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Subscripture: musings on process and meaning

Filtering by Tag: fauna

Monumental Bison, 2019

Tim Svenonius


The drawing Monumental Bison is based on a bronze figure, part of a monument to George Washington in Philadelphia that features life-size figures of certain native fauna. At the time the monument was dedicated, in 1897, the number of American bison was nearing its lowest ebb. A count in 1884 had estimated 325 living bison in the US, down from a peak population between twenty and thirty million. In 1887, the American Museum of Natural History sent an expedition as far as Montana to obtain a bison specimen, but found none. Considering its historical context, the edifice takes on a funerary effect rather than a heroic one.

Over a period of years I’ve made a number of paintings, drawings, and prints based on monumental figures of bison. In part, I am drawn by the form itself—what I might call the animal’s monumentality. At the same time I’m responding to the way the bison’s image, and other images of the natural world, become iconic—the picture becoming more pervasive as its material counterpart is erased. Rather than trying to capture the essence of the living animal, I choose to work from a representation, allowing all the strange subtext that comes along with it.

Equi Vocat, or the Dark Horse

Tim Svenonius


A rocking horse of immense size first appeared in a sketchbook in 2010, amid a host of dreamlike pictures for which I had no rational explanation. 

I revisited the motif again in a notebook years later, now with a long shadow extending off the page. Something about that shadow and the crossed boundary felt essential, a key to some meaning I had not yet divined. In the print I aimed to emulate that effect by creating a bounding box—a containment made to be violated.

Countless horses appear in my notebooks, more often emblematically than as living animals: a monument, a chess piece, an insignia, a wheeled effigy. Among these, I feel the rocking horse possesses a particular magic. One of mammoth stature seems especially formidable--as if harboring some secret, like a sphinx.

The title Equi Vocat is a kind of bilingual wordplay: the Latin may mean he calls the horse, or the horse calls; in English it suggests equivocate—evading understanding. Ideally, I want a title to provide something unexpected, and not simply to reinforce what’s already apparent (like calling the print Rocking Horse, for instance). Here I wanted a title that would actively play with an unseen part of the story.