Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
Art and Photo Presentation

In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

Sabretoothed Tiger (Smilodon gracilis)

sabretoothed tiger
(Artwork - 145)
Sabretoothed Tiger (Smilodon gracilis)

With this painting I tried something different from the birds I usually draw and paint. Leaning about a juried show of “paleoart”, featuring prehistoric species, I decided to enter a painting. I chose Smilodon, a predatory member of the cat family that lived up to some ten or eleven thousand years ago, overlapping the arrival of humans into North America. I chose the smallest and most widely distributed of the three Smilodon species, Smilodon gracilis, meaning “knife-toothed and slender”.

I wanted to avoid a visually hackneyed cliché way of showing the species. Nearly every painting of any Smilodon I have seen shows powerful, hugely muscular animals, usually locked in mortal combat with great herbivorous ice-age animals such as the Woolly Mammoth, or one of the prehistoric moose, or perhaps even spear-wielding humans. Settings are usually either the La Brea tarpits as they would have appeared some ten thousand plus years ago, when a large number of ice-age animals were mired and left their remains behind in what is now downtown Los Angeles, or perhaps open plains or mountains or within bleak and rugged winter landscapes.

But they were also found in Florida and the tropics. Surely, I thought, the smallest individuals were not all as muscle-bound as so many restorations showed, especially, perhaps, an animal near the end of the time when there was so many large herbivores such as wild horses and ground sloths to prey upon, when the world was changing and the largest animals and their predators were becoming extinct – a time known as the Pleistocene extinction, the cause of which is still a matter of scientific debate.

Currently the most powerful land predator, the Polar Bear, is also experiencing rapid change. As its main prey, seals, are reduced in numbers, often appears quite thin and preys upon baby geese and seabird eggs and chicks. I thought of how wolves will eat mice even if usually illustrated attacking caribou or moose. Surely as the large herbivorous animals became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, sabretooths would also feed opportunistically, taking what prey there was, and that they could catch because it was abundant or lived in colonies. And I knew Smilodon gracilis lived in Florida and the tropics, where, then as now, there would have been large numbers of colonially nesting birds – easy pickings for a starving sabretooth desperate for food as extinction loomed ever closer.

I chose to break from tradition and show my sabretooth as a somewhat thin animal who has just overcome and is about to devour not a moose, mastodon or mammoth, but a Roseate Spoonbill. There was a bit of a parable inherent to the painting, in that these fearfully powerful predators, for all their great strength and dominance, soon to be forever extinct, while the spoonbill, a most harmlessly and defencelessly meek creature of almost comical appearance, survives today.

I put them on a bit of coral and shell beach, the remains of countless dead animals transferred from living organisms to a landscape element, symbolizing that the past informs and is part of the present.

The jury rejected the painting.

The painting is done in acrylics on compressed hardboard and is 18 by 24 inches.

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
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