PRO­FILE A Con­ser­va­tor’s Call to Con­ser­va­tion

Artist Me­gan Kissinger spot­lights the won­ders of the nat­u­ral world

Gulf & Main - - Departments - Ja­cob Ogles is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Cape Coral.

The wild “called” to Me­gan Kissinger long be­fore the can­vas had the chance. Even when she’s in a stu­dio paint­ing, the choice of artis­tic sub­jects keeps the Fort My­ers-based artist rooted with the great out­doors. “Grow­ing up, there wasn’t a day in my life that I wasn’t out­side play­ing,” says the Pen­sacola, Florida, na­tive. “I’ve al­ways had ant farms and bugs and aquar­i­ums—you name it. I’ve al­ways been drawn to na­ture.”

A con­ser­va­tion­ist who has ex­plored Florida’s flora and fauna on trails in hik­ing boots or on waves from the back of a kayak, Kissinger spot­lights the won­ders of the nat­u­ral world in her works. Whether de­pict­ing herons feed­ing on river­banks or but­ter­flies rest­ing on ferns, she looks to cap­ture true life in char­coal and acrylic, and to make sure the still images com­mu­ni­cate the life in mo­tion as she’s seen in her sub­jects’ in­dige­nous habi­tat.

“Al­most al­ways, my art­work has to be some­thing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in per­son,” Kissinger says. While she works in her stu­dio from pho­tos—usu­ally ones she’s taken while seek­ing out wildlife—she also wants her art­work to con­tain some facet of an­i­mal be­hav­ior be­yond what’s cap­tured on cam­era.

“When I paint some­thing, I pre­fer to take ev­ery­thing I see and ev­ery­thing I know about that thing, what I felt when I ex­pe­ri­enced it, and cre­ate a hy­per­re­al­ity,” she says. “I am a re­al­is­tic painter, but in my mind I don’t just want to paint the bird. I want to paint ev­ery­thing I ever knew about that bird. Where it lived. What I saw that bird do­ing. What it all rep­re­sents.” Her most ab­stract paint­ings are of sub­jects that are un­der wa­ter, such as schools of mul­let swim­ming in Gainesville, Florida. You can’t take good pic­tures deep be­low the sur­face of nat­u­ral tan­nic waters, but you can dive and ex­plore the en­vi­ron­ment. When she paints, she can base de­tails of in­di­vid­ual fish on pic­tures of the ac­tual beasts, but the mo­tion and how the light hits the w ater comes from a com­bi­na­tion of mem­ory and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of sen­sa­tions ex­pe­ri­enced un­der the sea.

Kissinger’s own ex­pe­ri­ence with art came later in life. She met her hus­band at the Univer­sity of West Florida in the 1980s and left school be­fore grad­u­a­tion to fol­low his ca­reer west. Af­ter the fam­ily set­tled in Fort My­ers around 2002, Kissinger went to fin­ish her de­gree at Florida Gulf Coast Univer­sity (FGCU), where she started tak­ing art classes both for fun and to fill out her sched­ule.

At FGCU, she stud­ied un­der the late Carl Schwartz, a pi­o­neer of acrylic art in the 1950s and ’60s. Kissinger ended up turn­ing her aca­demic fo­cus to the pal­let and grad­u­ated in 2005 with a bach­e­lor’s in fine arts.

From Schwartz, she learned the ba­sic tech­niques she still re­lies upon to­day, us­ing char­coals to de­fine the un­der-paint­ings of her fig­ures, then fill­ing in the ba­sic forms with com­ple­men­tary col­ors. Kissinger in essence builds sub­jects the way the mak­ers

of sci­en­tific mod­els would recre­ate the same life-forms, mak­ing ac­cu­rate skele­tons of the crea­tures and then flesh­ing them out with de­tailed el­e­ments—but she uses brush­strokes. Out of col­lege, she worked as an in-house artist at The News

Press in Fort My­ers, then con­tin­ued in the area as a free­lance artist work­ing for such in­sti­tu­tions as Ave Maria Univer­sity. Kissinger took a job in 2010 as an ex­hibit il­lus­tra­tor with the Edi­son & Ford Win­ter Es­tates, and now is a con­ser­va­tor at the mu­seum, help­ing pre­serve and re­store its ar­ti­facts. That niche field, she found, is dom­i­nated by those with back­grounds in the arts or sciences. With her love of na­ture and pas­sion for acrylics, she rep­re­sents both those worlds.

This Oc­to­ber, she has a show at FGCU along­side fel­low alum­nus Dave Shep­herd, and her side of the ex­hi­bi­tion draws some­what on her day job. Kissinger de­scribes it as a “mu­seum con­ser­va­tor pon­der­ing na­ture and con­ser­va­tion.” She says, “Most of the art show is cen­tered around cast-off or dam­aged ob­jects that weren’t any good to any­body any­more, but were things found through the years and that some­body wanted to be saved. You can save dam­aged things with art, which is also why I love art.”

Kissinger is also a part of the Tower Gallery artist co-op on Sani­bel, and con­tin­ues to do com­mis­sioned works for U.S. and in­ter­na­tional clients. She’s es­pe­cially proud of her con­tri­bu­tions to a mas­sive in­stal­la­tion at Canada’s Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, known as the “Si­lent Skies Mu­ral.”

Artists from around the globe have cre­ated works that de­pict en­dan­gered birds. Kissinger con­trib­uted paint­ings of ivory-billed wood­peck­ers, Manchurian crane, war­blers, par­rots and other birds. It’s in­spir­ing to Kissinger that her art can help peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the avian species, even those birds doomed to ex­tinc­tion.

She’s es­pe­cially proud of her con­tri­bu­tions to a mas­sive in­stal­la­tion at Canada’s Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

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