Paleolithic art in Lascaux, France
Since the Stone Age, animals have inspired artists the world over. Their likeness has been engraved upon pottery, weaved into tapestries, molded and shaped in clay and rock, and painted on walls and canvas, bringing beauty and grace into our living space.
Artists depict these muses in all aspects of our lives, both religious and secular. Sometimes, their portrayal is realistic, other times fantastical, expressions of the imagination. Yet, while the purpose and definition of art perpetually changes over time, art – at its core – is a reflection of our relationship with our environment. “All art is but imitation of nature,” to quote the Roman statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. That seems particularly true when conveying the importance of animals in our lives.
Egyptian depiction of cat catching birds, circa 1350 B.C.
What drives artists in their creative pursuits, employing animals as their models? For those of us in awe of those who can wield a brush or mold clay to their whims, it’s interesting to hear artists share their perspective on subject and media choices.
Terence K. Stephens , a well-established artist and owner of the recently opened Art 270 Gallery and Art Space in Salt Lake City, believes animals ground people. “I love any aspect of animals, and I want people to love animals as much as I do. Plus, they’re easy to live with when on the wall or sitting on the coffee table.”
His work includes painting, sculpture, and mixed media (such as “Big Boy” featured on the cover). The owner of a rescued Pit mix, dogs are his biggest focus when working with animals, but he’s also committed to “anything that’s endangered.”
Of course, on the flip side of creation, the other end goal of artists is to sell their work (or, we’d never see it!). Fortunately for them, many of us are ready to oblige.
Frederick Morgan, Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904
From fine art to folk art, the styles and subject matter are endless, accommodating all tastes. There is no right or wrong. While many of us may be unable to articulate why a piece appeals, we know what we like when we see it.
Where to start? If you want art on your walls, the ever-popular classics (and modern pieces) are readily available as inexpensive posters. You can recreate the Louvre in your living room.
Original pieces too can be found for reasonable prices. Artists display their wares at art festivals, farmers markets, restaurants, stores, and online, looking for venues to showcase their art to those who might hesitate to walk into an art gallery.
Want to commission art work, like a painting of your pet? Etsy.com is the go-to site for buying custom pet portraits, generally starting around $75 and up, depending on the size of the painting and number of animals.
Local Utah artist, Allison Nash Hutto, creates such commissioned pieces, painting from submitted photos. “People love their pets as if they are their children, and I love knowing how much the painting means to them,” Hutto says. “I like to portray a bright and lively feel in my pet portraits, and have found that animals give me a chance to be relaxed and use colors more freely.”
So far, Hutto’s requests have been for cats and dogs, but she “would love to paint less common pets like … a lizard. I am up for anything that you name and feed!”
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Monkey Painter, 1833
Of course, art isn’t strictly the realm of those who called themselves artists. You can paint your own too. I have, and – on my own – I barely manage recognizable stick figures. Yet, under the guidance of professionals at Painting with a Twist in Murray, I painted four treasured portraits of my cat and dogs. I won’t be selling art anytime soon, but my own created art of my furry beloveds is priceless.
Author’s portrait of her Beagle, Buzz, with assistance from Painting With A Twist
First published in Pets in the City Magazine, August 2015