Meet 10 artists who depict creatures of all kinds
This story was featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Early in her art career, Julie Bell worked as a well-known illustrator for Marvel Comics—she was the first woman to paint the character of Conan. These days Bell continues to create fantasy and science-fiction illustration commissions for various publishers and other clients. But she also devotes considerable time to her fine-art animal portraits that feature horses, wolves, lions, bison, and birds, painting the creatures just as they are, without any supernatural powers. “The animal paintings and personal work satisfies a part of myself I never knew I had,” she says.
Throughout her life, Bell says, she has felt a special connection to animals and nature. In painting them she often experiences an “at-one-with-the-universe feeling described by people who mediate.” One source of continuing fascination for the Pennsylvania-based artist is the observation that the human animal has much in common with four-legged and winged creatures. “Just observing animals doing their ‘animal thing’ gives me such a thrill and always makes me think of human interactions,” Bell says. “When I paint an animal, I want to communicate to the viewer the inner emotions and drives that we all share with the animals.”
The artist’s animal portraits are on view this month in a show titled Art of Cats II, opening on March 13 at the Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum in Logan, KS. Bell is represented by Rehs Galleries, New York, NY; Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Jackson, WY, and Bozeman, MT; McRae Litt Fine Art, Vail, CO; Palm Avenue Fine Art, Sarasota, FL; and www.juliebell.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Living near the Wind River Mountains and Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming, Laney has a front-row seat to some of the most spectacular nature and wildlife viewing in the country. But the artist’s connection to animals goes back to her childhood in Colorado. “I grew up near my grandfather’s ranch, and animals were always considered part of our family,” she says, adding that while many children lose their fascination with animals as they get older, her love and appreciation for creatures has only intensified with time.
Today Laney is an award-winning wildlife painter whose passion for animals and environmental conservation plays an integral role in her artwork, which she classifies as Naturalist Art. “Naturalist Art is a separate branch of wildlife art that involves in-depth study of animal behavior and natural habitats,” Laney says, explaining that she usually spends weeks or even months studying a particular species before she paints it. “My focus is on animal behavior, and all of my work has an educational message that goes deeper than just an aesthetic picture. Many people don’t pay attention to the wonders of nature that are all around us,” she says, adding, “I want my work to inspire viewers to be more receptive to the animal world—to not only look, but actually see that world.”
Laney’s paintings are in the permanent collections of major institutions including the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY; the Bennington Center for the Arts, Bennington, VT; and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI. Her currently available works can be viewed at www.sunnybankstudio.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
Sculptor Pokey Park says she feels lucky to be working on an epic, 43-piece project for the expansion of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA—a project that encompasses endangered-species protection and awareness, artistic realism and whimsy, and children. For the years-long project, Park is creating bronze sculptures of endangered species to populate 40 different areas of a new six-story building that is part of Stanford University Medical Center. Each floor of the building is designed and decorated to represent a different California ecosystem, and Park is creating sculptures of animals that are found within those environments.
More than just a static art installation, the sculptures have multiple educational purposes; it was also important to the hospital that they help create a welcoming environment for the young patients and their families. So after careful studies of live animals, Park sculpts an anatomically realistic representation of her subjects in clay and then modifies the stance or expression to create a whimsical character. “It adds personality,” Park says of the process. “For instance, my salamander has his hands under his chin. You wouldn’t find that in nature.” To date, Park has completed nine of the 43 sculptures, all of which are also available to collectors as limited editions or in smaller sizes.
Park is represented by Around the Corner Art Gallery, Montrose, CO; K. Newby Gallery, Tubac, AZ; Lumina Gallery, Taos, NM; SmithKlein Gallery, Boulder, CO; The Fredericksburg Good Art Company, Fredericksburg, TX; and www.pokeypark.com. —Laura Rintala
Artist Nancy Rynes has always had a deep appreciation for nature and animals. Growing up on a small farm in rural Illinois, dogs, chickens, sheep, horses, and cattle were her constant companions. “As I grew up, I continued to watch wildlife and ride horses whenever I could,” she says. After high school, Rynes studied fine art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and later went on to study geology and archaeology at Northern Illinois University and the University of Colorado.
