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One Morning in the Mara
Sverker - Jun 27 2012 09:08 AM
Jan Martin McGuire: wildlife artist and conservationist.
Jan Martin McGuire
Jan Martin McGuire is an American born artist who is considered a naturalist and conservationist as well as a painter. Her detailed Acrylic paintings make you feel as if you are actually there viewing the animal outside your tent or from the window of your Land Rover instead of looking at a painting. She takes pride in being scientifically accurate in her portrayals of the world's wildlife, making sure the anatomy and behavior is correct - but - they are not illustrations but rather fine art. Her work is in major private and corporate collections around the world and has hung in many prestigious venues including London Museum of Natural History; Smithsonian; National Geographic Headquarters; FORBES galleries; World Center for Birds of Prey and many others.
Her work has also been featured on Television and in many major magazines including AFRICA GEOGRAPHIC; AFRICA BIRDS AND BIRDING, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION MAGAZINE to name a few.
She specializes in African subjects but also paints North American and Rainforest.
Her originals and prints are available at Cultural Heritage, Arusha, Tanzanian and Settlers West Gallery in Tucson, Arizona - as well as directly from her website www.janmartinmcguire.com. Cultural Heritage will be hosting a show for Jan and her photographer husband James Gary Hines II entitled "SHARED VISIONS" November 3, 2012. Other upcoming exhibitions can be found on her website.
Why painting/art rather than photography on Safari?
I actually do not do much painting on safari. It is time consuming and animals do not stand still while you paint them! I do sometimes sketch in my journal/sketchbook and once in a great while I do some Plein Aire painting. But these are really just artistic exercises than something that has to do with finished paintings. I DO actually use lots of photography. I take thousands of pictures while I am in the bush. Not just the animals but habitat as well - rocks, grass, trees etc. When I am back home in my studio I pull out photos to use as reference for a painting, sometimes as many as 25 are used in one painting to help me remember and capture the details.
What is your artistic background and training?
I grew up in Colorado as an inveterate tomboy - out of doors all the time - climbing trees, catching snakes, collecting tabpoles - whatever. When the weather was bad stayed indoors and drew the animals that I loved. My parents, though not out doors people or artists themselves, encouraged my love of nature by buying me field guides and books on drawing animals. When I was twelve we moved to Oklahoma and since I was unhappy about leaving Colorado my mom decided to cheer me up by getting me art lessons at the local art museum. In high school I continued my interest in art and then went on to the University of Tulsa where I majored in Fine Art. The problem was that the curriculum at the time was totally modern abstract art, and while I learned some about color use, composition etc. my heart was in realism. After threes years I finally figured out that I did not need a degree in fine art to make a living painting and so I quit to become a full time wildlife artist. To learn some techniques and develop my skills I took workshops and studied under other artists including Robert Bateman, a Canadian artist who is widely recognized as the leader in wildlife art. It's so interesting that that wide eyed twenty something that I was then who studied with Bob 8 or 9 times, now hangs side by side with her mentor at major museum shows around the country. Very rewarding!!
How has your style developed over the years?
I have always been a "tight realist" but as time has gone on I have matured my style so that I am able to give the impression of detail without actually painting every hair and every blade of grass. I keep challenging myself artistically - something that I think is essential to keep growing. After painting on masonite for 30 years I switched to painting on canvas a couple of years ago and I'm really loving it. I have also set some goals for myself to achieve more interesting compositions and to also show more action and behavior in my paintings.
With hindsight, how do you think your first Africa pieces turned out?
I think they are still good, but I do see the progression I have made as I learn more and more about the different species, their behaviors and habits etc.
How do you arrange exhibitions and shows, and who is likely to attend and purchase your work?
Many artists opt for working exclusively with galleries to sell their art, but while I do work with them some, I have always designed my career to allow me to have the control to sell my own work. Plus I REALLY enjoy meeting the people that give my art a home, it makes it so much more personal and rewarding. I sell to a wide variety of people, anyone and everyone who loves nature and the out of doors, but a big part of my following are hunters. Some people are surprised that I support hunting and hunters but I have observed personally over the years how much of a role sustainable, regulated hunting plays in conservation.
