I was invited to talk alongside another wildlife artist Elspeth Bradbury about how wildlife and nature conservation intertwines with art. Organized by the Elders Council for BC and held at BC Parks Heritage Center in North Vancouver, both of us artists brought along a selection of artwork and spoke to the group of artists and conservation folk about our work. As an artist, this is always a joy cause you are preaching to the converted, so often this results in great dialogue and discussion and positive feedback.
This event turned out to be unexpectedly important (timing-wise) for me as I proceed with planning my next exhibition. Reviewing my conservation work was a much needed touchstone and helped me refocus on one of my creative strengths and passions and remember that this is the root of my work at a time when I have to also push the retail side of things early in my art career.
I was also particularly happy to meet Elspeth and hear her talk about her work. She says that just started out as an artist (you couldn’t tell by the quality of her work), she’s primarily a writer. She read some of her conservation themed poetry (or rather, had her husband read it due to his expressive voice), and I felt personally inspired by pretty much every single word that she spoke during her talk.
One such comment that rang true for me was that ‘we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize animals’, but then she asked WHY NOT if it means people have more compassion for them?
This is a matter I have been circling for a while myself, and it was refreshing to hear her take on it because I am always wondering about how to help people make personal connections to wildlife. My goal with doing conservation art has always been about encouraging people to take the jump from seeing artwork and feeling somehow moved by it, which can then prompt real world situation.
This is part of the reason why Keith Haring will always hold a dear place in my art heart. He wasn’t about wildlife of course, but he was about making art with social comment that was accessible and out in the world with the general public.
He consistently drew his work in chalk in New York subway stations as the billboards were all painted black - a weekly endeavor. He created public art projects - but not just simple murals, he made climbable sculptures so that kids of all ages could literally engage with it, and he wanted these pieces in low income areas of the city. He created a Pop Shop, a retail outlet where his artwork was available mass produced and fully accessible to everyone (and the shop itself was a work of art with floors, walls and ceiling fully painted in his style) - all of this had not been done prior to him, though it is almost commonplace now for artists to have a line of retail options. I am thankful to have been able to visit the Pop Shop in New York prior to its closing.
I digress, sorta.
Taking this Keith Haring approach and combining it with wildlife concerns will be central to working out my next body of work and exhibition plans. It was brewing all along but preparing for this talk and listening to likeminded people really brought this all to the surface.