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Seeking The Wellspring: Andrew Denman’s Wildlife Paintings Emanate From Beauty And Truth By Todd Wilkinson For Andrew Denman, there’s no artistic muse on Earth more powerful than Nature. And when it comes down to his philosophy of portraying the wild marvels of creation, he presents us with a question that figures prominently into our own daily existence. If art isn’t engaging our senses, if it doesn’t cause us to stop and ponder meaning,or exert a presence in the spaces we inhabit, then he wonders, what’s the point? Denman the painter is a provocateur who delights in rejecting the status quo while refusing to offer scenes that could be mistaken as anodyne. He is among a very talented group of young American artists leaving their mark with daring takes on the natural world. “A Different Animal” shines as a body of new work that reflects Denman’s distinct stylistic signature. For me, having been writing about wildlife art for the better part of 30 years, having had the opportunity to interview some of the greatest traditional and convention-bending artists of our time, I count Denman among an emerging pack of painters and sculptors who are bestowing the genre with refreshing vibrancy. Denman’s paintings, serious or mirthful, stand out. Over the years, they have won awards, been juried into important shows and traveled across the country in museum exhibitions. Far from being passé or prosaic—the two charges most often leveled against “wildlife art” by the Ivory Tower—Denman’s latest selection is, in some ways, avant garde. He makes no apologies for celebrating Nature. And, while seizing our attention, he uses iconography as more than a superficial experience based solely on imagery; rather, he subtly—and sometimes, not so subtly— injects allegory into the narrative, bringing to light the precarious state of wildness, the beauty of sentient creatures we share the planet with, and he does it through a visual language distinct and contemporary. Denman borrows from, melds, deconstructs and improvises upon many earlier painting traditions involving wildlife subject matter. But ultimately, what he does is neither redundant nor derivative; he has become known as an innovator in 21st century wildlife painting. His approaches to color, composition and dynamic interplay between focal point and negative space is provocative and irreverent, yet what engages us most is a soothing aesthetic bolstered by his original approach to design. As a naturalist when he’s away from the easel, Denman possesses a special fascination with avians. One of his artistic trademarks is blurring the lines between Realism and abstract expressionism, using color-field tonalism to set the moods emanating from his surfaces. Up close, we can appreciate his abstracted brushstrokes but step back and his stacked portrayals of birds abounding in this show read like totems. Unlike so many of his peers in the city, Denman hasn’t allowed himself to become captive to the urban jungle, cut off from real contact with his wild subjects the way, say, Andy Warhol did in the development of his famous Endangered Species Pop Art series. Rather, he gets outdoors and studies from life, whether it’s exploring the wild bush of Africa or the remotest corners of the American West. In ready acknowledgment, Denman will enthusiastically tell you that he is constantly mesmerized by the exquisite patterns found innately in nature. He knows that when an artist goes to the source, it brings viewers closer to the truth. “A Different Animal” offers a solid response to the question Andrew Denman has the courage to ponder. He seeks to engage our senses and yes, this is precisely the admirable point of great art. Todd Wilkinson has been writing about the art of nature for three decades and is the author of several critically-acclaimed books. His environmental work has appeared in a wide range of publications ranging from National Geographic to The Washington Post.

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Totems The totem series evolved primarily out of my fascination with the totem poles of the American Pacific Northwest. These totems express, in a heavily stylized format, the interconnectedness between man and nature and the symbolic and spiritual import with which we imbue wildlife. Even as disconnected as modern humans often are from the natural world, our daily lives are still brimming with animal imagery; from logos on our shoes and t-shirts to the names of our computer operating systems, animals of all kinds continue to represent facets of our own personalities in heraldic fashion. Though not everyone openly identifies with a spirit animal, as Native Americans did (and still do), the animal imagery with which we surround ourselves performs the same function, with lions representing and bringing out our own courage, coyotes our sense of mischief, and owls our wisdom. It was two sculptors that initially inspired me to reinterpret the totem in a modern context. Tony Hochstetler’s “Stacked Frogs,” a highly realistic portrayal of a jumbled tower of bullfrogs, and Peter Woytuk’s whimsical, gravity-defying assemblages of ravens, fruit, and found objects, all evoke the tradition of the totem. It became my goal to create a series of works that, while not traditional totems, were none-the-less totemic in their symbolic depth, concept, and vertical orientation. In practice, these pieces were rewarding but challenging; my own background as a realist painter forced me to take great care in making these tensionfilled towers of animals and birds believable, while the influence of Native American iconography encouraged me to allow stylization to win out over strict technical accuracy. Though certain birds, Harris Hawks, for instance, will sometimes land briefly on each other’s backs, none of these pieces is meant to be descriptive in a purely representationally realistic context. With the exception of the hawks, all of these pieces, in fact, depict wildlife in impossible and inorganic arrangements that are all the more intriguing and playful because of their improbability. Bighorn Rams teeter on top of one another to impossible heights, though no less precipitous than the mountain crags they so deftly navigate in the wild. Iconic red cardinals become a rhythmic series of crisscrossing lines and dashes of vibrant color that is undeniably musical. Reduced to the simplest repetitive shapes and presented in a non-objective palette of sprightly greens, pigs, chickens, and eggs become a metaphor for productivity and prosperity as much as a suggested breakfast menu. The stylistic result harkens back to the magical realism of a Rousseau or Magritte, while the iconography is inescapably folkloric, all of it rebranded for the 21st Century. Though the initial inspiration for any given piece nearly always comes from field work in the wild, my work has long focused on wildlife taken out of the context of its natural environment. By taking a familiar subject and placing it in an unfamiliar context, the audience is forced to see that subject in a new light and to reexamine their own assumptions. Native Americans understood that they were inextricably linked to the health of their environment and the animals with which they shared it, and they expressed that with a rich, personal symbology. By borrowing from this tradition and “re-presenting” it for a modern era, my hope is that these totems will cause the viewer to pause and consider wildlife in a new way, and to realize that even today, perhaps especially today, the natural world is still relevant to our daily lives. Andrew Denman, 2017

