The Furred, The Finned, The Feathered

April 20, 2014

The Furred, The Finned, The Feathered is the theme of the Topeka Art Guild’s June-July show.  I’ve been giving that some thought since I don’t often paint animals or birds and I don’t think I have ever painted fishes.  On a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week I visited the Gilcrease Museum, which is famous for its wonderful collection of art from the American West including Native American art. You can see the work of Albert Bierstadt, Remington, Thomas Moran, John James Audubon and many more.  If you do visit the Gilcrease, save time to do some walking on the grounds.  There are 23 acres of themed gardens, which are especially beautiful in spring.

What particularly caught my eye on this visit was an exhibit of animal paintings from the West, such as coyotes, buffaloes, horses and others.  While this exhibit was probably the work of a contemporary artist, many of the older paintings also contained animals.  How did these artists manage to capture the essence of animals so well in their art without the help of modern photography?  While an artist can tell a human model to hold still, animals, especially wild ones, don’t cooperate.  How did they manage to portray galloping horses that look so lifelike?

My few attempts at painting animals have been based on photos I took.  I well remember the only time I ever painted a buffalo.  I had been painting in the Flint Hills in Kansas with a group of artists.  One of our number knew a man in the area who raised buffaloes who would allow us to visit his farm to view these huge creatures.  The buffaloes were off in a distant pasture so the ranch owner let some of us ride in the back of his pickup truck on our trip to the pasture.  When we reached that pasture the buffaloes saw the truck and assumed that it meant that food was about to arrive.  So they rushed up and surrounded the truck.  To me, that was scary.  I was taking pictures but found myself manipulating the zoom so that the animals would appear farther away.  I did finally do a painting from one of those photos and it eventually sold.  This time I’ll stick to something tamer.  I’m adding a cat to a painting of a lilac bush.



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