Workshop opportunity to learn from acclaimed wildlife artist
By: Rob Alexander
| Posted: Thursday, Aug 23, 2012 06:00 am
It’s not often that oil painters, especially beginning or intermediate landscape and wildlife artists, have the opportunity to learn from the likes of acclaimed wildlife painter Dwayne Harty.
But for Saskatchewan-born Harty, the opportunity to serve as artist-in-residence for Banff National Park is an honour and a privilege and, as such, he said he has the responsibility and the duty to give back and share his experiences. As part of that role, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is offering a two-day workshop with Harty during the last weekend of September.
The Artist’s Workshop – Inspired by Wilderness with Artist-in-Residence Dwayne Harty runs Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1-2 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. The first day will take place outside by the Bow River, followed by a day in the studio.
Harty comes from a long tradition of classical realism that is both difficult for the artist to perfect, and yet, at least when it comes to wildlife and landscape, remarkable easy for people to enjoy.
“The average person responds to classical realism and that is a part of art, to pique our emotions. My focus of being artist-in-residence, with some of the work I have done, is for somebody out there to like it and respond to the fact that it’s what I believe in, and that our youth, my daughter and the next generation, have the right to see it untouched,” Harty said during the Canmore Folk Music Festival while creating a painting for the festival’s raffle.
As it relates to the Canadian Rockies, Carl Rungius, who spent nearly 50 summers in the Banff region, remains the best example of this style of work. Despite the fact that Rungius died in 1959, his work continues to sit at the pinnacle of wildlife painting.
“I would have loved to have been here in that era when these enormously gifted painters and sculptors, and they were classically trained, brought that integrity to interpreting this part of the world, these mountains,” Harty said.
“In terms of their abilities, there was no question, the integrity of their ability and their classical training it has never been equaled in this part of the world. And that is a fundamental on the type of training these artists had sought, primarily in the U.S.”
And it is by virtue of his classical training and his background and understanding of wildlife anatomy that Rungius continues to be respected as one of the world’s best wildlife painters.
“First of all he was a great painter, he never relied on regurgitation of a photograph, never. His training in Germany was highly cognitive,” said Harty, adding Rungius specialized in animals, dissecting them and constantly painting them on location.
“The students who came out of that highly-disciplined approach were extraordinary. The freedom that is gained from discipline is no different from a grand pianist, you no longer have to look at the keyboard.”
As that nature of study is not available in Canada, Harty, who is also a taxidermist with 30 years experience preparing museum wildlife dioramas, attended the Art Students League of New York and mentored with Bob Kuhn, Robert Lougheed and Canadian artist and environmentalist Clarence Tillenius.
More recently, Harty spent three years following Rungius’ footsteps through the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the U.S. documenting the wildlife of the Yellowstone to Yukon region.
This body of work is currently on display at the Whyte Museum as part of Y2Y: The Journey of Wildlife and Art.
Harty’s work is also on display at Willock & Sax in Banff.
Like Rungius, Harty does not work from photographs, instead relying on a firm grasp of anatomy and time spent outdoors.
“When you are talking about realism you are really talking about not just photo realism – the assumption that reality is the superficial surface of the photograph, which doesn’t show you what Rungius saw,” he said, adding a camera can become a crutch and photographs don’t capture the nuances that the eye does.
“A photograph doesn’t give us that; shadows go black, highlights white, there’s no luminosity. Our eyes are infinitly more subtle and capable of seeing colours the camera is incapable of.
Painting outside en plein air provides an emotive quality, allowing an artist to use all of their senses.
“People talk about realism, the average person thinks realism is just a photograph. No, it’s a total extension of all of our senses: sight, smell, all of it. They give us a sense of reality.
“But if artists don’t spend time outside they can’t learn how to see. Those are technical things, but the technical things deliver the esthetic and at a certain point in a painting it becomes more of a conversation between myself and the painting and it becomes a matter of choices of what is it I want to say, rather than what is it I’m looking at,” he said.
“At that point, it’s like Tom Thomson, you never see a landscape in Algonquin Park exactly like that, but what you do know, you know it feels just like that.”
It’s the difference of standing near a large animal like a massive bull bison. The difference between the stark comparison of that same animal in a photograph and a diminished sense of volume and mass.
“And that is one thing Rungius got better than any other painter,” Harty said. “He got the bulk of that animal on a flat surface masterly, the illusion of volume and mass is just as you would see it in life. And that is a hard thing to do.
“He was like Einstein, everything is relative, colours are relative, textures are relative, colour temperature is relative, but it is the total understanding of the big picture, of how each of those relates to one another that he was able to understand.”
And if – hypothetically speaking – we were able to run our fingers across a Rungius painting with our eyes closed, we could tell the sky and rocks, for example, by touch alone.
“You’d literally feel those surfaces. The thickness of the paint, the thinness of the paint, you’d be able to feel the canvas because the paint was thin and that’s not thinking like a photograph. That’s thinking like an expressive technician with an intent to deliver an artistic concerto.”
Participants interested in registering for The Artist’s Workshop – Inspired by Wilderness with Artist-in-Residence Dwayne Harty are asked to pre-register with the Whyte Museum at 403-762-2291 before Friday, Aug. 30. The fee for the workshop is $65 per person and $58 for members.