Interview with Laura Ball

AWFC:  You live very close to the San Diego Zoo and are a frequent visitor.  How were you affected by the recent death of Nola, one of the last remaining Northern White Rhinos and a celebrated resident of the zoo?

Laura Ball:  I am a frequent visitor to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. A few times I went to the park to catch a glimpse of Nola, and Angaifu, while they were both alive. The diminishing species is heartbreaking, and I get pretty upset about the loss of all endangered creatures, but having access to them made it so much more real in the case of the Northern White Rhinos. I have made several watercolors based on Nola and Angalifu, and I intend to keep using them as my subject matter, largely because I am so attached to them. The sadness is hard, but I think having true feelings about the work I make adds a layer of depth to the work.

AWFC:  Your compositions include a rich collection of different species from all over the world.  You seem to be a collector by nature.  Does this manifest itself in other areas of your life?

Laura Ball:  Calling me a collector is a really good label…maybe even an understatement. My home is filled to bursting with animal images and objects. I have an elephant pot in the front yard with succulents. Have hummingbird feeders that I fuss over, bird feeders, a large bird house – I have two cats & love having little creatures around. I have a collection of small wooden elephants, of horses, of rhinos…I can go on. I also have a large collection of succulents and cacti. It is really important for me to be surrounded by things I love and to see beautiful things everywhere I look.

AWFC:  Is there a creature that holds a special place in your heart?   

Laura Ball:  The past couple of years I have been focusing my research on critically endangered animals, or animals that are extinct in the wild, even endlings (last in species). With Nola and Angalifu at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I became very interested in them. Though they are both gone, I still care very much about rhinos, and my heart breaks for them. They are such ancient powerful creatures! They seem indestructible, but they are easily taken down, just for their horns.

Large cats have been my love for the longest time though. Leopards, Tigers, and Cougars are the most beautiful animals I can think of. I am fascinated by their eyes – wide and large. I love to watch them move, run, jump, climb…they are limber and graceful. At the zoo, I stay at their enclosures the longest.

AWFC:  Was there a defining moment that led you to the type of paintings you create today?   

Laura Ball:  My work has involved the psyche for many years. The Creature made up of lots of animals came out of my own poking and prodding at my subconscious. That creature was in a dream one night, and I was totally taken with it. I started painting it, over and over, trying to work out what it was, how it came to be. . . . I had so many questions that I have been working on it for a few years now.

AWFC:  What can you tell people about your work that would be most likely to surprise them?   

Laura Ball:  My work is really “pretty” with colorful areas, pretty animals and even neon, gold and iridescent paint. It looks “fun” to make, but because of my subject matter, it is actually very hard work to make. I spend many afternoons researching things that leave me feeling sad and helpless. So, out of this very emotional state, I make things that look very different than what went into them.

AWFC:  Many species of animals are at risk due to loss of habitat, invasive species, over-harvesting, pollution and other human causes. Are there developments that raise your hopes for the future of our fellow creatures?      

Laura Ball:  It could be just a “phase”, but the animal and environmental devastations seem to get a bit more attention and airtime than in the past. Hopefully that will raise awareness of the severity of the crisis. There are so many great people out there working and researching for change and improvement. But more people need to adopt a comprehensive view of how important it is for them to exist in the world WITH the planet and creatures, not just dominating and using and taking. I think the San Diego Zoo does a good job raising awareness and putting money back into the causes that they champion. The SD Zoo Wildlife Conservancy works and researches to save habitats and animals all over the world. An interesting and positive approach is a group (can’t find the name) that the Zoo partners with to purchase parcels of land in rainforest habitats, preventing clear cutting and poaching – the purpose is to save and restore the large territories and migratory pathways for the animals in those regions. Poaching is a huge problem for species in the wild. My greatest hope right now is that the economies built up around poaching can be undone, and that people in those regions who resort to poaching can be given alternative sources of income.