What is your favourite painting that you've done personally, and why?
LOL - that's like asking someone which is their favorite child! I do love painting African subjects the most and am very happy with the recent ones I have done of fighting hippos.
From sketch to finished article, what is the average time frame for a painting and what factors determine how long it takes?
My answer to that question is "a lifetime" because you see I have painted the exact same way, medium, and style for 30 years. I work everyday that I am not traveling with an average of 8 hours in a day in the studio. When I decide to do a painting I actually paint it in my head first, planning exactly what I'm going to do. So once I sit down and pick up a brush I am very fast. I like to say - wouldn't you expect a master electrician to only take a few hours to do the work because he's experienced as opposed to an apprentice. People want to equate how long an artist takes to how good they are - they are always trying to calculate how much I make an hour!
But to answer your question - not counting the time I plan out the painting, done the research and the drawing, I would say the average "brush time" is a few days to a few weeks depending on the size and subject. Birds are easier and faster than mammals, and of course if there are a lot of animals it obviously would take a lot longer. A bird sitting on branch with just sky behind him would go relatively quickly where as a savannah scene with a herd of zebra and wildbeest would be very time consuming.
How critical are you of your own work? - Would you still exhibit or sell if for instance it turned out badly, or at least not to your liking?
Artists should never be completely satisfied with their work - at least I know that I am not. It gives me incentive to try to accomplish something more in the next painting. But no, I would never sign a painting that I completely didn't like.
Who have been your inspirations and how have different artists and photographers influenced your own work?
Well obviously I would say Nature herself has to be my main inspiration. I have studied nature since I was a child and I STILL learn something new every day! It is so fascinating and varied! It keeps me young and excited! Each time I go into the bush with my field guides I feel like that little girl again excited to discover something new!
As far as artists I have been influenced by Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, as well as many old masters. Contemporary wildlife artists who have influenced me are of course Robert Bateman who I mentioned earlier as well as John Seerey-Lester, Alan Hunt, Carl Brenders, Bob Kuhn, George McLean and many others. I also get inspired and excited by many of my contemporaries work such as John Banovich for his use of color and Greg Beecham for his brilliant lighting.
Working in Zimbabwe
Studio or location: for you how does painting in the 2 locations differ in terms of technique, workflow etc and which do you prefer?
Most people use oil to paint on location since it so slow drying. However, I HATE oils and only paint in Acrylics - so - painting on location can be quite a challenge. The paint dries quickly on my palette so I use a spray bottle to keep it moist. It dries fast on the canvas too, but that is OK (I actually use a hair dryer in the studio to speed drying time) since I do lots of layering.
Painting on location has to been done pretty much in 1 - 2 hours, since the sun is constantly moving. If you try to paint longer than the whole scene changes. There are artists who only paint on location and sell these Plein Aire paintings as their finished work. I honestly do not take the time to do it to often, as I mentioned earlier, it really does not have much to do with my finished paintings that I sell, (I don't sell my field work). What it DOES do is force your eye to look three dimensionally instead of just looking at a two dimensional photograph. You can also clearly see the colors and lights in shadows which you do not see in photos. Because I don't do it often it is sort of a big chore to gather everything up, plan where I'm going, get set up etc. etc. I have SUCH demands on my time that I really can't afford the luxury to often of "playing". I have to get into the studio to work to meet my obligations and deadlines. I DO take the time to get outdoors though, it is absolutely necessary for a wildlife artist to stay tuned to nature. I just do bird watching, photography, or maybe sketching rather than field painting.
Africa is about sensory overload, not just visual - how do your encapsulate the magic atmosphere of a Safari in your work? Indeed, does lighting conditions matter as much to an artist as it will the photographer, bearing in mind that a photograph is instantenous, whereas to complete a painting takes much longer?
