While driving between Lake Manapouri and Gore in 2010 I stopped to draw the nearby hills. Realising that I had misplaced my pencils, I jumped the fence into a cow paddock and gathered cow dung to use as a watercolour pigment.
That night as I camped near the Mataura River my neighbours were tying fishing flies. Indigenous flying insects found in the local river ecosystems provided the inspiration for their intricate work. The campfire discussion was centred around the increasing impact of industrial-scale dairy farming on water quality and aquatic life in the local rivers.
I see cow dung as one of our most under-utilised resources in New Zealand. Used in the right ways it could, and probably will in the future, be put to a myriad of uses.
For the purposes of this project I gathered fresh cow dung, boiled it, strained it through muslin, and used it in various strengths as a watercolour pigment. No additional (artists) pigment was added.
Indian artists have used cow dung for centuries, beginning with cave paintings, then as decoration on the walls of their homes and eventually as works on paper, which were sold. Essentially cow dung is a highly processed pigment (thanks to the cow’s digestive tract) which is a 100% plant-based.
Contemporary New Zealand scientists study the presence of indigenous flying insects as an indicator of the health of our freshwater rivers and streams. These insects prefer to live in and around unpolluted water.
For this series of paintings I have drawn inspiration from the work of Sydney Parkinson, who was the artist on James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific in 1768. Parkinson made detailed drawings and watercolour studies of the plants and animals collected by Joseph Banks while on the voyage.
In Indian culture the cow is considered sacred. It is respected as a caretaker or maternal figure and represents the Earth.