Western Vi­sions: Wildlife Evo­lu­tion

Na­tional Mu­seum of Wildlife Art hosts its 31st an­nual Western Vi­sions fea­tur­ing works by some of to­day’s lead­ing artists of the genre.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By Rochelle Bel­sito

The Na­tional Mu­seum of Wildlife Art in Jack­son, Wy­oming, is rec­og­nized for its ded­i­ca­tion to col­lect­ing and dis­play­ing North Amer­i­can wildlife art­work as well as pieces de­pict­ing crea­tures through­out the world. One of its mis­sions is to ex­pand vis­i­tors’ knowl­edge of hu­man­ity’s con­nec­tion to na­ture. In the col­lec­tion, art­work ex­plores how an­i­mals in­ter­act within their habi­tat, how ur­ban­iza­tion is af­fect­ing many species and the over­all preser­va­tion of wildlife.

John James Audubon, whose name is syn­ony­mous with or­nithol­ogy due to his pro­lific Birds of Amer­ica that fea­tures more than 400 pages on these ma­jes­tic crea­tures, was not only an avid out­doors­man but also a conservationist. He rec­og­nized the im­pact that man was hav­ing on the earth, and once stated, “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fa­thers, but bor­rowed from his chil­dren.”

Many of to­day’s wildlife artists are look­ing for their own way to pre­serve the nat­u­ral world. With the topic of cli­mate change be­ing more hot but­ton than ever and an­i­mals con­tin­u­ally added

to the en­dan­gered species list, artists are not only de­pict­ing crea­tures and their en­vi­ron­ment in hopes of cap­tur­ing the sheer beauty, but also for records of what once was.

Adam Dun­can Har­ris, PH.D., the mu­seum’s Joffa Kerr Chief Cu­ra­tor of Art, says, “Art al­ways re­flects the time pe­riod in which it is cre­ated. As I look across the spec­trum of wildlife art to­day, I see artists push­ing the boundaries in terms of sub­ject mat­ter, with some be­com­ing more pointed or ques­tion­ing in their mes­sag­ing. With sto­ries about cli­mate change, con­ser­va­tion of na­ture and sav­ing en­dan­gered species on the news on a daily ba­sis, it is in­evitable that those top­ics make their way into art be­ing cre­ated to­day.”

For the past 30 years, the Na­tional Mu­seum of Wildlife Art has hosted its Western Vi­sions show and sale of con­tem­po­rary wildlife art that high­lights trends within the genre through sub­ject mat­ter, medium and style. This year’s 31st edi­tion hap­pens Septem­ber 8 through Oc­to­ber 7, with work by 106 artists, in­clud­ing fin­ished pieces as well as sketches that are smaller than 9 by 12 inches.

“Last year was the 30th an­niver­sary, so we cer­tainly made a nod to that by invit­ing all liv­ing artists whose works are in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion. This year, we went back to an in­vi­ta­tional that in­cludes both artists in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion and artists whose work we don’t own but have as­so­ci­ated with Western Vi­sions,” says Amy Goicoechea, direc­tor of pro­grams and events at the mu­seum.

Goicoechea adds that the sale is re­turn­ing to it pre­vi­ous for­mat of a pa­per-based by-draw auc­tion, where at­ten­dees sub­mit their in­tents to pur­chase fixed-price works in a bal­lot box with the names be­ing drawn dur­ing the show and sale on Septem­ber 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. This for­mat is one she looks for­ward to be­cause col­lec­tors, from new to es­tab­lished, “have the op­por­tu­nity to shop and sup­port [the artists].”

In re­cent years, Western Vi­sions has be­come more di­verse as artists from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and with vary­ing viewpoints are in­cor­po­rat­ing wildlife into their work, says Har­ris. He adds, “Trends are dif­fi­cult to gauge, but I have been in­ter­ested in the va­ri­ety of me­dia I’ve seen emerg­ing onto the field. Look­ing at our own acquisitions at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Wildlife Art, we have new ad­di­tions of glass, dig­i­tal me­dia and works on pa­per in ad­di­tion to clas­sic oil and bronze.” Ken Carl­son has par­tic­i­pated in Western Vi­sions since its in­cep­tion, and he has seen the show and the mu­seum evolve with the times. “The mu­seum’s pro­gres­sive growth is nec­es­sary to at­tract new gen­er­a­tions of artists and pa­trons,” Carl­son ex­plains. “The mu­seum has pro­vided a plat­form for the es­tab­lished artists and the next gen­er­a­tion of artists to dis­play their work to pa­trons who are es­tab­lished and the next gen­er­a­tion of pa­trons with new ideas and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.”

Of his art­work, Carl­son says, “I have al­ways re­lied on cap­tur­ing at­ti­tude, stance and at­mos­phere to bring a soul to the an­i­mals in my paint­ings.” The idea be­hind Am­ber Gold came from an early evening game drive in the Serengeti when his wife no­ticed a chee­tah with her cub hid­den in the shade of thorny bush and aca­cia. “That golden sun­light of dusk fall­ing on the chee­tahs rest­ing,” Carl­son says, “pos­si­bly af­ter a long day of hunt­ing, was the spark for this painting.”