After moving to Colorado in 1992, Rynes pursued her passion for painting with gusto, studying under prominent artists such as Ralph Oberg, Dan Young, and Matt Smith. While she explored many different subjects at first, Rynes’ lifelong attraction to animals inevitably took over her canvases. “Animals just speak to me in a way that no other subject can,” she says. Her favorite animals to paint can be found not far from her Boulder home—moose, bighorn sheep, and especially horses. “Horses are such beautiful, intelligent, and intuitive creatures,” she says, adding that she’s always been captivated by the “beauty, power, and grace” of the equine species. These intangible qualities are what Rynes most strives to portray in her work. “I hope to give viewers a sense of the spirit and energy of animals and the natural world,” she says, “and to inspire an appreciation of the fact that there’s so much more to this world than just us.” Rynes’ work can be found at Alloy Fine Art Gallery, Lafayette, CO; Breckenridge Gallery, Breckenridge, CO; and www.nancyrynesstudio.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
Steele & Steele
A few years ago, husband-and-wife artists Jeanne Marie (J.M.) and Tod C Steele began creating collaborative works as “Steele & Steele.” Their individual styles are quite distinct—Jeanne paints with oils in the style of representational realism, while Tod paints with acrylics in an expressionistic and whimsical style—but when the couple teams up, they form a completely new style that is unique. “It all started by painting with our hands on the same canvas at the same time, with the outcome being loose, energetic, and abstract,” Tod explains. “It’s a very intuitive process with a lot of experimentation involved,” Jeanne says. “It’s kind of a dance that takes place with rhythm of color and movement of paint—there may be a free spin and some stepping on toes here and there, but it all flows together in the end.” The resulting works feature bold and colorful imagery that captures the spirit of both artists and conveys their love of animals and the West.
The Steeles make their home on the southern Oregon coast, where the diverse flora and fauna provide endless inspiration for their paintings. “Simply put, we love animals! Their grace, beauty, and intelligence just speak to us,” Jeanne says. “Animals not only help make us more human, they can also be a bridge to the divine,” Tod adds, explaining that their ultimate goal is to convey “a celebration of God’s creation” in their paintings. Steele & Steele’s works can be found at Alexandra Stevens Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Planet Bronze Gallery, Bozeman, MT; and www.ipaintanimals.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
A decade ago, Amy Roy had an opportunity to see and photograph a pair of greater sandhill cranes for the first time. The experience turned out to dramatically change her artistic career. For one thing, it awakened a sense of fascination with all winged creatures that continues today. In addition, it kicked off a series of rather magical events in which, quite serendipitously, a variety of animals crossed her path: One day a flock of wild turkeys strutted across her fenced, suburban backyard in Cincinnati, OH. Then, while hiking in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, a tribe of mountain goats came descending toward her on Mount Evans. And finally, while on a beach in northern Michigan, a playful young fox greeted her. “Their message was loud and clear: Paint us,” Roy says.
Today Roy’s paintings combine a realistic approach to portraying the creatures with backgrounds that are more impressionistic and loosely rendered. Her visual menagerie still features plenty of birds, but she’s also added bison, mountain goats, and brown bears to her oeuvre. In all of her portraits, Roy works intently at conveying the animal’s overall appearance and personality and sometimes suggests a possible narrative to the viewer. “My goal is to always render something that is beautiful,” she says. Roy is represented by Row House Galley, Milford, OH; Wessel Gallery, Cincinnati, OH; and www.amyroyoilpaintings.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Patricia A. Griffin
Looking at Patricia A. Griffin’s contemporary animal portraits, it might be a surprise to learn that for years the artist considered herself a landscape painter. It was only after a moving experience in South Dakota’s Custer State Park a decade ago that everything changed. “I had gone out [that day] as a plein-air painter,” Griffin says. “While we were painting, an entire herd of pronghorn came walking through us, just walking and chewing.” The experience was so profound, she says, that it made her realize she was meant to be painting animals.
