25 November 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Details of Africa

On 24 November, Warren Cary’s first solo exhibition opened at the Chalkhamhill Gallery in Hoedspruit. This exhibition signals his transition from enthusiastic amateur to full-time professional wildlife artist.

Cary’s work is characterised by his attention to detail, a trait that has as much to do with the artist’s character as it does with his subject matter - he is a perfectionist. The exhibition features a representative range of his art, from the ‘big five’, to smaller animals and plants. These details of Africa, which have been the inspiration behind a clothing and gift brand of the same name, are where Cary shines.

The continent’s diversity has been a source of inspiration to artists for centuries. Wildlife art made its greatest strides in the 18th Century, when artists were also scientists, recording the world around them. Amongst the best know artistic names associated with paintings of 19th Century South Africa are the Thomas Baines and Thomas Bowler. Other names like Rosa Bonheur (1822 - 1899 French), Wilhelm Kuhnert (1825 -  1926 German), Edward Whymper (1840 - 1911 British), Urs Eggenschwiler (1849 - 1923 Swiss), Archibald Thorburn (1860 - 1935 British), Heinrich Egersdorfer (1853 - 1915 South African), Georges-Lucian Guyot (1185 -  1973 French) and Sir Peter Scott (1909 - 1989) are also important in the evolution of wildlife art on the continent.

Today, there is a lot of wildlife art around, but wildlife art and artists have yet to really feature from an auction/investment point of view, or from a South African art history perspective. Is this slowly changing though?

Contemporary wildlife art reflects a shift from the desire to catalogue, to an awareness of contemporary environmental issues, with artists focusing on the fragility of habitats, animals’ dependence upon them and the need to preserve our heritage for future generations. Of course, all of this work is shaped by centuries of cultural events and aesthetic and ideological trends, from its beginnings in colonial times, with the aesthetic idioms and imagery evolving while ecological ideologies change.

But as the international art market begins to take wildlife art more seriously, the question on the lips of local wildlife artists is; will the South African market follow this trend?

*image courtesy of Warren Cary
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