Meet 13 artists who focus on creatures great & small
This story was featured in the February 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
Sandy Delehanty’s latest muse is a little unusual. It’s 18 feet tall, spotted, and has a long, bluish tongue. But Delehanty is attracted to the gangly, funny-faced giraffe for good reason: The Northern California painter set out to find subject matter that could serve as an antidote to the deluge of depressing news that “makes good-hearted people want to cry,” she says. “I wanted to create art that makes people smile or laugh out loud.”
For reference material Delehanty heads to the Sacramento Zoo, where she has five live models to observe as they go about their daily business. The funniest images arise when she focuses on the giraffes’ faces as they are eating, she says.
In her 17-year career as a full-time artist and art instructor, Delehanty has always preferred emphasizing the positive, choosing to paint lovely landscapes, charming streets in distant lands, and intimate florals, portraying a purple poppy or crimson cactus bloom. “It is my hope that the people who give my paintings a home derive as much joy from viewing them as I did in creating them,” Delehanty says. Her work can be found at Sparrow Gallery, Sacramento, CA; Art Obsessions Gallery, Truckee, CA; and www.sandydelehanty.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Julee M. Hutchison
While living in Arizona, Julee M. Hutchison and her husband rehabilitated desert tortoises and Gambel’s quail. That daily communion with the natural world exposed them to the connections between, and the souls of, animals. Now, as a Telluride, CO, resident, she frequently watches neighboring ranch animals—from lambs frolicking to cows nuzzling their calves. “I’m not anthropomorphizing them. I really think they have great love and great spirits. I see a lot of individualism in them,” she says of her frequent subjects.
Playing up the animals’ personalities, Hutchison frequently paints portraits of sheep, cows, and horses, with the high-elevation, clear Colorado light casting their faces in warm and cool colors. Many of the aesthetic choices she makes reflect her decades-long career in graphic design.
Although Hutchison earned a degree in fine art, she viewed graphic design as a more secure career and pursued that profession instead. But living near the Scottsdale Artists’ School in Arizona drew her into painting once again. When she relocated to Colorado, she focused more attention on her natural environs and fine-art career. But she still relies on her strong design sensibility. “I stepped back and realized that a weakness I felt in a lot of paintings was the design. I think [my career] gave me an edge on designing a good painting,” she says. Hutchison’s work can be found at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, Telluride, CO; Mockingbird Gallery, Bend, OR; and www.juleehutchison.com. —Ashley M. Biggers
Allison Leigh Smith
Allison Leigh Smith’s paintings are a mixture of the classic and the contemporary. Painting exclusively in oil using traditional painting techniques, she begins a composition using high-tech equipment and programs—skills she developed while working in the textile and fashion design industry. Smith uses Photoshop computer software to create compositions with her own digital photography before she ever puts brush to canvas.
The artist also employs contemporary approaches to design and composition, giving her favorite subjects both literal and metaphorical breathing room. “I love composition and playing with space,” she says. “I give animals room in my paintings because I want them to have room in real life. I give them a big negative space.”
Smith is also particular about how she portrays the mammals, birds, and even the arachnids in her paintings. A volunteer with animal rescue and conservation groups, she has plenty of firsthand experience with animals that are in less-than-ideal condition and in less-than-perfect situations. “I won’t paint an animal that looks like it’s having a negative experience,” she says. “I’m a really positive person, and I want to project positive things.” So you won’t find gorillas that look dejected or rabbits that seem nervous in her body of work. “I get this joy and beauty from animals,” Smith says, and so she idealizes their likenesses. “I want my birds and animals to look noble and grand.”
You can find Smith at the Celebration of Fine Art show in Scottsdale, AZ, through March 27, and online at www.allisonleighsmith.com. —Laura Rintala
Paul D. Rhymer
If anyone knows animals inside and out, it’s Maryland sculptor Paul D. Rhymer. Having worked as a taxidermist at the Smithsonian Institution for 25 years, Rhymer has an intimate knowledge of his subjects that few other animal artists can claim. Now retired, Rhymer says his old job remains a huge influence on his work today. “A lifetime of taxidermy gave me essential anatomy lessons, and a career in model-making gave me skills that made sculpture an easy choice for me,” Rhymer says.
As a model-maker, Rhymer specialized in natural history and created animals, rocks, and trees in fiberglass, bronze, and clay for the Smithsonian’s exhibitions. Eventually, in his spare time, Rhymer says he “plunged headlong” into creating his own works in bronze.
Although Rhymer creates a menagerie of bronze creatures—bighorn sheep, bison, monkeys, and chipmunks, to name a few—his artistic heart belongs to birds. Because of the many beliefs that have been associated with birds throughout history, the winged creatures can be great symbols to represent ideas that viewers understand, Rhymer says. Regardless of the subject, though, the sculptor’s goal is to capture an animal’s gestures and movements.
Rhymer’s bronzes are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC; the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, WI; and the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in Oradell, NJ. Rhymer’s work can be found at Manitou Galleries, Santa Fe, NM, and Cheyenne, WY; Lovetts Gallery, Tulsa, OK; Walt Horton Fine Art, Beaver Creek, CO; Audubon Gallery, Charleston, SC; and www.rhymerstudio.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Friesian and Arabian horses. Welsh ponies. A silken windhound and a schipperke (two unusual dog breeds). Indian runner ducks. Rabbits. Nubian goats. “We have quite a menagerie,” laughs Susie Gordon of the animals that share the 1803 farm in Bolivar, OH, where she grew up and where she now lives with her parents and her three children. “I aim to develop inner connections with them that I try to portray in my art.”
Such primal links are at the very heart of Gordon’s finely observed drawings and paintings. They bespeak a love of animals stretching back almost the entirety of her 44 years, coupled with a calling to art. “I had sketchbooks when I was 5 or 6, and my mom paid for me to take art lessons,” she says. After starting a dog-training business, Gordon studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design and later spent a “life-changing” week under the tutelage of famed wildlife artist Carl Brenders. She has gone on to win acclaim for her work at such prestigious shows as the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, into which she’s been juried for more than a dozen years and where she’ll be exhibiting again this month.
Lately, she’s been documenting, in photos and art, horses being sold at a large local auction, often to cruel fates. “It’s amazing what you can do by sharing a good picture,” she says. “Maybe the sale of some of my paintings can help rescue these horses.” Gordon’s work can be seen at www.susiegordonfineart.com. —Norman Kolpas
During her childhood in western North Dakota, Kaye Burian had three passions. “I rode. I rodeoed. And I drew,” she says. Today she’s still living in the region with Myran, her husband of 50 years, and Burian remains as dedicated as ever to all three. “Ranching has been my entire life,” she says, “and I believe in painting what you know.”
One glance at her exquisitely detailed oils confirms Burian’s intimate expertise—with the American Quarter Horses that she and her family ride daily; with the Black and Red Angus cattle they raise; and with the buffalo they see on their neighbors’ ranches and at nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Her equine paintings bring her particular pleasure. “If you’ve been around horses your entire life,” she says, “they get to be your friends and pets, just like cats and dogs. They’re majestic animals with a character all their own.”
College training in art and education as well as six years of teaching elementary school steeped Burian in her aesthetic calling, and professional success followed. In 2013, she won the Steel Dust Award for best of show at the American Quarter Horse Association’s annual America’s Horse in Art Show in Amarillo, TX, an event in which she’ll participate again this August. Yet she remains modestly plainspoken about her achievements. “You just try to relate what you know,” she says, “so someone else who rides knows it’s correct.”
When Sue Kroll is asked what attracts her to animals as subject matter, she answers, “Is there any better subject?” The Utah artist works in both acrylic and scratchboard, and these days she tends to favor the latter even though it can be tedious. Scratchboard best allows Kroll to capture the detail she envisions in her completed works. The award-winning artist says she is able to show so much detail that her collectors sometimes think her scratchboard works are photographs.
As subject matter, Kroll looks to animals that sport furry coats, including cats, cows, donkeys, mules, and horses, among others. “I love creating fur, and I imagine myself stroking the animal and running my fingers through the fur,” she says. “It seems I favor mammals more than cold-blooded creatures. I haven’t done any snakes or lizards yet, but I will, eventually, as I try to do all kinds.”
For Kroll the most difficult aspect of capturing animals in her art is conveying accuracy. “If you do not get the direction of the fur correct, most people will not know what is wrong, but they will know something is not right,” she says. “And animals have looks that convey their moods just like humans. You need to get that expression to match their body language to fit the scene.” Kroll’s work can be found at Desert Rose Art Studio and Gallery, St. George, UT, and www.sues-art.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
For bronze sculptor Bryce Pettit, animals and art have always been integral parts of his life. He wasn’t raised to think in terms of making a living as an artist, but while studying biology in college, he met a professional artist who planted the seed of doing just that.
Animals are Pettit’s subjects of choice for conveying ideas that are important to him. “I have always had a great love for animals and the natural world,” he says. But he isn’t looking to make replicas of the “charismatic mega-fauna,” such as elk, bear, or moose; rather, his goal is to present ideas—as succinctly and purely as possible. “I want to tell a story with the least amount of information possible,” he says. And some of his favorite animals for doing that are lesser-known or often-overlooked species, like songbirds, bats, and rabbits.
For example, Pettit is now working on a sculpture featuring the small but mighty Arctic tern. “I have been thinking about my children and giving them opportunities,” he says, “about giving them wings.” Arctic terns migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year—the longest annual journey of any bird. “I chose the tern not because I was dying to sculpt an Arctic tern, but because it fit what I wanted to say: ‘I would go to the ends of the earth for you.’”
Pettit is represented by Mountain Trails Gallery, Park City, UT, and Jackson, WY; Sportsman’s Gallery, Beaver Creek, CO; Sue Bickerdyke Interiors, Carefree, AZ; and www.brycepettit.com. —Laura Rintala
Marcella Rose grew up on farm in Minnesota, and even as a child, she felt the power of large animals, such as bears, bison, and bighorn sheep. Today she makes her living transferring this sensibility to canvas. “Animals feed my soul,” Rose says. “I feel as if there aren’t enough lifetimes for me to capture all of their essences. I am humbled to live in their world.”
Rose now lives in Pelican Falls, MN, where her home is perched near a scenic lake and surrounded by herons, loons, and swans. Whether her subject matter is birds or bears, her contemporary painting style is loose, lively, and gestural, capturing the movement and energy of the animal. Rose’s palette can range from wildly colorful to almost tonal, depending on what she wants to convey. But every new work features many layers of oil paint.
Reflecting on why she is drawn to animals as subject matter, she says it’s their beauty, intelligence, and intuitiveness. “Whether I am painting or sculpting a horse or another animal, every sense is awake, alive with passion—a satisfaction purely euphoric as I feel the muscles, smell the breath, and love the very essence of these magnificent creatures,” Rose says. Her work can be found at Rose Gallery, Pelican Rapids, MN; Angel Gallery Fine Arts and Antiques, Coeur d’Alene, ID; Pacific Flyway Gallery, Spokane, WA; American Fine Art Company, Spokane Valley, WA; Smoky Hills Art, Park Rapids, MN; Underbrush Gallery, Fargo, ND; Art of the Lakes, Battle Lake, MN; and www.marcellaroseart.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
J. Rodney Reveal
Surrounded by raccoons, foxes, coyotes, squirrels, birds, and other woodland animals on his Arcadia, IN, farm, J. Rodney Reveal never wants for subject matter. While he enjoys painting rural Indiana scenes as well as landscapes from his travels to national parks, he can’t deny the appeal of the 70 or so specimens he and his wife adopt each year for wildlife rehabilitation purposes. “I’m into birds right now,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in them. I guess it’s the freedom they represent, being able to fly away.”
Now retired from careers in firefighting as well as home building and design, Reveal is free to devote his energy to art—a love that has abided since high school. Encouraged by a teacher, he earned a scholarship to the California College of the Arts in Oakland, CA, then continued his studies in sculpture and painting at Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. The artist is a longtime watercolorist but recently has focused on oils.
One of the biggest changes in his work since becoming a full-time artist has been the luxury of slowing down—quite a change of pace from a firefighter’s routine. “One day a light turned on, and I just decided I was going to take as much time as it took to get the effect I wanted in a painting,” he says.
Reveal’s work is available at the Brown County Art Gallery, Nashville, IN; Inspire Studio Gallery, Carmel, IN; Nickel Plate Arts, Noblesville, IN; The Venue Fine Art & Gifts, Bloomington, IN; and www.jrodneyreveal.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Beverly Endsley’s artistic purpose presented itself while she was doing a painting of two rabbits. An animal lover, the artist often works with animal rescue organizations. At one time she had fostered two identical white rabbits who were brothers. “I couldn’t tell them apart, so I had to put a mark in the ear of one of them,” she says. “I decided to do a painting of them, and by the time I was finished, I couldn’t believe I had ever confused them because they were so very different. That’s when I discovered my passion for painting the individual spirit of each being.”
The Evergreen, CO, artist’s work includes oil paintings of animals and wildlife that speak to her, as well as commissioned pieces. As any artist will attest, commissions present a challenge, but it’s one that Endsley welcomes. Her aim is “to get the image of the animal right and also have a well-constructed painting, so that it’s not just a replication of a photograph but a piece of fine art.”
Armed with an interior-design background, she sought fine-art training from those whose styles she admired most: Charles Reid for watercolor techniques and Quang Ho, David Leffel, Mark Nelson, Kevin Weckbach, and Sherrie McGraw for guidance in oil. She has also been inspired by her changing environs, from living in Houston and Austin, TX, to Santa Fe, NM, to her current home in the foothills of Colorado’s Rockies. Endsley’s art can be seen in a solo exhibition this month at Humphrey History Park and Museum, Evergreen, CO; at Arts at Denver, Denver, CO; and at www.beverlyendsley.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Weighty bronze is perhaps not the most obvious medium in which to capture the lightness of avian flight. Yet Will Hemsley deftly works this alloy, reveling in its contradictions. His sculptures of waterfowl transcend the incongruity between heaviness and buoyancy. “The challenge,” says Hemsley, “is to find creative ways to hide this connection point. I am as interested in creating air around the piece as I am in the form of the subject itself.”
A native of the Chesapeake Bay region, Hemsley holds a degree in fine art from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. His family has lived in Queen Anne’s County since the early 1700s. The full-time sculptor and painter also captains charter fishing boats with his brothers and his father, the artist Tilghman Hemsley. An intimate knowledge of place certainly informs Will’s ability to render the birds that inhabit this estuary and the grasses that grow along its banks. But the verisimilitude in his work is also due to months spent acquainting himself with a subject’s anatomy: the mechanics of muscle structure, the patterns and lay of feathers.
Depicting realism, however, is not his primary concern. Hemsley’s greater interest is in portraying a wider range of expression—“the character of an event” and the viewer’s dynamic relationship with and experience of an artwork.
The artist’s work is exhibited this month in Charleston, SC, at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. His commissioned 150th-anniversary Stetson sculpture is available at The Great Republic, Washington, DC, and its sister gallery in Colorado Springs, CO. He is also represented by South Street Gallery, Easton, MD; Beverly McNeil Gallery, Birmingham, AL; and www.willhemsley.com. —Lynn Dubinsky
A.C. Lindner is a firm believer in the saying, “Paint what you love and love what you paint.” For Lindner this means painting nature and animals. Since childhood she has been passionate about creatures both great and small. These days Lindner calls a horse farm in the scenic Texas Hill Country home. And the surrounding area provides her with an endless parade of deer and other wildlife for inspiration. “As a subject for a painting, an animal can take hold of your heart and delight the soul,” Lindner says.
Lindner studied art at Texas A&M University in College Station, where she devoured books on British sporting art. She was especially drawn to works by George Stubbs, at one point staying up all night trying to mix paints to duplicate his palettes. One thing that proved difficult to master and recreate was the artist’s glazes. But one day, while flipping through a magazine, she read about the Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore, MD, an atelier that taught the techniques of the old masters. The traditional program seemed a perfect fit, and Lindner ended up enrolling in four summer sessions.
Recently she has started fostering orphaned cottontail rabbits, and depictions of the bunnies are now popping up in her work. “I never cease to be amazed and inspired by God’s creations on earth,” Lindner says. “I find joy in seeing beauty and then sharing it with others through my art.” Her work can be found at Russell Collection Fine Art, Austin, TX, and www.aclindner.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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