Commissioned for a pre-school audience, The Incredible Fly, plays with the convention of mural painting. It also expands the concept of nature and environment to include local ecosystems that often get overlooked because of habituation.
The request for a mural of the rain forest, a trope depicting an exotic landscape, caused me to reflect on the nature of exoticism as well as the use of conventions, archetypes, and clichés in representations of the environment as well as in painting. It also led me to consider the local Californian environment of the Central Valley as a habituated subject.
I chose to start by painting an ordinary house fly, to my mind the opposite of exotic, in the middle of a white wall.
This fly was painted life-sized and in an illusionistic manner replete with its own shadow. Thereafter, I waited to see if the children or teacher would discover it. It took a few days, but indeed, the children found the "fly" and thought it was real. The teacher subsequently took a broom and tried to swat it. One child remarked: "Its a tattoo!", momentarily breaking or revealing (depending on your perspective) the illusion of painting.
Thereafter, I painted a butterfly and a frog on the opposite wall, each time letting the children discover it. Then, I lay in a green background behind the butterfly and frog, which is the opposite of an academic approach, in which the ground is usually loosely established before the figure. This was followed by painting a tree for the frog to sit on. This much more camouflaged space allowed the children to search for and find the frog again. These kind of actions also allow mural painting to be performative, interactive, and time-based.
Little by little the rest of the rainforest was laid down on the green wall to meet the request of the commission. The completed rainforest, teeming with a jaguar, toucan, sloth and other animal life, ran the full length of a twenty foot wall. Opposite this maximalist forest, a minimalist twenty foot white wall, with the tiny, life-sized painting of the fly, brings the idea of environment home.