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.
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”