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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Milwaukee Public Museum's Entertaining 'Art and the Animal'

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A perfect blend of academic excellence and artistic creativity, the Milwaukee Public Museum's "Art and the Animal" exhibition (through Sept. 3) displays award-winning artwork from the Society of Animal Artists. Members of the society explore the worlds of wild and domestic animals through visual art.

At first glance, it would be simple to see these paintings as just pretty animal depictions. However, in slowly examining each piece, it becomes apparent that the small details convey the mannerisms and natural beauty of the subjects. The sharp glint in a bald eagle's eye as it steals food from another bird becomes a focal point in one painting, while the tiny, almost indiscernible hairs protruding from a tom turkey's face are vital to its representation in another.

Many members of the Society of Animal Artists hail from North America, but they also come from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America. As such, there are paintings of not only North American creatures, but of wild animals from the plains of Africa and even a glimpse of the underwater life of a sea turtle. These paintings offer museumgoers without firsthand knowledge of exotic animals a chance to see them as they appear in nature.

The artists have distinctly individual styles. The accuracy of their paintings is praiseworthy. Both subtle and pronounced artistic choices can also be noticed. Many artists used canvas to paint on, but some used linen to achieve a more striking visual effect. Some paintings are done in oil, some in watercolor, and one uses gold leaf and acrylic to present a mythical, majestic interpretation of a snowy owl.

While the exhibition revolves around painting, other forms of art pleasantly break it up. Sculptures of wild birds and domesticated dogs, as well as woodcarvings, are included. Though a relatively small exhibition, the artwork is excellent, distinctive and entertaining.