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“Totem #1: Stacked Cardinals”, 24” x 12” Acrylic on Cradled Board $4,700

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“Totem #2: Stacked Harris Hawks”, 36” x 24” Acrylic on Cradled Board $13,000

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Detail

“Totem #3: Stacked Bighorns”, 48” x 12” Acrylic on Cradled Board $12,000

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“Totem #4: Stacked Burrowing Owls”, 24” x 12” Acrylic on Cradled Board $4,200

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Detail

“Tiny Totem #1: Green Eggs & Ham”, 24” x 6” Acrylic on Cradled Board $2,100

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Detail

“Tiny Totem #2: Reverse Ravens”, 24” x 6” Acrylic on Cradled Board $2,100

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“Since my introduction to Andrew Denman’s work more than a decade ago, I have watched his development with curiosity and delight. Andrew is not afraid to push the boundaries of conventional depictions of birds and animals; I applaud his originality and daring spirit. A preview of Andrew’s recent work reaffirms my impression that he thinks creatively as well as graphically. Andrew’s sense of design and the impact of his compositions set him apart from his peers.” Kathy Kelsey Foley Director, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum Wausau, Wisconsin

“Tiny Totem #3: Easter Bunnies”, 12” x 6” Acrylic on Cradled Board $1,200

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Patterns Though there is a sense of playfulness running throughout “A Different Animal,” the patterns series is undoubtedly the most whimsical part of the show. I have long been fascinated with pattern and repetition, both as it occurs naturally and in the context of the man-made. Just as all abstraction ultimately sinks its roots in a representation of nature, however distant and however dramatically stylized, so too do most man-made patterns take their original inspiration from the natural world. The familiar fleur-de-lis is actually a dramatically stylized lily or lotus flower, and even the most visually abstract fractal pattern is only a mathematical representation of the coils of a sea shell or the overlapping scales of a pine cone. I pursued a series of paintings a few years ago called “Modern Camouflage” which featured very realistically painted owls emerging from highly stylized, heavily patterned, wallpaper-like backgrounds. These pieces were meant to comment not only on the displacement of wildlife from natural to un-natural habitats, but more pointedly on the conflict between illusionistic and flat art in the latter half of the nineteenth century until the advent of post-modernism (and perhaps continuing through present day). The juxtaposition of realistic and decorative techniques and the stark contrast between organic and inorganic patterns, with only the subtlest transition between the two, created a wonderful tension. In this body of work, I decided to take the idea and run with it in a more whimsical direction. By taking an animal and reducing it to a silhouetted, stamp-like form, and repeating that shape to create a background pattern, the animal subject is pitted against a mass-produced image of itself. In most cases, the effect is humorous, evoking the animal’s ubiquity, life cycle, or reproductive capacity. In all cases, this systematization of a natural shape highlights the significance of the animal in human life and culture. The bunny becomes an emblem of spring, fertility, and rebirth, even evoking its symbolic association with the pagan Eostre and the Christian Easter. The chicken and egg represent the same story of fertility, but also their vital world-wide importance as a food product and case study for the modern phenomenon of mass production. Ravens are the omnipresent tricksters and scavengers, but transformed into a densely repetitive background pattern one can’t help but be reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, while the luminous blue and red palette also suggests something ineffably American. Nature appears chaotic to us, but it is actually highly organized in its own way. It is our desire to control and conquer, arising from the innately human need for structure, that causes us to project our own artificial categories, our own systems of naming and organizing, onto the plants and animals around us. My pattern series seeks to explore this phenomenon in a fun and playful manner, re-contextualizing wildlife into a world of flat shapes, repeated imagery, brand logos, and ones and zeros, searching for old truths in a new world. As Gertrude Stein once wrote, “There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence.” Andrew Denman, 2017

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“The Ladies Man”, 18” x 18” Acrylic on Cradled Board, $5,000

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“The Layabout”, 16” x 16” Acrylic on Cradled Board $4,000

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“Multiplication Tables”, 24” x 24” Acrylic on Cradled Board $8,700

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“Multiplication Tables II”, 24” x 24” Acrylic on Cradled Board $8,700

