by Bob Bahr
From March 24- May 4, SKBers Susan Fox and David Rankin will be featured in a special exhibition at Flinn Gallery, in Greenwich, CT. The show, titled “Wildlife Art: Field to Study: Revealing the (Field) Art Behind the Art,” explores the studies, paintings, sculptures, and drawings done from life, in the field, in preparation for studio work.
All of the artists feel passionate about the importance of seeing an animal in its natural habitat. “You can’t stick them in a landscape in Kenya if you have never seen them in landscape in Kenya,” says Fox. “And savvy collectors know the difference.” Fox admits that travel is one of her passions—and that seeing photos of animals and seeing them in game preserves helps fill out one’s knowledge. But nothing replaces the experience of seeing a wild horse in its native range on the steppes, for instance. “Game ranches don’t provide a narrative,” she asserts.
Fox paints outdoors, but she doesn’t identify as a plein air painter. She depicts animals, but she feels there is a better term than animal artist. “‘Naturalist artist’ is better,” she says. “Laney coined the phrase. You have to get out into the field and seek accuracy. Watch their behavior. Understand if a head bob is an aggressive move, or a movement to get better vision.”
Rankin has some advice: Hooolld on there, partner. “I teach watercolor painters how to work in the field painting directly from nature,” he says, “and much of this effort is focused on developing an artist’s ‘pre-painting skills’. Too many artists who dearly want to paint plein air are simply not equipped to do so effectively because they tend to just start painting with little or no studies or sketches. The direct result of this poor working method is one painting after another that lacks good values, suffers from poor compositions, or has no memorable visual impact. This can be corrected.
“My general rule of thumb for artists is to begin painting… with a pencil!” Rankin continues. “Then, develop a skill set where you practice your plein air methods indoors first. Select a subject and bang out a few sketches or studies to evaluate your subject’s values and composition. Then, try a not too big painting of that subject… in one hour only. More than one hour and sunlight changes any scene. If you cannot create a proper rendition of a subject in one hour, in your studio where the comforts are many, venturing outdoors will not help.”
The Greenwich show illustrates how these professionals pull it off. Revealing their processes may be the best thing about the exhibition, although the work is ravishing and worth seeing for it’s own sake.
“Without field sketches I would not have a starting point for my studio painting,” says Nicholls. “I think it’s going to be very exciting to see both, side by side, in the exhibition. I hope that it will give field work more value because I honestly believe that fieldwork is in may respects more difficult than studio work but it isn’t always given that kind of respect.” Ω