Outside Kings Camp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, six of us sitting in the open safari vehicle all strained our eyes to identify a leopard draped over a branch within the cover of the leaves twenty feet above us in the air. Close to him hung the remains of a kill that he had dragged up in the tree to keep it away from hyenas and other predators that would steal from him.
I painted the leopard with a brush as if the realistic subject were all that was important to me when what I was really interested in were the shapes and colors and textures of the scene. Over the brush work, I poured paint onto the canvas using oils with a medium of liquin, turpentine, and stand oil that was the consistency of honey. Over the shapes of the pour, I delineated leaves using greens in the darker areas and yellows in the lighter areas.
We had followed leopards at a distance of thirty feet several evenings as they had set out on their nightly hunts, and always they were as unconcerned with us as if we were a continent away. We had followed their solitary strolls with our vehicle cracking over twigs, fracturing small trees making a racket that I thought would have frightened the leopard into the brush. But each time the cat had continued at a leisurely pace, ignoring us, as if knowing when darkness came, we would disappear, and he would go about his business unobserved, a ghost-like animal on a life and death mission. I felt insignificant in this vast land where animals as strange as this self-absorbed leopard were as well- known to Africans as dogs and cats were to those of us who live in an urban setting– where Africa is a dream trip.