Friday, April 21, 2017

Wolf in an Enriched Setting

Flat countryside full of watery pockets that freeze and relax back into cool swampland spawned this painting. My home region along the Canadian border remains wolf habitat, and for a person a wolf sighting tends to be remarkable and quickly over, since the wolf wants to get away. I wanted to portray one wolf that stood, seemingly sadly I thought, in front of me in a way that so much wildlife art does not pick up on. When I reflect on North American paintings of wolves I think of wolves in glorious poses with heads high, or wolves engaged in chases. My Tuesday morning wolf from the spring of 2016 paused broadside to me, ducking her head and exuding suspicion at being viewed by someone from the road. I had a moment's vision of German shepherds or similar dogs made afraid by a family member's loud impatience, cowering. This wolf cringed with lowering head and ears a bit but then exited tall and trotting, with a sense of her own dignity coming back to her, I felt, as she went. Her path was I think of her own making, from off a piece of ATV trail into a convenient grove of aspens.

This art piece aims to exalt our continent's lingering timber wolves in all their well-warranted shyness, which helps them save their own lives concurrently with all our industrial expansion and superstition about how cruel wolves are and how eager to eat us, not to mention prejudice with regard to wolves slaughtering our livestock. The composition seems overpowered by the flatness of the lands hereabouts. Depth occurs in layers, with rain clouds behind a distant line of forest, and then the grove of 'doghair aspens' all squeezing from the flat meadow behind the wolf, who is assuredly the star of the painting, exposed like a potential victim in front of a human ogler, whether or not the human is armed and dangerous. A land's marshy flatness combined with cold climate or soil infertility may work in favor of its remaining vacant from people's standpoint. But this little wolf landscape was too flat and too inconclusive, to my judgment. It might to someone else evoke a scene out a window, in which a solitary wolf is vanishing at a run. But the open-ended issue for me is how that in-the-flesh wolf would or wouldn't convey fear of whatever had sent it off at a run. That picture, outside my own experience, is still a mystery. An art piece about a fleeing wolf might better be dominated by grass and landforms, the traditional retreat of wild wolves which cover so much countryside ( up to125 miles in a day, according to Barry Lopez in his Of Wolves and Men) in all their questing, long-legged might.

So the first wolf scene as it was lacked context. I still needed to show that the wolf knew how to save itself from the hazard that comes with a human encounter. Through that context comes more of the poetry of little trees whose whole purpose from their tender beginnings is to reclaim open land, making cover for littler and larger lives both plant and animal and sparkling, quivering, delighting us as we cross the country looking out along it. Is it possible that this wolf in art, whose form never underwent any revision except a little more contouring of its fur coat in the meantime, has gained in dignity because a grove of sapling aspens grew up around its route of escape? A bit of added downslope, as well, takes away from the earlier sense that the wolf is on a course into a hole in the ground, or oblivion.

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