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Saguaro Cactus by Andrew Denman <Back to Thumbnails "Desert Figure Study #12"
12 x 12"
Acrylic on Cradled Board
Saguaro
$2,500


This piece is available from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Ironwood Gallery duirng the ASDM Art Institute Faculty Show: "Seeds, Saguaros, & Skeletons," June 15- September 1, 2024. Contact the Gallery HERE for further information.

How to Buy, General Information

This series sinks its roots in my earliest impressions of the Sonoran Desert when I first began visiting Tucson, AZ sometime in 2012. I was first introduced to Tucson when I took a field trip to San Carlos Mexico with a group of thirty artists to study the environment in and around the Sea of Cortez in preparation for an exhibition the following year. All of us artists gathered in Tucson before taking a long bus ride south of the border. As excited as I was about Mexico, I was immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert in and around Tucson, especially its most iconic plant life, the Saguaro Cactus. I would return to Tucson in 2013 for the art exhibition and a few years later for my national touring show, Andrew Denman: the Modern Wild, which was also exhibited at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I was asked to teach a workshop in conjunction with that event, and before I knew it, my partner and I were traveling to Arizona on a regular basis to teach.

We gradually fell in love with Arizona, and a few years in I began to notice something strange and wonderful. As we made the two-day drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Tucson, I would watch for the first saguaros along the highway, and spotting them gave me an uncanny sense of returning home. I had never lived-or imagined I would live- anywhere but the Bay Area, but that feeling, esoteric though it may have been, counted for more than all of the practical reasons that contributed to our decision to move to Tucson in 2019.

Saguaros are very easy plants to anthropomorphize. With their human-like frames, they provide a place for us to project our own feelings and emotions with relative ease. A saguaro with arms outstretched can look like it is offering you a hug. A group of saguaros with their flailing limbs can look like a troop of dancers, kids playing volleyball, or boxers in the ring. A saguaro with downward drooping arms that scrape the floor of the desert can look like an old man dragging suitcases. Armless saguaros along a ridge can look like protective sentries or stern prison guards depending on your mood. And it is very difficult to see a single saguaro in the vast expanse of the desert without feeling that it must be lonely. Though cartoons like Lonney Toons may have popularized the standard “Stick-‘em-up” saguaro shape, one quickly learns that they are incredibly diverse, unique, and individual in their growth habits.

With that idea in mind, I have been photographing what I consider to be especially interesting saguaros since long before I even moved here. I’ve been developing my archive of saguaro photos for years, but never with a clear idea of what my saguaro paintings might look like until recently. As many of you know, my artistic process has become increasingly complicated over the years, involving many stages of layering and sanding, and it is very labor intensive. Having had great success selling quick, mixed media studies through Facebook during the Pandemic, I began thinking of ways that I could explore a similarly spontaneous approach to painting in acrylic as well.

This series of saguaro studies was an experiment in answering that challenge. I selected my favorite cacti, framed suitable compositions, and then worked on them very directly with only a charcoal under-drawing to anchor the “anatomy” of each cactus. My main goal was to treat these fascinating cacti, not as plants, but as figures (hence the name of the series). I focused on shapes, rhythms, movement, and especially the relationship between positive and negative shapes. In the first nine of these pieces, I chose to portray the saguaros in a riot of non-objective colors from pinks, to blues, to oranges, in order to encourage the viewer to look at them less as cacti and more as abstractions, as shapes, as beings. What I discovered, however, was that for each of the colors to really work, they needed to exist in contrast to the others, so it became necessary to sell those first nine saguaro portraits as a single unit intended to be hung together.

When I decided to approach this body of work again in 2024, I wanted to have the option to sell and exhibit them individually, but I didn’t want to lose the power of the reductive, non-objective palette. Ultimately, I decided to paint them in sepia tones, much like antique photographs. These three were painted specifically for a faculty art show at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum titled “Seeds Skeletons, & Saguaros.” In the future, I intend to continue this series, but to explore the concept on a much larger scale. Stay tuned…


Welcome to the online home for artwork by Andrew Denman, a California –based, internationally recognized, award-winning contemporary wildlife artist. Denman primarily paints wildlife and animal subjects in a unique, hallmark style combining hyper-realism with stylization and abstraction. His dynamic and original acrylic paintings can be found in museum collections on two continents and in numerous private collections in the USA and abroad. His clear voice, unique vision, and commitment to constant artistic experimentation have positioned him on the forefront of an artistic vanguard of the best contemporary wildlife and animal painters working today.
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