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Elk Herd by Andrew Denman <Back to Thumbnails "Refuge"
72 x 48"
Acrylic on Cradled Board
Elk Herd

This piece is available as part of Astoria Fine Art's Summer Masterworks Series

How to Buy, general info

“Refuge,” my interpretation of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, WY, is my largest painting to date.

I first experienced the elk migration in the winter of 2009 when I was named Lanford Monroe Memorial Artist in Residence at the NMWA. Having visited Jackson Hole in September for Western Visions for several consecutive years at that time, I was hardly prepared to see the austere, savannah-like landscape of the National Elk Refuge so utterly transformed by a blanket of white and dotted with the masses of elk that descend from the snowed-in mountains to congregate in the Teton Valley each year. It was an experience I will always carry with me.

During a more recent visit in 2022, originally undertaken to gather reference photos of elk and bighorn sheep for a private commission, I was inspired to paint “The Bachelor Herd.” My goal was to capture the feeling of what I witnessed (in this case a typically segregated congregation of males), but to systematize it into a composition that explores my love of pattern, something that many thousands of elk, darkly silhouetted against the gleaming white snow, certainly suggest. The piece appearing in Western Visions 2022 is a 16 x 16” study of what eventually became that much larger 36 x 36” composition. Even after finishing the larger piece, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that the concept deserved an even grander iteration still. Enter The Refuge Project.

Last winter, I took the sleigh ride onto the refuge eight times inside of a week, soaking in as much of its grandeur as I could and learning more than I ever knew there was to know about elk from the extraordinarily knowledgeable guides. Elk have a very long history that is intricately woven into our own. Native Americans of course relied on them as a resource, as did white settlers to the isolated Teton Valley. Early homesteads and the subsequent agriculture there took a serious toll on the elk population, as anyone who has spent any length of time in Jackson Hole well knows, and it was only due to the work of early conservationists that even a small portion of the original elk migration habitat was set aside for them. Even today, there are continued (and controversial) efforts that try to balance making room for the elk and leaving them to their own devices with managing the population to ensure its health and survival. In my painting, it is no accident that some of the elk appear “realistically” in their natural colors and textures, while others are flat, one dimensional, and non-objectively colored. Several of the cows also wear GPS collars, an innovation that has immeasurably helped researchers to track the herd(s) and reduce human wildlife conflict. Refusing to edit out the influence of man, and then housing the elk in the unapologetically modernist context of this painting, serves to highlight the dichotomy of our interaction with these charismatic emblems of the west. Much of my work is driven by this recontextualization, taking an animal out of its natural habitat and exhibiting it in a non-objective environment. Sometimes we can only truly see what is familiar when it is made unfamiliar. I have spent much time lingering at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in front of Tucker Carlson’s epic portrayal of the refuge in winter. My goal was to create an iconic painting that represents the refuge in my own way, both specifically for the contemporary wildlife art movement of which I am proudly a part, and generally for a world increasingly struggling to come to terms with its dual roles as ruthless exploiters and responsible stewards. Hopefully this painting can be a visual representation of finding a shared path that all of us can navigate to a brighter future.

Welcome to the online home for artwork by Andrew Denman, an Arizona–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.
All artwork and text featured on this page and throughout this website is protected by international copyright laws. Use of these images or text is prohibited without the express written permission of Andrew Denman.