Taxa: Paintings by Isabella Kirkland
April 10, 2008 - August 25, 2008
NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W.
The exhibition is comprised of six paintings that collectively depict nearly 400 species whose existence has been compromised in some way by man's actions. Kirkland began this series in 1999 after reading a list of the 100 most-endangered species in the United States.
"Taxa" is the plural form of "taxon," a word meaning order or arrangement, as in taxonomy. Kirkland measures, photographs, draws, and observes firsthand (either live or from preserved materials) almost everything pictured. Each plant and animal is meticulously rendered, anatomically accurate, and depicted at life-size. Her well-researched paintings take a year or more to complete. Drawing inspiration from 16th- and 17th-century European Master works, these elaborate oil paintings underscore the importance of biodiversity and call attention to current issues of environmental degradation.
"Gone" (2004) shows 63 species of plants and animals that have become extinct. "Back" (2003) contains 48 species that have gone to the brink of extinction and been carefully re-established, or that were presumed extinct and then rediscovered. The 68 species included in "Trade" (2001) are all harvested in the wild and sold through both legal and illegal markets. "Collection" (2002) features plants and animals that are treated as decorative objects – to admire in private, exhibit, or study in depth – and that have peculiar stories surrounding their collection from the wild. "Ascendant" (2000) depicts non-native species introduced in some part of the United States or its territories, all on the increase as they successfully overtake native species. Endangered species in the United States are covered in "Descendant" (1999) (depicted at left). Kirkland is working on "Nova," a painting that will focus on recent discoveries – species new to westerners and scientific literature since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
California-based Isabella Kirkland, originally a sculptor, became familiar with the anatomy of birds and other species as a taxidermist in New York City. Her work has been exhibited at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and her painting "Descendant" graces the cover of Pulitzer Prize-winning conservationist E.O. Wilson's book titled "The Future of Life" (2002).
Isabella Kirkland's website