My 12-year old daughter equipped herself with small canvasses and set out to paint Christmas presents for the family. These were mostly variations on mountains, pine trees and rivers, with one picture of am imagined solar system for her next brother up. However, her second biggest brother commissioned a larger painting which was to include trees, a river, a bear and a greyhound.
She worked on a background full of tree shapes in greens and muted violets and greys. She painted and repainted a large area of brown in the fore and mid-ground and then got stuck. I tried helping but was stuck myself: I don’t paint in acrylics like this myself so needed to experiment before I could show her. Eventually I was sub-contracted to finish the painting while she went out shopping with her friend. I used opaque paint to darken her trees. With hindsight, I wish I had photographed her version first, and then used transparent glazes to have kept her original trees more visible.
Sorry, the greyhound is too much I think for this composition!
When we depict wildlife, we cannot help burdening them with our stories and feelings. Animals are often sentimentalised or romanticised as cute or noble. I view animals through the prism of evolution, which encapsulates both drama and majesty.
Nonetheless, sometimes animals can carry a very human narrative when the scale of events is otherwise too vast to comprehend. Wojtek the bear was first a mascot then a serving soldier with the Polish 22nd Transport Company. His story, at least for some years, was one of comradeship: play wrestling, drinking beer, eating lighted cigarettes and ultimately working, human fashion, alongside the men.
The human story is of a country torn asunder by invasion and many thousands taken prisoner to the gulags. Freed when their captors were themselves invaded and became their allies, Polish units made their way to Iran (where they acquired a bear cub) then through the Middle East and eventually to the liberation of Italy during 1944.