Original Painting Medium: Pastel
Scientific Name: Ara chloroptera
Region: South America
In 1990 I was commissioned to paint six macaws by a lovely gentleman, Michael Augustus Fox Lane Pitt Rivers: the Great Grandson of the renowned Historian, General Pitt Rivers. I will always be grateful to Michael for giving me such a super commission at such an early stage in my career.
As the macaws were living in pairs, I decided to produce three paintings, portraying each of them with their partners. Painting them in pastels, my wish was to capture the character of each of the birds and as I really enjoyed portraying them, I later produced this painting of Ruby and Soyez, for my own pleasure.
Macaws are large, colourful parrots that inhabit the rain-forests of tropical America. All have long pointed tails, naked cheeks and a prominent short blunt bill with a down-curved upper mandible.
In 1989, whilst living at my home and studio in the grounds of the Larmer Tree Victorian Gardens, Tollard Royal, I was asked if I would look after these exotic birds. The bird collection included peacocks, six macaws, golden, silver, reeves and blue-eared pheasants. I dislike birds kept in cages, but as the birds at Larmer Tree were allowed to fly freely and were in need of someone to care for them, I donned my ‘bird-keepers hat’.
At that time, I was unaware one could develop a relationship with a bird and was amazed at how clever and inquisitive the macaws were. We came to know and trust each other well, and to this day, 30 yrs on, I still have a lovely relationship with them.
Often when sitting in my garden, the macaws will fly in to say hello. Years ago, if I was drawing en plein air. they would walk around the table-top investigating everything in sight, including the ‘chewability’ of the pencil with which I was attempting to draw.
Going for a walk was also a lovely experience as four or five macaws would often accompany me. Sometimes they would fly so close, that the tips of their feathers would stroke my face as they passed by. If I stopped to sit on a fence, we would all sit, in a row, on the fence. Sat closely either side of me, they would communicate with quiet croaky macaw sounds whilst the two sat closest, seeking hidden treats, would periodically investigate my jacket pockets. Everything was a big game to them and they were my buddies.
Macaws were once common in forests across much of South America. However, they have been much reduced because of illegal trafficking for the cage bird trade. Many millions of birds are taken each year from their natural environments to supply the pet trade. The trade kills more than it sells and I feel very strongly that the birds are better off where they belong – in the wild.