of movement in my body when I watch birds fly. I work some of this out through dancing to music in my studio. And I am inspired by the birds themselves. A hundred swallows nest in my big barn in the spring and summer and I spend hours watching them fly, catch feathers for their nests, catch bugs, and chase each other around. I use their silhouettes in my art. The shape of a feather may also inspire me. Other artists influence me like MC Escher (1*) who at the core of his work, expressed a sense of transformation which is also central to my art. Of course, my mother was my first and early influence especially later in life when she painted, taught, and exhibited in the Sumi-e (2*) tradition. I just gave a talk to the Northwestern Sumi-e artists. Some of the attendees had been taught by my mother. It was a sweet moment for me, remembering and honoring her. 

OGP:Tribute to the great mother! You have an amazing mother. She is the guide of your artistic path and the inner source of your creation of art. Japanese ink painting Sumi-e is the embodiment of oriental aesthetics, using only simple ink and white space to capture the eternal beauty and complexity of the natural world. Moritz Cornelis Escher is also one of our favourite artists, like his Waterfall (1961), Concentric Rinds (1953), MC Escher’s works feature mathematical objects and operations, explorations of infinity, reflection, symmetry, perspective, truncated and stellated polyhedra, hyperbolic geometry, and tessellations. We found your “Birding”, “Another Creation Story” and M. C. Escher’s “Metamorphosis III (1967-1968)” are similar, and your art adds more natural elements. The static feathers depict dynamic natural transitions and cycles between lives. So how did your artwork "evolve" throughout your career?

Chris:My most significant artist influence is the art that has been with us as humans for the majority of time here on earth for at least one hundred thousand years when we were hunter-gatherers and were more aware of and enmeshed with the creatures that we depended on. This was the paleolithic. Only in the last 5000 years have we become less aware of other creatures as we surround ourselves with each other in our cities. I think it is important that we regain awareness of our dependence on other living things so that we treat them with more respect and gentleness. Because in the end, we all depend on them. We are not so separate as we think. My art explores the theme of flight that feathers represent as symbols. I also enjoy making scenes of humor. The other day my book agent flew in from a big city with bright red lipstick. She was standing outside my studio by a hummingbird feeder. If you do not know hummingbirds (they are native only to the Americas), they fed on flower nectar and are attracted to bright red flowers. My agent became excited and a little threatened when a humminbird tried to feed from her bright red lips. I laughed, then carved a piece with a big red-lipped human silhouette out of a feather to memorialize this experience. The food we eat becomes our bones and blood and hair and it is the same with birds: what they eat becomes their bodies and their feathers. Because of this, what birds eat is a theme that I often explore in my carvings: hummingbirds eating flower nectar, eagles catching fish, and songbirds catching bugs.

OGP:This is a lot of fun! We can imagine this art piece. You told us that you are especially moved and even weepy when you get a message like the thank you. "I received last December from a woman who had very hard year with deaths in the family". She said, "This was the worst year of my life, then I saw and fell in love with your art and it made everything somehow ok." We think this is the greatest achievement of an artist, and encourage artists to keep moving forward courageously.

Chris:I am happy and humbled that my art has reached the hearts of many people around the globe. Type the word Featherfolio in your search engine and you will find my social media sites and my website which shows some of my work, a blog, and the location of many of the galleries that carry my work.  These galleries are in New York, Santa Fe, Paris, and Belgium. My work is in public and private collections in Canada, the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Mid-East including business, hospitals, government offices, and hotels. My last major museum show was in 2019 and I am due for another but do not have anything lined up yet.

OGP:From ancient times to the present, different regions had different types of culture, beliefs, education, and artistic expressions. Due to the development of network information technology and efficient media communication, especially in the field of contemporary art, there are more and more things that can learn from each other. The phenomenon of multi-style integration has already been shown up in many artworks. This may be a good thing, people may have different values, but the pursuit of beauty remains the same. What do you think about this?

Chris:This is a hard question to answer. I can't really understand another culture's aesthetic much less my own sister's! I grew up with Asian friends and family friends, especially because my mother was practicing an Asian brush stroke technique. The Asian art that I like focuses on the natural landscape and creatures especially when it is captured in simple black brushstrokes. It feels like home. Several years ago, my art was being exhibited in Art Miami, a fair in conjunction with Art Basel. The quality of the other art at the fair was very disappointing to me, mostly it shouted "see me!" rather than being well thought out and executed. Then I came across a booth from an Asian gallery with a large piece, black brushstrokes depicting clouds. It moved me to tears. 

OGP:You talked about the essence of art—good works can touch people's hearts and resonate with souls, because what art depicts is the spiritual world of humans from beginning to end. No matter what form creation takes, it connects the carrier to the artist, but the important thing is not the carrier, but the spiritual thought to be expressed behind it. There is no distinction between good and bad carriers, and different eras have different understandings of carriers, but there are differences in the purity of the spiritual core and the pros and cons of the quality of expression. Therefore, artists must always be vigilant, the carrier is not the goal, it will have the limitations of the times, and the spiritual connotation hidden in it is to transcend time and space and geography. This leapfrogging will have obvious differences with the spiritual focus of the object, because good art needs to be able to interact with the audience organically, and perhaps it will be the only evidence left by human beings. This is the true essence of art. What about your plans for the future?

Chris:I have too many sketchbooks full of ideas to ever be able to make them all into carved feathers. Every time I get an exciting idea to pursue, two more pop up! In addition, when I pursue one idea, I often make a small series to try different approaches to the same design. I will continue to focus on birds and flight as rich metaphors for us. When Covid is over, I plan to travel again to attend shows and give presentations. I hope to attend the unveiling of my large piece I finished earlier this year for the USA Federal Reserve building in Washington DC. We will promote my new book, when that is published, but that date is unclear. Again, I will be thinking about a museum show either just of my work or in collaboration with other artists to exhibit art made from keratin which includes feathers, wool and hair, and horns. 

OGP:We sincerely hope that the Covid-19 will end as soon as possible. 2021 will soon come to an end. In these two years, Covid-19 has swept the world. The pandemic has affected the global economy and disrupted our daily rhythm of life. In the face of deaths caused by the virus, people also need to reflect the importance of nature and respect it. Thank you Mr. Chris Maynard for discussing people, nature, and art with us. Please continue to and CHRIS MAYNARD

1* Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 - 1972) was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. In the late twentieth century, he became more widely appreciated, and in the twenty-first century he has been celebrated in exhibitions across the world.

2* Sumi-e, Japanese ink painting, “Sumi” means “black ink” and “e” means both “path” and “painting”. Ink painting evolved in the 5th century from Chinese ink wash painting and calligraphy. Chinese ink painting’s typically monochrome, using only shades of black, with a great emphasis on virtuoso brushwork and conveying the perceived "spirit" or "essence" . In the 12th century Zen monks brought the technique to Japan.

* By OGP Editors / Chris Maynard Provides File Photos


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