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"Totem #9: Stacked Owls"
36 x 24"
Oil over Acrylic on Cradled Board2011
Barn, Great-Horned, and Great Grey Owls
How to buy
I have always loved owls, and have been planning a major “owl totem” since I began the series several years ago. I included a burrowing owl totem in my 2016 show, A Different Animal, but I couldn’t get a more substantial composition out of my head. As usually happens, the right idea, the right reference, and the right opportunity converge to allow a painting to “happen” when it’s good and ready, and such was the case here. I encountered the Great Grey owl at the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Newant, England, where I was deeply impressed with the bird’s great stature and presence. I grew up around Barn Owls and Great-Horned Owls, but the reference for these birds came from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s “free flight” program, where a variety of raptors take wing to the delight of visitors. The challenge of these totem pieces (when multiple species are involved) is scale. Though these paintings are not intended to be “realistic” they do function on their own internal logic, and proper scale relationships is an important aspect of that framework. Another challenge here is that the Great Grey owl, while appearing large and voluminous, is almost entirely feathers. Were the smaller but heavier Great-Horned owl truly perched on its head, the talons would likely sink almost entirely into the larger owl’s head, stopping at the skull which ends just barely above the eyeline. That would look bizarre, so I made a compromise between what would look right, and what would be anatomically accurate. But in the world of magical realism, it’s fair game!
The Totem series began in 2016, when a lifelong fascination with the totem poles of the American Pacific Northwest met with my new awareness of an unusual natural phenomenon, the “toteming” of Harris Hawks. For reasons ornithologists still don’t understand, these birds will sometimes stand on each other’s backs in stacks up to four birds high. Inspired by the sculptures of Tony Hochstetler and Peter Woytuk, some of whose works evoke totem poles, I had already been ruminating on how I could re-envision the Native American totem pole in a modern context within a series of paintings. The toteming of the Harris Hawks crystalized that idea, and I set to work painting stacked birds and animals. These tension-filled and gravity defying columns of familiar creatures suggest the fragile balance of ecosystems under increasing pressure from man, and they are yet another outlet for my continued obsession with pattern and repetition. The repeated juxtaposition of the same or related animals, and the re-contextualizing of those subjects outside of their natural habitats, encourage viewers to consider what they know (or think they know) about those animals in a new light.
Most importantly, these paintings explore the iconic significance with which human beings imbue wildlife. Just as Native Americans did (and still do) use characteristics of various animals as metaphors for our own human qualities and aspirations (the wiliness of a fox, wisdom of an owl, or speed of a puma for instance) so too do even the most technologically distracted among us use, recognize, and relate to animals in our logos, apps, and product branding. In this context, the title, Between the Lines, alludes to this symbolic underpinning.
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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