I have always felt an irresistible affinity with nature, but explaining exactly how the mountain lion became the focus of my work as an artist remains a mystery to me. The first time I drew one, I instantly felt an overwhelming urge to draw another and another. Pictures from magazines and calendars served as my initial inspiration. But the more I drew, the more I felt a growing need to draw the animals from life. I visited a zoo and took photographs. I will never forget the day I eagerly reached into the first packet of my pictures, only to be deeply disheartened by what I saw in them. I was so profoundly struck by the sadness I found depicted in the photos that I put them away and didn't look at them again for another year. I stopped drawing these animals and drew other wildlife instead. Yet an inner voice kept urging me back and dreams of mountain lions became frequent visitors. A year later, I went back to my zoo photographs and selected the one image that communicated the least despair. As I began drawing in earnest, it became clear to me that while mountain lions were well cared for in this zoo, their life force was profoundly diminished. It was this diminution of spirit that I have tried to communicate in "The Zoo" series. (This is a segment of my upcoming exhibition and book titled GHOST CAT MY WORLD).
Compare the mountain lions in "The Zoo" series to those in the series titled "In the Wild". The cats here are commanding and robust, with beautifully articulated musculature, their eyes glowing with intensity and brimming with vigor. To capture the enormous spirit of these animals required a great deal of research, including tracking them in the wilderness during several Montana winters.
The mission of this collection of work is to inspire viewers to recognize the incredible gift of the mountain lion in all of our lives. With that in mind, I also feel the need to reveal the enormous impact we are having on their lives, and on their very survival, through sport hunting practices and other breaches of their habitat.
It is vital that we understand the effects of captivity on these magnificent creatures. When mountain lions are allowed to survive in the wild they play a timeless, integral part in maintaining the balance of our ecosystem and the health of our planet.
Graphite is my chosen medium because it minimizes distractions for the viewer. There are no colors to judge, to attract or repel us, or to manipulate our emotions. Graphite is pure and direct. I am particularly drawn to the eyes for they can become conduits to greater truths. Take time to gaze into them – to conceive the subtleties of expression that exist within them – whether they are the eyes of your friend, your lover, or the eyes of these majestic felines.
~ Michelle Friend