The Rocky Moun­tain West has al­ways cap­ti­vated Ralph Oberg. Dur­ing his child­hood his fam­ily trav­eled the re­gion—ari­zona to Alaska, Colorado to Cal­i­for­nia—by foot, by horse­back and in a pickup camper. He says, “One of my ear­li­est state­ments about my art was: ‘I hope my art will re­mind peo­ple of our re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect and pre­serve wild places and the an­i­mals that live there.’”

In the ex­hi­bi­tion will be his painting The Morn­ing Af­ter, which was de­rived from a plein air study of “the golden Septem­ber as­pens early one morn­ing af­ter a sub­stan­tial first snow­fall of the sea­son near my home,” he says. “The back­light com­ing through the leaves and the bril­liant snow was mes­mer­iz­ing. This

stu­dio de­vel­op­ment of that plein air study gave me the op­por­tu­nity to in­clude the mule deer that are ubiq­ui­tous in my home coun­try of western Colorado.”

Septem­ber Vhay has been drawn to wildlife since she was a child, and has spent count­less hours on horse­back ob­serv­ing an­i­mals. Her goal is to cap­ture the feel­ing of the wild through char­coal, wa­ter­color and oil paint. Her painting Yel­low­stone’s Lla­mar “pays homage to a species whose num­bers were in the tens of mil­lions at the be­gin­ning of the 1800s and al­most ex­tinct by the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury,” says Vhay. “This par­tic­u­lar painting was cre­ated to ex­press their sense of dig­nity and poise.”

In Andrew Den­man’s paint­ings, such as Totem #7, Stacked Blue­birds, an­i­mals are por­trayed in nonob­jec­tive con­texts that force view­ers to look at wildlife dif­fer­ently. He ex­plains, “Some­times we only truly see the fa­mil­iar when it is made un­fa­mil­iar. The re­sult is some­thing both rev­er­ent and whim­si­cal, broadly univer­sal and uniquely per­sonal, a com­men­tary less about the an­i­mal sub­ject it­self than about the sym­bolic im­port with which we im­bue na­ture and the sig­nif­i­cant role it plays, both wholly prac­ti­cal and deeply spir­i­tual, in our daily lives.”

In his youth, John Pot­ter, spent his time be­com­ing fa­mil­iar with the wildlife, an­i­mals and birds. He felt as though they were a sec­ond fam­ily. “I hope to con­vey that this sense of know­ing, of one­ness, of re­la­tion­ship and com­mu­nity with the wild is pos­si­ble for all of us, if we can just still our­selves and be open to their voices and to

the voice within our own hearts,” he says.

Pot­ter’s painting The Re­mains of the Day is an ex­pres­sion of his per­sonal con­nec­tion to bears, as they’ve ap­peared in his dreams, vis­ited his home and oc­cu­pied his thoughts and spirit. The work, he says, is “also meant as some­thing of a sub­tle ob­jec­tion to the pro­posed ‘tro­phy’ griz­zly hunt in Wy­oming. What will re­main of our bears if this is al­lowed? More­over, what will re­main of our souls?”

Donna How­ell-sick­les of­ten de­picts fig­ures with wildlife act­ing as a notable com­po­nent to the nar­ra­tive. Of her painting There is Magic in the Wa­ter, she ex­plains, “The fish in the rivers are silent, mys­te­ri­ous, beau­ti­ful and hid­den—but we still know they are there liv­ing in the wa­ter that sus­tains us all. They are a good anal­ogy for the way life nur­tures us and im­merses us in un­seen cur­rents.”

Two artists par­tic­i­pat­ing in Western Vi­sions for their sec­ond year are Tamara K. Ruiz and Ge­orge Bruce Bu­mann. Ruiz will ex­hibit Pic­ture Per­fect, which was in­spired by vin­tage travel post­cards and con­veys the Jack­son Hole ex­pe­ri­ence through im­ages of wildlife, its antler arch and neon signs. Bu­mann’s sculp­ture Queen of the Moun­tain was de­rived from watch­ing a moun­tain lion and its two kit­tens on the flanks of Druid Peak in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, as the mother—the ti­tled Queen of the Moun­tain— had to dis­ci­pline one of the cubs.

Western Vi­sions kicks off with an ar­ray of events in con­junc­tion with the famed Jack­son Hole Fall Arts Fes­ti­val. Among them is Palates & Pal­ettes on Septem­ber 7 from 3 to 5 p.m.; an Artist Party Septem­ber 13, 6 to 9 p.m., where col­lec­tors are given the first chance to view the show and be­gin to place bids prior to the next day’s sale; and the Farewell to Fall Arts Brunch on Septem­ber 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ralph Oberg, The Morn­ing Af­ter, oil on linen, 30 x 36”

Artist Randall Du­tra and col­lec­tors.

Col­lec­tors gather dur­ing the 2017 Western Vi­sions.

Septem­ber Vhay, Yel­low­stone’s Lla­mar, oil on Bel­gian linen, 36 x 36”

John Pot­ter, The Re­mains of the Day, oil on can­vas, 24 x 36”

Ken­neth R. Bunn, Trail­maker, bronze, ed. of 35, 18 x 8½ x 25”

Ken Carl­son, Am­ber Gold, oil on board, 8 x 15”

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