Of all the fable motifs – communicative objects, legendary creatures, moral tagline – the steadfast tradition of empowering animals with human characteristics has created generations of reader-character kinships. The pitfall of “sour grapes,” the tendencies of “birds of a feather,” the importance of “slow and steady,” and other classic lessons learned from the talking animals of Aesop’s fables, are enduring and absorptive.
In art, whether written or visual, animals can exaggerate distinctly human characteristics, presenting examples that at some angle illuminate with reflections of the audience’s hearts, minds, values, and experiences.
Though depicting animals takes an undisguised swerve from reality, the emotions they convey and elicit are real. In the Best Of: Animal Artwork, dogs show courage and cows go to the beach. Elephants are beautiful and horses are dependable. These artworks, no matter how realistic, read like fables by presenting the viewer with a deeper understanding of the world and the characteristics that connect us.
Here are a few of the animals to look out for in the Best Of: Animal Artwork collection:
Doug Lawler adds to the fable genre with a visual fable entitled, The Island of Za: A Fable Without Words. His series of intricately-detailed, sepia-toned dry point etchings, is an adventure story of a young girl and a courageous dog. In the episode, Sistine Chapel, Doug anthropomorphizes a fictional “dog world” creating a pseudo-analog to the actual human world. The dog population of Za appears to have edited the human narrative, recasting the figures with dog counterparts. The canine protagonist, who takes the shape of a dog-eared silhouette, ventures into the gaping apse of an alternative Sistine Chapel where puppies convene on the walls and a dog stands guard on the ceiling.
Full of textural intricacies and compressed with a flattened perspective, Jaime Ellsworth’s acrylic painting Elephant Walking may, at first, seem to invest all its intrigue the surface of the canvas. However, her painting is rich with depth and symbolism that rumble and unfold slowly beneath her simplifying style. In many cultures, the elephant is a symbol of strength, loyalty, and memory. In Jaime’s composition, the elephant’s strength shines through its dominating color and unifying line. From trunk to tail, the elephant spans the canvas connecting the lateral edges of the canvas. Jaime’s penchant for symbolism shines through in the disproportionate ratio between the elephant’s eye and the ear. Compared to the ear, the eye is minute. Smaller than even some of the textural smudges, the eye verges on insignificance. This disproportionality suggests the senses fall into hierarchy, stirring through provoking questions about modalities of gaining knowledge, the differences between sight and sound, and the values of what we see and what we know.
Scott Dykema’s vivacious and powerful Pink Fringe Jacket Bang Bang is among the most intriguing and evocative additions to the Best Of: Animal Artwork collection. The painting adamantly combines the theatrical and the dangerous through Scott’s Wild West aesthetic. The woman on horseback, who wears the title’s pink fringe jacket and matching cowgirl hat, fires her pistol off canvas. The horse, who is brawny and checkered, gallops towards the other edge of the canvas. The left and right ends of the canvas are action-packed; the duo breaks both boundaries. The painting rings with a glittering, multi-meaning pun of moving in a “dual” direction. In the middle of the composition, Scott emphasizes the intertwined and interdependent relationship between the horse and rider, animal and human. Scott demonstrates this visually through line. For example, the horse’s right front leg with the rider’s left leg, creating the illusion that they are one in the same. And, the rider’s outstretched arms rhyme with the curve of the horse’s back.