Menagerie: Animals in Art
“Menagerie: Animals in Art”, features twelve artists, working in painting and sculpture, portray a variety of animals: cows, dogs, horses, turkeys, bees, elephants, butterflies, bobcats, and more. Artists include Adelaide Tyrol, Anna Dibble, Aline Ordman, Christopher Griffin, Gabriel Tempesta, Gary Milek, Georganna Lenssen, Giovanna Cecchetti, Janet Fredericks, Karen Petersen, Nissa Kauppila, and Rebecca Kinkead.
The exhibition showcases how a number of contemporary artists are portraying animals in art. Some of humankind’s earliest artmaking featured animals and throughout history animals have played prominent, diverse roles. Ancient Egyptians portrayed the sun god Ra as The Great Cat of Heliopolis. Medieval Germans portrayed apes building a table in stained glass. In 1907, Pablo Picasso doodled simple line drawings of penguins, pelicans, and camels. Animals have forever been and will always be the subject of art.
Contemporary artists paint animals in a variety of ways and for a multitude of purposes. Sometimes, the artist intends for us to think about animals we don’t usually think about. Natural history illustrator Adelaide Tyrol allows us to get up close and go into the private world of animals as a way of learning greater truths about them. Fur & Feathers, for example, takes us inside an ermine’s dwelling to show us how he lines the walls with feathers. Gabriel Tempesta was drawn to bees because he feels it is important that we consider the role of these animals in our ecology. His paintings give us an up close and intimate view of bees that we would otherwise not have.
Other artists paint animals because they are a natural part of the milieu in which they make art. Master Pastelist Aline Ordman renders scenes of cows in Vermont with the hand of a trained illustrator and the eye of someone keen on Impressionist values. Gary Milek paints a scene of wild turkeys and deer foraging for food in an apple orchard in winter using a 15th century egg tempera painting technique. The animals in Rebecca Kinkead's paintings are a “vehicle for color, form and surface to evolve.” In this sense, they are a means for the painter to paint. These artists offer us an opportunity to see animals expressed in different techniques.
And then there are those artists who are expressing ideas beyond images of the animals. Georganna Lenssen paints relaxed, intimate, expressive portraits of bobcats, horses, parrots, and other animals. Christopher Griffin uses primitive drawings of animals in paintings that reach across human history. In a style reminiscent of Henry Moore, Karen Petersen's sculptures of animals showcase her approach to shape making. In these instances, the portrayal of the animal is secondary to the ideas or feelings the artist is seeking to express.
Many artists cast animals in place of people as a means of softening the blow of their observations about humanity, while other artists humanize animals as a way of creating comic effect. Anna Dibble portrays animals in human situations, with human expressions, tackling human relationships.
For a few of the artists featured in “Menagerie”, animals appear in artworks that speak to larger themes. Janet Fredericks' paintings of insects are her attempt to depict the beauty and fullness of life ascending, spiralling upwards, with a rich, ripening fecundity. The insects in Giovanna Cecchetti's art making employ ideas of sacred geometry, patterning, visual sound, and spatial dimension, influenced by her experiences of the Amazon. Nissa Kauppila's series of gouache paintings features birds and explores the delicacy of life, flight and chaos.
How we portray animals in art says something about what we are concerned with as a society. The exhibition, “Menagerie: Animals in Art”, provides us the opportunity to explore the work of artists by following this simple theme. What we find is a diverse menagerie of styles and approaches.