Animal fables & foibles
This story was featured in the May 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
In the world of Aesop’s fables, foxes are symbols for slyness, crows represent vanity, and wolves symbolize loneliness. Painter Dave Merrill discusses these literary conceits with ease, noting that such ideas inspire his artworks. “The majesty of a moose and the grace of a swan—I am trying to expand the metaphors Aesop used with my own images and metaphors,” Merrill says.
Like many wildlife artists, Merrill’s fascination with animals began early. Growing up in the small town of Spanish Fork, UT, he was surrounded by farms and frequently visited his grandparents nearby, feeding their pigs and milking Betsy the cow. He also loved to draw—especially animals. Teachers recognized his talent and encouraged him to pursue art as a career. Eventually Merrill did earn a fine-arts degree from Brigham Young University. Although he worked as a designer for software companies for some years, he pursued his interests in drawing and painting in his spare time before transitioning to a full-time fine-art career.
Today Merrill, based in Georgia, creates evocative, eye-catching portraits of animals ranging from birds to bears. In the past his works usually captured creatures in static poses, but lately he is depicting movement and incorporating elements such as dust, water, and wind into his paintings. In POWER LIFT two “bachelor bulls” clash head-on during the bison rut. Viewers can sense the thrusts of these 2,000-pound warriors and can almost feel the dust kicking up in the air. Merrill says the painting was inspired by scenes he has witnessed on trips to Jackson, WY. He often visits in the spring when calves are small and then again in the fall and summer when, he says, the bulls grow “grumpier.” For Merrill the sight of two powerful buffalo battling each other is both exhilarating and awe-inspiring.
EYE-TO-EYE offers another example of a new Merrill direction. The painting portrays a massive bison staring at a delicate bluebird. The juxtaposition of sizes and temperaments intrigues
Merrill as metaphors to examine. “I try to honor the animal, inspire certain traits in people like the courage of the eagle, and suggest innovative ways of teaching things like grace through the animals I portray,” he says. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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