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By Stephen Rebello
Having first made his mark on the art world in the late 1980s with meticulously detailed, adroitly observed, and emotionally resonant depictions of North American and African wildlife, Edward “Ned” Aldrich might reasonably be expected to have been born and raised studying nature in far-flung wide-open spaces. Except that he was born and spent his childhood in that ultimate metropolis, Manhattan.
Having been widely exhibited and having written a definitive 1998 book called Drawing and Painting Animals: How to Capture the Essence of Wildlife Art, he could easily devote an entire creative career to artistically rendering the primates, exotic birds, and members of the cat family that have evoked such admiring responses from critics and collectors. Yet not only has he furthered his range by successfully branching into plein-air landscapes and bronze sculptures, but also his style and technique are constantly evolving. His searching intellect, desire for betterment, and restless spirit demand that he push his own boundaries—perhaps in some entirely new directions.
For Aldrich, 39 and based in Golden, CO, there is no other way to function creatively and probably never has been. Born to a stockbroker father and a mother who raised him and his brothers while working as an interior decorator and wildlife photographer published in such magazines as National Geographic, Aldrich found his artistic footing very early in the game. Says the warm, outgoing artist, whose older brother is a musician and whose younger brother is a graphic artist, “I come from a family of people who didn’t want normal jobs. My whole family is artistically driven, so, oddly enough, my father was the black sheep because he was the more normal one who worked on Wall Street and hung out with the intellectual side of his brain. He was definitely kind of in awe at how all of us wanted to do creative things, but just reveled in the passion we all had for what we were doing.
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“As early as 5 years old, I know that art was something very special to me, and by the time I was in grade school, there was no other possibility for me. In high school I was considered the ‘artist guy,’ and even though all through high school counselors warned my mom, ‘This art thing is nice, but he really needs some normal education,’ she fought against that and supported me so much. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and even then I sure wasn’t going to go to a ‘normal’ college.”
Aldrich’s parents divorced when he was 8, and his mother relocated the children to the woodsy upstate New York town of Mt. Kisco. Two years later when his mother briefly remarried, Aldrich and his brothers moved for nine months to Nederland, CO, just west of Boulder. He would spend the rest of his formative years trying to get back there. He recalls, “We roughed it, living during the winter months in a cabin with only a wood-burning stove for heat, an outhouse shower, and surrounded by mountains and forests. We had a couple of acres, and I could just run out and have the wildest time. It was heaven for me. From early on, I was captivated by wildlife and nature. It’s something that’s deep inside that I don’t know the origin of. There wasn’t even a starting point, just literally something that’s always been there.
“Before I was 7, I’d already started borrowing illustrated books on wildlife from the library, and I’d trace out in crayon the outlines of the animals on the page, leaving horrible deep marks on the books. Pretty soon, I progressed to doing 8-by-10 acrylic paintings of the birds and animals, and I’d create little scenes with aspen trees and mountains, which I did in almost a paint-by-numbers way. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as wildlife art at this point, but my mother was my real mentor and she carried that all the way through high school. In the photographs she took for National Geographic and for calendars she also focused on wildlife, and the two of us would go off on treks together, which was of tremendous benefit to me from a reference standpoint.”
After attending a summer session at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983, Aldrich enrolled in the school’s four-year program. He recalls, “I wanted to break out, learn new things, explore new avenues rather than just learn for and from myself. I wanted to learn from people who knew better than I. I’ve never seen teachers so dedicated to art and its expression. I was like a kid in a candy store. It was tough, grueling, but a tremendous education.” He spent much of his senior year creating an inventory of wildlife paintings done with acrylics on masonite. On graduating in 1987, Aldrich began what he calls his “long hard road” to life as a working artist by introducing himself and his work to gallery owners all through Colorado, California, and Washington state.
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“You have to be the best artist you can be, but you also have to pound the pavement and put yourself out there in order to see how you’re received,” he reasons. “My intention was to make a living in art because it’s what I really love and wanted to do. I would do whatever I needed to do to make things happen, calling people who knew something about the field and picking their brains about what I could, to get to where I wanted to be.”
What Aldrich had most to show was a technical affinity, a precise brush technique, a splendid sense of light and composition, and an almost psychic attunement to the natural order that placed him in…
Featured in June 20004