Larry Mosca paints birds

TIME flies, and it stops here. In the pause, you hear eternity. The chorus of a thousand birds, the ceaseless gurgling of rushing waters, the silent stillness of a mountain's morning.

Enter Horizons Art Gallery and lose yourself in "Embrace! All is You," the ongoing exhibition by painter Larry Mosca. Gaze at the misty depths of dark green mountainsides and float far from the small building on 37 Mucurapo Road, St James.

Green is everywhere. The soft, lush green of bamboo shoots; the lurid green of foreground shrubbery. In one painting, entitled "Scarlet Ibis (Caroni Swamp)," three bright orange ibises stand out against the shadowy green background of the Caroni swamp. The ibises are decidedly asymmetrical on the canvas--on the left, two are taking flight while on the right, the other is perched on a prop root. Their iridescent plumage is like three radiant spots of light on either side of one main channel of light flowing right up the middle of the painting between the dark, subtle midtones of the mangrove.

The bright orange of the ibis and the vivid green in other paintings are "exaggerated tones," Mosca concedes, explaining that this use of artificial colour is a deliberate technique. He cites the example of the numerous shades of blue in "Toucan--Oropouche River," where the blue feathers of the rainbow-coloured toucan complement the blue of its curled claws, the blue of the not-too-distant mountain and the blue sky.

"I'm painting beyond what I see, depicting what I feel," says Mosca. "A lot of people criticise me for doing the same bird over and over," said Mosca, "but they don't realise that there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. The mystery is elusive."

All the same, too many people, Mosca is simply "the man that loves to paint birds." Small wonder. He's been painting the birds of Trinidad and Tobago as well as South America for thirty years. The painter, who describes himself as an amateur student of ornithology (the scientific study of birds), fondly recalls youngers spent under the tutelage of ornithologist and wildlife artist Don Eckleberry.

But why birds, I ask.

"Because birds are most apt for my message," Mosca tells me, "which is that simple things are God. God is not something separate and apart from creation. I don't believe in dividing existence into creation and the Creator."

Mosca is a caricaturist's dream. In appearance, he fulfils every stereotype of the naturalist philosopher: he is dressed in shorts, a shirt and boots. His 175 dt Yamaha motorbike pulls up to the Gallery half an hour after the appointed time for the interview. Under his helmet, there is long hair, a flowing grey beard and a light scar on his forehead. That scar creases deeply as the artist articulates a personal philosophy which he's been expressing on the canvas for "well over thirty years."

"I choose birds as my symbol to represent the simple, the beautiful, that which is mundane and ordinary. To me, the mundane and the ordinary, they're sacred. Birds are most apt because they are beautiful, they have wings, they can fly but they are around us every day," said the artist, underscoring in the same breath that his philosophy hasn't changed much over the last three decades.

"Once you encounter the truth, it doesn't change. Only the periphery changes. The central core remains consistent."

In this case, what has remained consistent is Mosca's philosophy and the "periphery" is the technical aspect of his craft. Recalling the early days when he first started exhibiting in 1976, the bird-painter defined some evolutionary patterns in his craft.

"As a novice, I was still experimenting with the basics. Back then, I tried to be more precise whereas now I am freer. I'm not so much interested in detail per se, but I more interested in the overall effect of the painting. Before, I would delineate all the feathers of the bird whereas now I simply suggest them. Therefore I've loosened up a lot. I've become more impressionistic in my approach whereas before I'd take it more like a camera."

As we chat, my eyes flicker between "Mot-Mot Magic" and "Mot-Mot with Bamboo" (the mot-mot is the bird on the five-dollar bill) and I nod in agreement. These paintings are not photorealistic. But there is a detailed authenticity in the background work that prevents me from seeing the style as wholly impressionistic.

"Photo-impressionistic?" proposes Mosca with a shrug, after I voice my reservation. "Can I coin a word?"

I nod. Why not, I think, turning my gaze now to "Pygmy Owl at Night," a fantastical piece in which a brown owl, bright against the starry night sky, swoops down on an unsuspecting lizard. Sure, why not?