Interesting question. Yes, for me light is the key. The two "hallmarks" of my work in fact are lighting and texture. I love low side or back lighting and seek it out when I am photographing as my photography is the first tool in my "tool chest" in creating my paintings. Very rarely do my paintings not have dramatic lighting.
Landscape versus wildlife: which do you prefer painting and why?
I don't do just "landscape" paintings - my paintings ALWAYS have wildlife in them, (well except when I am painting people such as the Maasai or Samburu). Sometimes the animal is fairly small in the landscape, but rarely. I tend to like to focus on the animal or animals as the central interest in my work.
When you are working, what is a typical day on an "art" safari for you?
On safari when I am researching and photographing we get out about 6 am taking a box breakfast with us out into the field. We usually come back in at lunch time as it has usually warmed up so much the animals are not active. We eat, rest and download cards etc then back out again usually about 3:00 until 6:30 or so.
At home my routine is getting up about 5 am, working in my office on the computer doing Facebook, answering emails etc. I then do "chores" such as feeding all my animals and then head into the studio to begin a day of painting. I do not take any days off, but I do take the evening off to "recharge" my batteries and spend some time with James, my husband - who by the way is an accomplished wildlife photographer.
Solo exhibition in New York at the FORBES magazine Galleries with Christopher Forbes,
Vice Chairman of Forbes Nagazine and Patrick Bergin CEO of AWF
How do you use your art to help and promote wildlife conservation issues around the world?
I am passionate about conservation. I have donated literally millions of dollars worth of artwork and actual cash donations over the thirty years of my professional life. My art also helps raise awareness I hope just by people viewing it.
From your website here, www.janmartinmcguire.com/People.html, some of your work has been used the Dallas Safari Club, and indeed DSC awarded a grant of 32,000$ for the North Luangwa Conservation Programme: Can trophy hunting play a part in wildlife conservation, and has your opinion of this issue changed following your involvement with them?
This is such a hot button topic, indeed I have been attacked pretty strongly particularly on FB for my views on this. What people must realize is I have not come to this position lightly. I have literally spent years dealing with hunters, first becoming involved in fund raising with Ducks Unlimited to now with the safari clubs. I have seen over and over and over again how hunters give both in terms of money, but also volunteer work to help conserve wildlife. People preserve what they value - that is just the reality of it. In Africa many people live on a day to day subsistent level, and don't think about "bigger pictures" like conserving wildlife and habitat. They cut down trees for firewood and to make room to plant crops, they kill animals that raid their crops or kill their livestock. But if someone comes in and says "look, there are hunters who will come from America and Europe and pay you and your family and village to work for them IF you help preserve the wildlife." Then suddenly wildlife has a VALUE to the people and they will work to preserve it. Can the same be said for ecotourism/photography - yes - but - it simply does not bring in as much money as hunting. Hunting is EXTREMELY regulated with scientists helping to establish quotas to sustain the species in any certain area. Are there bad apples in the hunting industry? Absolutely, just like in everything else, but the people that I work with are all extremely ethical and genuinely love wildlife and want to protect and preserve it for generations to come.
Leading a group in Kenya
What has been your favourite African destination and why? (As firstly a tourist, and secondly as an artist.)
Wow, that's hard to say. I have been traveling to Africa for 16 years and been to 5 countries. Each is special in it's own way. Our last trip to Zambia for the antipoaching project was a really unqiue and life changing experience - we saw lots of animals and behaviors we have never seen before. But I do have an especially soft spot for East Africa. In fact James and I will be spending almost two months this fall in Tanzania. We will be spending a month as the guest of the owner of Safari Legacy in his camp Kikote just outside Tarangire National Park. This will be the first time that I actually try to do "studio" type paintings in Africa. After this we will be going to Arusha. Cultural Heritage there carries both James's and my work - we will be doing an artist in residency for a few days, which will then culminate in a showing of our work called "SHARED VISIONS".
