There is a sudden haunting whiteness to the south. It seems to hover on the shining surface of the sea. Then it descends, and comes closer. It is a barn owl. He glows in the last sunlight, like burning snow, a white incandescence casting a black shadow.
J.A. Baker, The Hill Of Summer
It is finished. This one took just under two months, which is pretty good going when you’re only able to work on evenings and weekends. It’s unusual to see a barn owl, given that they prefer to hunt in the vespertine hours, and keep to territory removed from the urban sprawl most of us inhabit, but that gives them a sense of mystery that makes them compelling subjects to paint. Owls have a long and complex history in terms of how humans have perceived them throughout the centures, ranging from symbols of good fortune or sage-like wisdom to avatars of certain doom. Pliny the Elder wrote of the barn owl that “when it appears, it foretells nothing but evil”, going as far as to decribe them as “the very monster of the night”, which is going a bit far, but I like the fact that they have such a contradictory reputation, as this leads to a potent tension that can be exploited for the purposes of art. It was Baker’s quote above that really influenced my decision to make this painting, and inadvertently inspired the title, which is also a nostalgic nod to a certain song from the halcyon summer of 1983.
Here’s the full progress of the painting, from beginning to end: