Tim Cherry | Stylized Forms

By Todd Wilkinson

Backstroke [1997], bronze, 13 x 21, edition 18. sculpture, southwest art.
Backstroke [1997], bronze, 13 x 21, edition 18.

It is impossible to ignore the animal magnetism of Tim Cherry’s work. Whether one attributes it to the stylized mass or the whimsical soft edges of his otters, cougars, foxes, and other creatures, there’s no denying that Cherry conveys the soul of each animal in his bronze and stone sculpture.

The works of this Missouri sculptor [b 1965] incorporate sleek, fluid lines and elegant patinas that catch the light and hold it as if it was raining through a prism. Such effects leave little room for detail. In fact, the body of Cherry’s work is largely devoid of the realism that has become de rigueur in contemporary wildlife art—and this is precisely what makes his forms so refreshing.

Wave Runner [1997], bronze, 25 x 30, edition 10. sculpture, southwest art.
Wave Runner [1997], bronze, 25 x 30, edition 10.

The exquisite, polished quality of Cherry’s sculpture has attracted considerable attention across the West and, in just 10 years, Cherry has emerged as an important figure on the contemporary sculpture scene. The young Canadian transplant earned membership in the Society of Animal Artists at the relatively young age of 25 and six years later won entrance into the prestigious National Sculpture Society.

Over the past several years Cherry’s pieces have been part of a dozen exhibitions, including the Prix de West Invitational in Oklahoma City, OK; the Society of Animal Artists’ national traveling exhibition; and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s annual Birds in Art show. In 1998 alone Cherry plans to complete his first monument, participate in seven major shows, and supply new sculptures to the half-dozen galleries that now handle his work.

Bruin Ball [1997], bronze, 12 x 9, edition 18. sculpture, southwest art.
Bruin Ball [1997], bronze, 12 x 9, edition 18.

Cherry draws his inspiration from the art nouveau movement, which flourished in Europe a century ago and later gave rise in this country to the highly stylized trends of art deco. Rejecting the stoic, almost literal interpretations that had come to dominate academic sculpture in the 19th century, art nouveau and art deco instead emphasized the linear qualities as well as the spiritual elements of sculpture.

In the same way, Cherry’s work may be interpreted as a response to the realism that has come to define contemporary wildlife art. Cherry has abandoned the compulsion to sculpt every feather and insist on exact proportions in favor of smooth shapes and refined design elements.

Yet according to Cherry’s mentor, sculptor Fritz White, an important distinction should be made: Rather than merely building on the art deco tradition of the past, Cherry has set out to claim a piece of it for himself.

Hare Ball [1995], bronze, 6 x 7, edition 10. sculpture, southwest art.
Hare Ball [1995], bronze, 6 x 7, edition 10.

“I think Tim is working in an area that few of his peers have explored,” says White. “During the 1920s and ’30s there was a lot of design experimentation going on. Some of it worked and some of it didn’t. The point was to press the limits of what was previously thought possible, and Tim is doing the same thing today. He may not be avant-garde, but he is willing to take chances—and that means his work is always going to be original.”

White believes that Cherry’s prowess lies in identifying animal shapes that resonate with viewers on a deep, almost subconscious level. All viewers, whether sophisticated art observers or beginning collectors, can appreciate the universal language of archetypal symbolism he employs.

Hide and Seek [1997], bronze, 16 x 18, edition 15. sculpture, southwest art.
Hide and Seek [1997], bronze, 16 x 18, edition 15.

Only the slight tinge of a Cana-dian brogue hints at Cherry’s background. Born in Calgary, Alberta, he grew up in the frontier mining town of Nelson situated along the rugged Canadian Rockies in southern British Columbia. For the young boy, the outdoors held an almost larger-than-life appeal, and escaping into the wild was—and remains—a spiritual experience.

At age 15 he signed on as a wrangler and cook with an outfitter who led fishing and hunting trips into the vast, roadless expanses of British Columbia. Over the next 15 years Cherry worked with other companies that ventured into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. His do-main became a 10,000-square-mile sweep of Canada extending from the formidable western slope of the Mackenzie Mountains to the lake-speckled, marshy interior accessible only by floatplane.

Treetop Watch [1995], bronze, 15 x 7, edition 10. scupture, southwest art.
Treetop Watch [1995], bronze, 15 x 7, edition 10.

By the time he turned 18, Cherry was guiding his own clients on two-week trips. “Our season would start at the end of June, and we wouldn’t come out of the woods until October,” Cherry says. “There were no bills to pay or phones to answer. The world could have come to an end and I wouldn’t have known.”

His forte was helping sportsmen harvest world-class moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly bear, along with trophy pike and lake trout. “Ninety percent of that water has never had a hook in it,” he says. “You could climb a mountain and be the first person to sit on its crest.”

Soon Cherry took an interest in taxidermy. Handling the fur of grizzlies and running his fingers along the bony curve of a ram’s horn had given him an understanding of animal forms, but he still wanted more.

Eventually Cherry arranged to work with nationally renowned taxidermist Forest Hart in Hampden, ME, and spent three years learning to sculpt clay musculature and build fiberglass molds for trophy mounts. When Cherry watched Hart prepare a model to be transformed into a bronze, he knew he’d found his preferred medium.

Today Cherry resides in Bran-son, MO, with his wife Linda (whom he met in the early 1990s at an art show in South Carolina), but he considers Loveland, CO, his home-away-from-home. He discovered the burgeoning sculpture colony in 1988 when local resident and fellow wildlife sculptor Dan Ostermiller invited him to visit. The supportive environment and free exchange of ideas he found there convinced him to leave Canada and move south. Soon he began studying with Ostermiller and White as well as sculptor Garland Weeks.

“Fritz White influences my work every day,” Cherry says. “Our subject matter and styles are different, but he is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. He has a keen sense of design and mass. He doesn’t hold back, and he pushes his students to go beyond their comfort zone.”

Collectors Chuck and Julie Kahl appreciate Cherry’s sculpture for different reasons. “He’s developed such serenity in his work—I love to walk around a piece and survey it from every angle,” says Julie. Chuck, an avid sportsman, says that anyone who has ever gone afield in search of wildlife—whether with a gun or a camera—can identify with Cherry’s work. “I’m drawn to the realism of his action pieces,” Chuck says. “His knowledge is real-world.”

What’s important to Cherry is conveying the essence of a subject by imbuing the mass with a sense of the animal’s personality, movements, and behavior. “There are a number of sculptors out there doing work that is absolutely anatomically accurate. I admire it, but it doesn’t speak to me,” he explains. “I deal with proportions, too, but they relate more to shape and the effects I want to achieve than to the length of a leg relative to the size of a foot.”

Cherry takes great care in selecting his patinas, which are usually subtle, natural colors. “I consider the application of patina a marriage of two art forms, the patineur’s and mine. A good patina can bring a sculpture to life.” The bronzecolored patina accented with flaring, mottled orange on Snake in the Grass, for instance, is the perfect complement to the slinky mountain lion crouched flat to the ground as it moves in on its prey.

Respected Loveland patineur Pat Kipper, with whom Cherry has worked for the past 10 years, admires the sculptor’s work. “Tim’s designs are great to patina because the smooth surfaces lend themselves to innovation and creativity,” he says.

Also setting Cherry apart is his flair for fanciful images. Squirrels on stakeouts, rabbits with attitude, and plump, cartwheeling piglets are playful in their presentation yet remain stylistically refined. Back-stroke, for example, appears to defy the laws of physics, with the mass of the piece supported only by the swimmer’s tail.

The playful quality of his work, in fact, helps Cherry in his efforts to convey the essence of each animal. “Tim portrays animals the way you would see them in the wild, or at least the way you imagine them in your mind’s eye,” says Fritz White. “His pieces go straight to the heart of his subjects.”

Photos courtesy the artist and Columbine Gallery, Loveland, CO; Cavalier Gallery, Greenwich, CT; Grapevine Gallery, Oklahoma City, OK; Sullivan Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; and Howard/Mandville Gallery, Kirkland, WA.

Featured in July 1998