Friday, September 12, 2014

More Warblers, and Birds In Art 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler and Veery. Field Sketches and Watercolor Sketches by Ken Januski.

There has been a flurry of migrant activity in the last few days, much of it centered around the berries of Devil's Walkingstick. On Wednesday thrushes, mainly Veeries and American Robins, but also one Wood Thrush dominated the early part of mywalk, while warblers and vireos dominated the last part.

Today I started an hour later than usual and found fewer thrushes. But the warblers and vireos were still manically feeding,  some on Devil's Walkingstick but others elsewhere, including a Red-eyed Vireo in the huge and bright red fruit of the Umbrella Magnolia. If  you're alert and doing more than just checking species off a list, now is the time when you can find a lot of interest in what the migrant birds are eating. Spicebush fruit are also popular, as are of course all of the insects on them and other plants.

As I said in last post I really do have enough photos of most species. So I tried to concentrate on looking and sketching today. It was hard as both warblers and vireos were hyperactive. Finally I'd seen enough Chestnut-sided Warblers that I thought I could risk a field sketch from memory as seen at the top of photo above. It was alright but seemed off in ways. So after getting home I looked very briefly at one of my field guides then did the very small watercolor sketch on the bottom of page above.

It's very small but I'm happy with it, though I did mistakenly paint olive green where the white throat should be. I know artists who often do slightly more developed works as soon as they can after getting back from sketching birds in the field. It seems like a good idea, especially if you can use the field sketches as the basis of it and not rely much on photos and guides. I think that help keeps it simple, unified and fresh.  (A day latter and I saw a Veery while out walking. I added a field sketch of it above and then a quick watercolor based on it when I got home, as seen on right hand page above).

Speaking of simple, unified and fresh I received the catalog from Birds in Art today, a show I've been rejected from for about 10 years now. I'm not even sure why I apply any more. And I always have to steel myself to open up the catalog and look at it. I know my reaction will be immediate dislike at the timidity and formulaic quality of much of the work, and stronger dislike at the photographic origins of even more.

I wasn't quite as apprehensive today because I knew that the featured artist, and Master Artist for 2014, is Barry Van Dusen. His  work is simple, unified and fresh, in the best sense of all of those words. And I wasn't disappointed. Such refreshing work and a refreshing essay on his work by artist Darren Rees. I wouldn't be surprised even if a little bit of influence of those watercolors didn't make it into the tiny sketch of the Chestnut-sided Warbler above.

I go nuts when I look at BIA catalogs, wishing that just once I'd find a happy surprise in one of them. I almost never do. There were one or two today, though none that just knocked me over as happened the first time I saw work from The Society of Wildlife Artists. But the work and the essay on the work of Barry Van Dusen certainly brightened my day.

As I've written before I'll continue to look at the catalog and eventually find in looking at the work and in reading what artists have written about their work that I can appreciate far more than I can at first, second and third glance. But I do wish that one day I'd open it up and be knocked off my feet.  I'm definitely not holding my breath.

After I'd finished this I realized that I can sound extremely negative about bird art and Birds in Art. So I thought it made sense to add a bit more about this catalog. There is much competent art in it. That itself is an accomplishment. And I suppose that's why, over time, I find that I can find much to appreciate in each catalog, even if I don't really like it.

But I do like some work and I decided to name artists who struck me right off the bat:

John Busby
James Coe
Peter Elfman
Anne Senechal Faust
Andrew Haslen
Lars Jonssson
Johannes Nevala
Andrea Rich

I should add that I was already fond of all of the above artists with the exception of Johannes Nevala. I was newly struck by him. If I wasn't already familiar with the others I'm sure at least some of them would have knocked me over. The Andrea Rich woodcut was the opposite in that it grows on me each time I look at it. Some of this is very rich work.

There were some others who are not as much to my taste perhaps but whose qualities I can't and wouldn't want to deny. They are striking in their own way:

William Althier
Robert Bateman
Jim Bortz
Kathleen Dunphy
Cindy House
James Morgan
Sean Murtha
Peter Nilsson
Thomas Quinn
Maynard Reece(pretty bold for 94!)
Chirag V. Thumbar
Sherrie York

I haven't mentioned sculpture mainly because I'm not as familiar with it. In general though I find that  I like it more than much of the two dimensional art. I'm not sure why that is but I wouldn't be surprised if it's because it seems more direct and less mediated by the numbness of photography. Certainly there is far more abstraction in the sculpture than in the two dimensional work and this seems true year after year.

In naming names like this I know that anyone who reads this and happens to be in the show might be disappointed especially if I don't mention them, though most will have no idea who I am, nor care. As I said most of the work is competent. And in a week I'm sure I could add many more artists to the second group. Perhaps even in 15 minutes after posting this.

Perhaps this year's show is better than average.  I do find that I seem to like more and am pulling my hair out about less. But I do wish I'd find more exciting work. Perhaps that is asking too much, particularly given the stranglehold that photography has had on American wildlife art for so long.

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