Why do animals inspire such great art? For some, it is their unconscious beauty–they never struggle to be “authentic” or creative–they just are. For others–many would say–it’s their unconditional love and joyous way of giving back to us. And yet for others, it is the desire to “conserve” the rare beauties for the next generation.
For photographer Michael Kern, he uses abstraction to remove fear and prejudice of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids, “I’m trying to help people see the beauty in the beast,” he says.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL D. KERN
Kern’s says that most of us don’t experience and appreciate the beauty of these animals due to our natural fear of them–and some of these species need our help to survive. He is dedicated to their conservation and hopes to save them through revealing them in his art.
Kern’s creatures include: bush viper, tragopan, chameleons, rainbow millipede, flower mantis, and blue tarantula
He starts by photographing the animal. Then he “deconstructs it into its most basic elements: color, line, pattern, texture.” These are the building blocks of a new image, which he alters in Photoshop. His technique results in a pair of portraits: one abstract, one of reality. When he is successful Kern muses, he turns fear into fascination for his viewers.
Kern’s Panther chameleon (left) and rainbow millipede
Frida Kahlo is famed for the love of her beasts and she is frequently painted with them in her self-portraits.
Frida Kahlo with her pet deer
Frida kept pet monkeys, xoloitzcuintli (“Mexican Hairless”dogs), parrots, parakeets, macaws, chickens, a pet eagle, and a fawn called Granizo. Kahlo had a chronic pain-filled life due to childhood polio and a tragic bus accident— but her animals were a calming constant.
Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait With Monkeys
Painter/illustrator Norman Rockwell remains widely popular for his nostalgic depictions of American family life, he did many iconic covers for the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. He often painted dogs because they were an important part of families and a sense of “home.” His own dogs hung out with him in the studio. He recommended that other artists depict them “just as carefully and understandingly as you paint the people.”
Normal Rockwell posing a beagle for a reference photograph
“Boy and Girl Gazing At The Moon” by Norman Rockwell
Another dog-inspired artist is Picasso. Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most influential artist of the 20th century, was born in Spain in 1881. He acquired Lump his dachshund in 1957. When Lump and Pablo met, it truly was “true love”. Lump was allowed anywhere on Picasso’s property, including being the only creature allowed in Picasso’s studio. Lump appeared in 54 of Picasso’s works. They were together for sixteen years, and died within months of each other.
Pablo Picasso and Lump
Pablo Picasso’s “Dog” Line Drawing
Paul Klee’s unique style was influenced by expressionism, orientalism, cubism, and surrealism. His original work is a favorite of many other artists, art scholars, and teachers because it is immediately recognizable.
“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” Paul Klee.
Klee was so devoted to his white cat (Bimbo) that he would write to his wife (while he was away) simply to inquire how his kitty was doing.
Paul Klee, his wife Lily, and their cat Bimbo
Klee’s love of cats meant many were incorporated into his paintings.
“Cat and Bird” by Paul Klee
“The Mountain of the Sacred Cat” by Paul Klee
Why such a love of cats you may ask? The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was a photojournalist for Life and other publications and is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. He explains his love for cats like this: “I’m an anarchist, yes. Because I’m alive. Life is a provocation…. I’m against people in power and what that imposes upon them. Anglo-Saxons have to learn what anarchism is. For them, it’s violence. A cat knows what anarchy is. Ask a cat. A cat understands. They’re against discipline and authority. A dog is trained to obey. Cats can’t be. Cats bring on chaos.”
Photo of Henri Cartier-Bresson and his cat
Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson
The most famous surrealist was Salvador Dali, born in Spain in 1904. He painted bizarre scenes that were meant to cause confusion and inspire creative interpretation. Dali had an eccentric lifestyle that accentuated his brilliant artwork. He owned two ocelots, Babou and Bouba, one or both of whom accompanied him frequently.
Dali loved to collaborate with other artists, as this “live” photo shows.
Portrait of Dali and cats by photographer Philippe Halsman
How do animals inspire you to make art? What is your favorite kind(s) of animal(s) and why do you think this is? How do they make you feel, think and act–that is different from people?
Thank you for reading my post. My core message of ‘everyone is creative’ resonates with people of all ages and walks of life. I invite all to become–the best version of themselves and find true meaning by pursing long term creative quests–in my recent book and website.