This weekend I’m going to have the great pleasure of heading down to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA to see the work of one amazingly talented guy and fellow South Carolinian: Grainger McKoy. Oh, and there is this other fellow named Pablo something or other who has a showing there as well.
Grainger McKoy carves birds. Lots of birds. Flocks of birds. Birds rising. Birds battling venomous snakes. Birds skimming the water’s surface. Each carving tells a dramatic story.
The first thing that you need to know is that these aren’t just some old guy’s hunting decoys: They are modern masterpieces. Not only is this plain-spoken artist able to transform a block of wood into a breathtaking freeze-frame of bird behavior, but his attention to detail is insane. Grainger McKoy carves and paints each individual feather, which he then inserts it into the wings and body. Can you imagine?
In preparation for my trip down to see the show, I was re-listening to a lecture that he gave a few years ago now. At the end of the talk, I was really struck by something that the artist said. To paraphrase: “When I was younger I thought that I could be better than God, or at least as good as God. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that all I am doing is plagiarizing nature. That I can’t even carve a single feather as good as the real thing. It is humbling.”
It is amazing what time immersed in the study of nature will do for one’s soul.
Those of us who are committed to an honest (tricky), artistic representation of nature are all plagiarizers aren’t we? We find ourselves getting lost in the myriad forms, colors, patterns and expressions of ingenuity and celebrate it all through the outpouring of our hearts. Although we don’t like to admit it, and perhaps we’ve never thought of it this way before, the label seems right to me. Personal arrogance aside, there is a lot of truth to Grainger McKoy’s words. At the very least, it is a thought worth considering.