Wild At Art

Featured Artists, November 4-25, 2012 at Manayunk Roxborough Art Center



In November the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC) hosts “Wild at Art”, an animal and nature-themed show featuring the works of Pennsylvania artists Melanie Fisher, Ken Januski, and Lynnette Shelley. Fisher, Januski and Shelley are all accomplished artists specializing in nature, animal and wildlife-themed works, though each artist works in very different mediums, styles and subject treatment.

According to Melanie Fisher, whose whimsical and highly-detailed gouache paintings can best be described as a cross between expressionism and Arabic miniature work on a larger scale, “My more decorative paintings, which often contain stylized animals, reflect my interest in patterns and ornamental shapes, while my recent landscape works are based on sketches made at parks and nature preserves in Chester County. I attempt to translate a literal view of these environments into an emotional response to them.”

“As the seasons change,” the Malvern resident says, “the trees, skies, and wildlife also change, making these local natural areas an ever-fresh source of inspiration.”

Fisher, who works in gouache, says she utilizes the medium as it provides “freshness of color.”

In her artwork “Neophyte and Old Sage”,  (35 x 25 inches, gouache on board), three colorful and flatly-colored horses interact on a complexly patterned background. The painting gives an impression of a  quilt or tapestry with a composition of stylized flower, leaf and abstracted shapes..

In “Modernist Block Party” (18 x 38 inches, gouache on board), Fisher’s fantastical creatures cavort across a sky blue backdrop. Here the figures are loose and almost child-like and they seemingly wriggle across the space at random. The retired art professor (who taught both commercial design and art history at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ) says much of her inspiration comes from the Pennsylvania countryside, her many pets, and her sustaining interest in art throughout the ages.

Philadelphia’s Ken Januski is a multi-disciplinary artist who works  with both print and painting mediums. His animal-themed works were shown at the 48th and 49th Annual Exhibition of The Society of Wildlife Artists in London, UK in 2011 and 2012 and he was also a finalist in the International Category for the BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year in 2011 and 2012. His work has been included many times over the last few years in the Gallery of the Commons of the Wildlife Art Journal Online. Though his naturalistic work is representational, abstraction still plays a large part in his work.

“Art always struggles for freshness, for new ways to express old truths and beauties. The sculptor Kent Ullberg once mentioned that he imagined he might today look at a Great Blue Heron in the way that Matisse once looked at the female torso. He was saying ,I think, that what is most important for artists changes over time.” Januski explains. “Too many artists and viewers equate art with photographic likeness. I can't think of anything further from the truth. So much art based on photos looks more like a photograph than the subject portrayed. I think that is one reason that wildlife art is held in such low esteem. Much of it seems to be a slave to photography. Wildlife and nature are alive. They evoke numerous emotions, not just the cold reality of photographic detail painfully rendered. It is the wildness and vitality of nature that I try to capture in my work.”

Though Januski's artistic background, from grade school through graduate degrees at the University of California at Berkley and Cornell University has been abstract, his work now is representational because of “disillusionment with contemporary art and its emphasis on ideas and didacticism over visual substance and a growing love of nature as well as dismay at environmental destruction,” he says.

In “Hermit Thrush and Sandhill Cranes at Horicon Marsh” (6 x 9 inches, linocut), Januski’s monochromatic depiction of local flora and fauna are in stark contrast, with limited color palette, tightly controlled lines, and emphasis on contrasts. Conversely, his painting “'Little Blue Herons at Morris Arboretum” (acrylic on canvas, 24x48 inches), shows a looser style, though still keeping to a naturalistic color scheme.

According to Januski, “To paint nature in the late 20th century and early 21st century, and even more so to paint wildlife, was to relegate oneself to what was considered by the art world to be a very minor genre. Wildlife art is not taken seriously. Of course the art world was thoroughly wrong. That meant pursuing wildlife and natural art all the more appealing. I've always been a contrarian.”

Mixed media painter and illustrator Lynnette Shelley mines archetype and folklore for her artwork subjects. Her paintings strike a primal chord in many viewers, with almost Jungian associations to the colors and shapes. Her zoomorphic animal art and folklore-inspired creations are both primitive and sophisticated, and have been likened to images from an undiscovered ancient civilization or culture.

According to the Ambler resident, “One of my primary interests has always been exploring legends and stories from around the world. Why are certain motifs ubiquitous across cultures and continents? These archetypal stories are told repeatedly in different guises throughout myth and folklore, and animals are often used to convey these mysteries. Whether painted on cave walls, portrayed as omens or worshiped as personifications of the gods, animals were a favorite theme for our ancestors. My artwork takes a closer look at this archetypal animal kingdom. Reinterpreted through abstraction, decorative element and contemporary vision, these creatures speak to our collective unconscious."

In her work “Three Hares” (24 x 24 inches, mixed media and collage on wood panel), Shelley uses a process of wet and dry mediums as well as paper collage to create a mosaic triskelion of three interlocking rabbits. According to the artist, the three hares motif is an ancient symbol found throughout Europe and Asia, though believed to have originated in the Orient since before the 10th Century.  Today, examples of the design can be found cross-culturally in synagogues, churches, mosques and Buddhist temples throughout historic architectural sites and caves in Eurasia.

Sophisticated compositions are a theme with Shelley, as the fiery-colored “The Imbroglio” (26 x 20 inches, mixed media on paper) shows. Featuring complexly intertwined bird-dragon creatures who wrestle in a fabulously athletic display of aggression, the artwork recalls Celtic knotwork and medieval bestiaries.

Shelley, a professional artist and illustrator whose work has been shown nationally and collected internationally, is also one of the artists participating in the Parallax Art Fair in New York City this November 16 through the18th. Most recently, she also illustrated the book covers for author Andrew Levkoff’s historical fiction trilogy “The Bow of Heaven” series.

The opening reception for this show is Sunday, November 4, 2012 from noon to 3:00 P.M. in MRAC’s gallery located at 419 Green Lane (rear), between Mitchell & Pechin Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19128. The public is welcome to partake of light refreshments and meet the artists. Admission is free. Street parking is available and two free parking lots are nearby. For more information,  phone: 215. 482.3363  or see http://www.manayunkartcenter.org on the web. Gallery hours are Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00 AM to 4:00 P.M. “Wild at Art” runs through Sunday, November 25th.