Jan and James with headranger North Luanwa National park
You have listed a number of career highlights on your website here - www.janmartinmcguire.com/Bio.html, of all of those which has meant the most to you and why?
The two most important ones would be my solo exhibition in New York at the FORBES magazine Galleries on 5th ave. Most artists dream of a one person show in NY - but this almost never happens for wildlife artists! However I have been fortunate to have Christopher Forbes as a collector of my work and he put on a showing of my African paintings. I asked if we could make it a fund raiser as well and he agreed - I picked AFRICA WILDLIFE FOUNDATION (AWF) and we were able to raise $10,000 for them in just that one evening!
The other life changing event was this current project we are working on with FRANKFURT ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY (FZS) in raising money to help the antipoaching rangers in North Luangwa National park. We spent two weeks in the game management area outside the park researching the project. During this time we literally helped catch poachers EVERY DAY! This game management area, (GMA's are hunting areas), is the first line of defense in keeping poachers out of the park and away from the reintroduced black rhino. It is a true example of what can be accomplished when people put aside their differences and come together on a project. Ed Sayer, the FZS says this:
“We work hand in hand with the safari companies who operate within the Game management Areas surrounding NLNP. It is vital that these areas remain protected and functional as they act as a buffer to maintaining the integrity of the area and particularly the integrity of the black rhino population. The support and investment put into the GMA’s by these organizations is invaluable and greatly contributes to both ZAWA and the Community’s ability to protect the area and maintain its prime area status as well as ensuring the benefit of the communities living in a wildlife area is realized.”
More information on the NLCP can be found here.
Away from Africa, what have been your most memorable experience whilst working?
Hmmm, maybe painting in the Everglades and have a Cottonmouth, (very poisonous and grouchy snake), crawl across my boot. Or maybe leading a group for the National Zoo, (part of the Smithsonian), upriver on the Amazon and catching piranha's to eat for dinner. Or maybe climbing to the top of the rainforest canopy on a platform built for studying Harpy eagles and watching the sunrise over the rainforest. Or painting in Alaska when it was so cold the paint wouldn't adhere to the panel. Or dog sledding in Minnesota tracking radio collared wolves with a research team... should I go on? I lead a pretty great life...
Expect the unexpected: what have been your worst/most amusing experiences been whilst painting in Africa?
Wow, so many stories. Like the time my husband was sick and when I came back to the tent and he kept insisting there were bats in the bed. I thought it was just the fever until I pulled back the mosquito netting - and sure enough, there was a bat on the bed! There was a hole in the top area of the tent and the mosquito netting was pulled back slightly. Somehow the bat had managed to get through the hole then past the netting and was sitting on the bed! I pulled the netting back and managed to shoo it out. Then I walked into the bathroom and ANOTHER bat who had gotten in fly right into the side of my hear knocking itself out! I used a towel to pick it up and gently take it outside.
In Zimbabwe I painted in the field with a Shona scout guarding me with an AK47 to protect me from elephants while I painted! Turned out he wanted to be an artist and so I gave him drawing lessons and then left a bunch of art supplies with him. He sent me a wonderful drawing of a zebra that he did after I got home. I later found out he had named his children after me - a boy named Martin and a girl named Jan. How cool is that?
But probably the most memorable adventure happened this last trip to Zambia when we were literally CHASED by a mother elephant with her calf. Not charged - CHASED! We were off road in a open top toyoto when we came across her and she came trumpeting out of the bush after us. She chased us for 3/4 of a mile when the owner of the camp told the ZAWA scout to fire the shotgun over her head. He did but she barely slowed down - so the owner said "Do it again" which the scout did and FINALLY she stopped. I tell you that was one heart stopping encounter, to be sitting up high on a bench seat in the bed of a Toyoto and having a very enraged cow elephant coming after you!!
If it wasn't art, what would you be doing with your life?
I have no idea. Being an artist is who I am... not what I do...
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.