“John James Audubon (1785-1851) was not the first person to attempt to paint and describe all the birds of America (Alexander Wilson has that distinction), but for half a century he was the young country’s dominant wildlife artist. His seminal Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, quickly eclipsed Wilson’s work and is still a standard against which 20th and 21st century bird artists . . . are measured.”
As an aside, I have to admit, other than being a Ninja or a Jedi or a Superhero, being a Woodsman sounds pretty awesome! But being known as THE Woodsman, though. I mean, how cool is that?!
Audubon was a brilliant artist.
His ability to recreate the image of a bird was astonishing, but he also seemed genuinely connected to the wildlife he observed and documented and painted with his brush.
And he did it, largely, with “staged” scenes.
He combined wildlife and landscape painting and still life so vividly and so realistically you might mistake his paintings as photographs at first glance.
As a website dedicated to birds, at least to art and artists who sometimes create birds, it seems only fitting to acknowledge such a gifted artist. So, I allude to Audubon here with reverence because he deserves it.
But also because the work by June’s Featured Artist, Kevin Sloan, possesses many of those same qualities.
During my midnight excursions on the Internet searching for artists to invite to be part of Other Cool Birds, I came across an artist whom I first mistook for Audubon. Words like exquisite and extraordinary and stunning come to mind every time I view Kevin Sloan’s paintings.
Actually, I feel that way merely looking at online versions of his work. I can’t even imagine how breathtaking they must be in person. But don’t take my word for it. Explore the images here, then visit Kevin’s website to view more (much more) of his gorgeous paintings.
I’ve selected only a handful of Kevin’s work for this page, images that speak to me due to their use of humor or as a result of a multitude of subjects working in concert (like “Migration of Knowledge” found at the bottom of this page). Of course, I also have a soft spot for elephants, so you might just notice one or two of them on the Other Cool Birds now and then.
The colors Kevin primarily uses today are different it seems from those of his early work, as evidenced by the rabbit at the bottom of the page.
He’s had dozens of gallery exhibits over the past 30 years and images of his work can be found on numerous gallery websites. His work is often identified as “magical realism” and terms like “contemporary allegorical realist” are also used to describe his style. One thing is quite obvious, Kevin Sloan is connected to the natural world and it means a great deal more than merely being a source of subjects to paint.
It seems I’m not the only one who sees a glimpse of Audubon in his work, though Kevin’s paintings are remarkable in their own right and should to be valued on their own merits (of which there are many).
There’s so much I admire about Kevin’s paintings. The imagination used to stage the scenes. His uncanny ability to pull it off, to depict an animal that seems, at once, natural and real, yet wholly imagined.
I hope you’ll give yourself the chance to explore the worlds he creates. And also check out Kevin’s responses to a few questions I asked him about his work.
The following is from an email interview with Kevin Sloan.
Other Cool Birds: What are you painting for?
Kevin: When I was in high school I first discovered art-making (we didn’t have any kind of art class when I was in grade school) and it simply felt good to make stuff with my hands. I explored ceramics, weaving, photography, jewelry, drawing and painting. I loved it all. Over time however, I found myself more drawn to painting and drawing; in those mediums there seemed to be the possibility of developing a personal, visual language.
As a bit of an outcast in those days, it felt good to find a way to communicate – if only to myself.
I learned that exploring the surface of a canvas or piece of paper with images and lines and colors somehow made me feel better; calmer, more engaged with the world around me and focused. There was finally something I could do that honored my unique place in the world and, as a bonus, even garnered a little respect at times. Painting allows me to create stories which use the known world as foundation but venture from there to create something new and unexpected. Painting lets me create a cast of characters and environments, configure and re-configure them and in doing so tell stories about the world we live in.
Kevin: I love the idea that a painting can be a”window” to another place. In this light, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to create a painting that would encompass an entire room. This was not uncommon in the past – generally, wealthy patrons would commission an artist to create scenes of mythology or maybe just pleasant landscapes that would completely cover the walls and ceiling of a particular room. In this scenario, the painting isn’t merely a window to another reality, but the painted room becomes an immersive, all-encompassing reality. I think it would be wonderful to create a painted space that people would live in and use.
Other Cool Birds: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in our lives we’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim, perhaps even as it relates to a theme/focus that resonates with you now that might have been formed by something in your past?
Kevin: I completely agree with the idea that our creative work mirrors our personal lives in the present as well as events in the past. I have seen this to be true in my own work many times although usually with the benefit of hindsight. It’s often years later that I realize that the pictorial choices I made at some point were in some way a reflection of some personal issue or concern I was dealing with at the time.
In another light, the idea of objects and spaces being sacred or at least more special than they appear on the surface is important in my work. I am quite sure this comes from being raised in the Catholic church. I grew up believing that certain objects, days, and spaces were very special or sacred.
Also, I grew up believing that unseen things were real and had an effect on us. This idea flows through my work in the use of theatrical space, presentation of a particular object or animal in the painting as special or elevated in some way and the belief that the impossible or improbable is possible.
Other Cool Birds: Does your work, overall, reflect your personality in some way?
Kevin: I do believe my work reflects my personality. My work process begins in a very unstructured, spontaneous application of paint and texture. You’d never know this unless you saw the paintings in their very early stages. This ultimately yields to a more refined and structured image which is what we all see in the finished painting.
There is a part of me that wants to make a mess, wander and enjoys not knowing where the path is leading.
This impulse is satisfied in the early, formative stage of the creative process. Then there is the ordered, precise and controlling personality that needs a voice. This is expressed in the later stages of the process and culminates in what we all know as my work. Both aspects of my personality have been able to find a voice in my work; I’m grateful my painting process has evolved to allow for both to exist.
Other Cool Birds: Do you have any specific upcoming projects for which we should keep a look out?
Kevin: My biggest project in the future is a major museum exhibit of my work opening in March 2015 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. This exhibit will include a selection of approximately 20 or more paintings. In conjunction with my work, there will be a concurrent exhibit of about 20-25 Audubon “Birds of America” prints from the museum’s collection.
I have “collaborated” with Audubon’s series “Birds of America” for the past 4-5 years, so the opportunity to exhibit with one of my most respected artists is a huge honor and rare opportunity.
I will be helping to curate the Audubon selections and will be making one painting specifically to respond to an Audubon print in the museum collection. These two pieces will be exhibited together as part of the overall exhibit.
Technique: “Modern Blindness” is an acrylic on canvas painting. It is part of an ongoing series of what Kevin calls “interior” paintings. In Kevin’s own words, “the space is shallow, theatrical and dark with no hint of the exterior world. When I work with this concept I first find the place of the primary character – in this case the egret, and hold it’s place by blocking it in with a neutral, opaque paint. It’s kind of a silhouette at this point. Them I start to create the dark but luminous background space. This is created by many, many thin glazes of deep rusty oranges, transparent golds and coffee colored browns. These glazes are brushed all over the canvas with no regard to the bird.
At the end of this process the bird is barely visible but just enough to find it again.
Finally, when I feel the background is close to complete I return to the main character and resume depicting it and any other elements in the painting, in this case the hanging lit match and brass candle holder. Inevitably I will need to make minor adjustments to the background and again to the main characters and back and forth until it feels complete. When it doesn’t need me any more, it’s done.”