Currently on view at the Kramer Museum in Ellensburg is an exhibition by artist Justin Gibbens titled “Animal Spirits.”
Using his signature brand of classic natural history painting, Gibbons drew animals from real-life taxidermy. His retouched and stylized images celebrate the beauty and wonder of the natural world through the use of traditional Chinese thin-line painting and classic scientific illustration.
biography of gibbons justingibbens.com Pointing out that when he “first started moving a pencil around the paper, he was depicting the norm of his childhood: dinosaurs, creepy crawlers and other weird fauna. Not much has changed in forty years.”
A master draftsman, Gibbons was trained in scientific illustration and traditional Chinese painting – skills he employed in his zoological drawings. Gibbons’ biography notes that by “elevating the formal conventions of classic natural science illustration, he imagined through the lens of nineteenth-century field artists the curious wildlife of a forgotten piece of natural history.” His “stylized and embellished images tell evolution, mutation and biodiversity, and perhaps serve as a cautionary tale and stand-in for our anthropocentric selves.”
As Gibbons sees it, “Our world is mysterious and fascinating and strange, and the relationship between humans and the animal kingdom is multilayered, complex and ambiguous. It is through his work that he enjoys celebrating this.”
Although Gibbons often referred to classic natural history sources, he preferred to paint directly from actual, on-hand specimens, as the process allowed for a closer look at colour, texture and form. Using taxidermy mounts as well as window casualties and found road kills, Gibbons presents provocative, larger-than-life gestures of birds, mammals, and other creatures, often depicting each within a stark, uncertain space. An animal in an animation paused state. In doing so, the images function as totems, a reminder of the impermanence of all living things.
Matthew Lennon, director of the Kramer Museum, said: “Gibbons’ work stands out because of his ability to foster a visual dialogue between contemporary naturalistic styles and the work of artists of the past. Through Gibbons’ Animal Spirits, we Be gently reminded that death does not discriminate between animals or humans. Through our deaths we are connected to every living being. Gibbons’ work encourages us to live with heart and respect.”
Gibbens received a BA in Painting from Central Washington University in 1998 and a Certificate in Scientific Illustration from Washington University in 2003. He is a founding member of the PUNCH Projects, an artist collective based in central Washington.
“Animal Spirits” is on view through February 4th.
David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for Explore.to know more information www.larsongallery.org.