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“The Scrapper”, 18” x 18” Acrylic on Cradled Board $5,000

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“The Trickster”, 18” x 24” Acrylic on Cradled Board $6,500

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Ornaments The ornament series evolved gradually out of my interest in birds, my experimentation with precious metal leafing, and my continued interest in presenting wildlife subjects, not simply as wild animals, but as objects of reverence. I have always felt the most profound peacefulness and contentment when surrounded by nature, and many of my most memorable animal experiences in the wild have occurred in moments of quiet contemplation. Anyone who has ever shared an unexpected encounter with a wild animal knows the sense of magical awe and spiritual connectedness such a moment can engender. As such, it’s no surprise that “Nature as Church� is a common theme in my work. In these paintings, animals, often but not exclusively birds, are portrayed in largely centralized compositions designed to evoke altarpieces or religious icons. Borrowing from the traditions of religious iconography in a variety of cultures, but especially the Christian tradition, these pieces rely on the symbolic use of color, with royal purples and spiritual yellows being used the most frequently, and gold leaf to evoke a sense of spiritual illumination. The leafing also draws on the tradition of the illuminated manuscript, and suggests the age-old craftsmanship we tend to associate with these and other relics of a distant but still culturally relevant past. The baubles from which the subjects hang or perch and about which they flutter are never intended to represent real objects, certainly not anything as prosaic as bird feeders, houses, or nests (though they may bear some visual resemblance to all of these things) but rather to suggest the gem-like quality of the subjects themselves. These glittering gold artifacts extend their worth to the animal subjects and transform them from commonly overlooked birds to objects of value deserving our appreciation, respect, and reverence. Simply but putting an image in a frame and hanging it on a well, artists have the unique power to make the neglected into the heroic, but by highlighting that same image in gold and soaking it with spiritual significance, one can go beyond the heroic to the divine. In a world where too many of us stare obsessively at the tiny screens of our phones or tablets, often in complete ignorance of the beauty of nature that surrounds us, all wildlife is deserving of being championed. I hope the ornament series accomplishes that. Andrew Denman, 2017

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“Ornament #2: Oriole”, 24” x 12” Acrylic & 23kt Gold Leaf on Cradled Board $4,300 phone: 307-733-4016

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“Ornament #3: Bushtit in Carmine Pink”, 8” x 8” Acrylic & 23kt Gold Leaf on Cradled Board $1,200

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“Ornament #4: Bushtit in Lime Green”, 8” x 8” Acrylic, 23kt Yellow Gold, & 12kt White Gold Leaf on Cradled Board $1,200

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“Ornament #5: The Convocation”, 20” x 16” Acrylic & 23kt Gold Leaf on Cradled Board $5,000

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“The Blue Bunny”, 8” x 8” Acrylic on Cradled Board $1,100

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“Night Shift”, 24” x 24” Acrylic and 12 kt White Gold Leaf on Cradled Board $8,700

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About the Artist Andrew Denman established himself as perennial force in the world of wildlife art over the course of the first two decades of the New Millennium. His career took off right after graduation in 2000 from Saint Mary’s College of California where he majored in Art and minored in English. After he was elected a Signature Member of The Society of Animal Artists in 2002 at the youthful age of 20, his work was juried into its Annual Exhibition in 2003, which was held at The Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, and selected by me for the Art and the Animal national exhibition tour that followed. The scenario repeated itself in 2004. In 2005, I included his work in the survey exhibition, American Birds, which I curated for The Wildlife Experience museum in Denver. I’ve since had the good fortune to tour Andrew’s work regularly in Art and the Animal traveling museum exhibitions. In 2011, Andrew joined a team of 30 artists which I invited to participate in a field trip led by Richard C. Brusca, Ph.D., to San Carlos, Mexico to produce a body of work for an exhibition entitled The Sea of Cortez at The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. After the premiere in 2013, I offered to produce a tour of a one-man, retrospective exhibition for Andrew. It premiered in 2015 at The Lindsay Wildlife Museum, in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, and subsequently toured to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, Oradell, NJ in the greater New York metropolitan area. I can think of few artists who have enjoyed such a successful trajectory at such a young age. In my estimation, Andrew’s success is the product of talent, creativity, drive, and the unusual capability to transform the imagery of his chosen genre into a new generational direction. Andrew has accomplished this in large part by imbuing his work with historical, cultural, and literary references which make his imagery particularly deep and rich. The prodigy that he is, a challenge for Andrew will be to sustain that creativity. For admirers of his work like me, it will be interesting to see how he and his work evolve over decades to come. From the look of his latest new work, Andrew is not resting on his laurels. David J. Wagner, Ph.D. Author, American Wildlife Art Tour Director, Society of Animal Artists President and Chief Curator, David J. Wagner, L.L.C.

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On the Town Square 35 E. Deloney Ave. | PO Box 2397 Jackson Hole, Wyoming 83001 (307) 733-4016 info@astoriafineart.com

Andrew Denman A Different Animal  

Phenomenal contemporary art showcase featuring famed wildlife and animal artist Andrew Denman.

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