Whether she is depicting a lamb on her Pennsylvania farm or a bison in South Dakota’s badlands, the artist takes pains to make a connection to the animal. “When you actually spend time with them, they are every bit as much individuals as humans,” she says. “Transferring that idea [to the viewer] is important to me.” To do this with wildlife, the artist first stakes out an area, and then she waits. “When I am in the field, I work very hard at not being intrusive,” she says. “I want a level ground of respect, not the atmosphere of a capture.” What develops from her sketches and photographs are portraits of animals that are also portraits of the artist herself. “I believe in the ‘we are one’ thing, and that the animal is just a wild extension of myself.” Griffin is represented by Going to the Sun Gallery, Whitefish, MT; Goldenstein Gallery, Sedona, AZ; RARE Gallery, Jackson, WY; Tompkins Fine Art, Billings, MT; and www.griffingallery.org. —Laura Rintala
Eva van Rijn
Nature, animals, and art have been intertwined in the heart and mind of painter Eva van Rijn ever since her childhood days in Woodstock, NY. “I still remember seeing my first goat—a friendly one—and being amazed by the structure and shape of that head, those big liquid eyes, the strange horns,” she says, adding, “I did my first watercolor of it.” From that moment on, van Rijn has sought out animals and wildlife every chance she gets. This year alone she’s gone on several excursions to observe and study various species, including Dall sheep, elk, and sandhill cranes. “I usually spend a week with each species, photographing and sketching, getting ideas for paintings,” she says.
While van Rijn paints both landscape and wildlife works, many of her favorite subjects are feathered creatures. “I love birds—the mystery of migration, the way many of them work together to raise their young, the songs they sing,” she muses. No matter the subject, though, van Rijn hopes to convey the splendor and significance of the natural world in all her works. “I know that, in my way, I’m documenting a vanishing world, so there’s a feeling of nostalgia for the American wilderness, too,” she says.
The artist has exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, AZ; the National Arts Club, New York, NY; the annual Birds in Art show, Wausau, WI; and the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, Oradell, NJ. Her works can currently be found at www.evavanrijn.co. —Lindsay Mitchell
Joanna Zeller Quentin
Joanna Zeller Quentin has loved horses all her life. “Horses are walking contradictions,” Quentin says. “They are grace, power, and incredible gentleness. They are earthbound creatures, but they can fly.” Yet the noble steed has become a prominent subject of her art only recently. “You have to be accurate in what you are portraying,” Quentin explains, and for many years, while the artist was living in Florida, her artwork reflected the exotic and colorful flora and fauna she saw on a daily basis. But a move to the Dallas area, and the acquisition of a failed thoroughbred race horse, brought a pivotal change. Now that she is deeply involved in the equestrian hunter-jumper scene (a sport at which her horse excels), Quentin brings her intimate knowledge of the horse and the sport to her artwork in multiple styles and mediums.
Whether she’s creating oil paintings—which inspired writer Anne Rice to comment, “Your art is filled with life, conviction, talent, and power”—or working in gouache, watercolors, pencil, ink, or scratchboard, Quentin’s goal is always to make paintings about her subject matter, not of it. Rather than creating paintings of horses, she says, “It’s what art allows you to express. The sense of energy and motion that comes out of a fairly routine thing, such as a horse cantering across a field”—that is what she strives to convey. Quentin’s work can be found at Equis Art Gallery, Red Hook, NY, and www.moosepantsstudio.com. —Laura Rintala
Danna Tartaglia paints a variety of subjects, but it is animals that seem to find their way onto her canvases most often. Ravens, horses, snow leopards, and elephants—Tartaglia captures creatures both great and small in her loose, impressionistic oil paintings. The Southern California artist enjoys depicting motion, whether it’s ravens lifting off in flight or horses breaking into a run. To best depict the spirit or personality of animals, she focuses on their eyes, considering that feature the most important part of the finished portrait. For Tartaglia, the eyes convey the creatures’ personality and spirit.
A member of the American Women Artists organization, she is self-taught and prefers to work spontaneously, seldom drawing or sketching before putting brush to canvas. Tartaglia is a firm believer that for her, steps such as applying an underpainting on a canvas result in stagnant work. “In order to best capture that motion I love, I must apply the paint directly, as the action or movement happens,” she says.
Thus Tartaglia rarely knows how a painting will evolve or turn out, but that is the constant in her artistic process, which she describes as “letting loose the creative energy that comes from within. When I get out of the way and don’t overthink a piece, the magic happens,” she says. “I have learned to rely on my own senses and perceptions, with the payoff being the thrill of discovery of my personal artistic path.” Tartaglia is represented by Tartaglia Fine Art, Ojai, CA, and www.tartagliafineart.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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