Damien Hirst,

Damien Hirst, 'wildlife artist', licking his diamond-encrusted skull.

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Wildlife Art Journal Crawls Out From Its Den And Asks Shepherd or Hirst?

Delight In Exploring The Sacred And The Profane

Written by Todd Wilkinson (Authors Bio)

Wildlife art—whatever the term means—needs no defense.  Which is not to say that magazines making reference to it, critics pillorying it, adherents rallying around it, viewers identifying with its subject matter as muses, cannot or should not open their minds and ponder it more broadly.

Let us begin with a quote from one of our featured artists, England’s elder dean of painting African megafauna David Shepherd firing this shot across the bow at venerable art curator Sir Nicholas Andrew Serota of the Tate Museum in London and at a man, a darling of the modern art world, who has become very enriched indeed by calling himself a wildlife artist, Damien Hirst.

“I suppose it was clever, putting an animal in formaldehyde, but when you have cakes on little trays which the cleaners throw away because they don’t know it’s a Damien Hirst? It’s crazy. It’s considered almost indecent to paint for the public. The whole business stinks of snobbery. Logically I should be in the Tate. But they wouldn’t have me because I’m too popular. I’m mud as far as Nicholas Serota is concerned. I think that man should be sacked!”

Shepherd shared this observation not in a quiet conversation but in a fiery chat, as is his nature, with a reporter in The Sunday Times, one of England’s largest circulation newspapers.  

Here’s our question to you:  Who sits in the vanguard of art today?  Who decides what the vanguard is?  And how is it possible for critics attached to the vanguard to celebrate the ingeniusness of Damien Hirst, the conceptual artist who boasts that, with some pieces, he has had as little to do with their physical hand’s-on making as possible—and recently claimed “he forgot how to paint” yet make a mockery of David Shepherd and, by extension, untold thousands of other ‘wildlife artists’ around the world?  Read Charlie Finch’s commentary, Damien Hirst Jumps The Shark at Artnet.  Finch is the co-author of Most Art Sucks:  Five Years of Coagula

Meanwhile, we crawl out of our own bear den aiming to be provocative, to provide you with fodder and sustenance that may inspire you or leave you angry, but it will not put you to sleep.   

In this return to sunlight, we invite you to consider the spirit behind the United Kingdom’s Nature In Art Museum and the challenge/admonition issued by the eminent scholar David Trapnell that we all—perhaps North Americans especially—break out from the self-limiting notion of nature art being confined to wildlife.  We honor Trapnell’s standing.  You will also hear the voice of his son, Simon, director of Nature In Art, help us size up the general reaction to David Shepherd.  And separately you’ll enjoy our interview with Shepherd’s daughter, Mandy, and granddaughter, Emily Lamb, who together form the triumvirate of the Three Generations exhibition that has become an important part of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s annual Wildlife Artist of the Year Competition, the winners of which will be announced and showcased later in May at the Mall Galleries in London.

In Five Questions/Five Art Works, the ongoing conversation that goes artist to artist, painter Jonathan Sainsbury interviews sculptor Sam MacDonald. Next, head to Canada and explore the portfolio of sculptor-carver-found object visionary Shane Wilson and finally, but certainly not least, delight in our retrospective tribute to Robert Kennedy Abbett  who has been described as a wildlife artist, sporting artist, portrait artist, western artist, illustrator, easel painter, and bestowed with half a dozen other sobriquets.   Abbett, who, like Shepherd, fits the description of legend, prefers to be called simply painter.

We invite you to send us your latest works for Gallery of the Commons June-July 2010 (May-June has already filled!)  As you make travel plans, we hope you’ll consider putting Nature In Art in Gloucester on your art itinerary of essential museums to visit.  Finally, join Wildlife Art Journal as a Facebook fan and/or connect to us via Twitter.  And please tell your friends about us and put a WAJ banner with hotlink on your webpage.

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Who sits at the vanguard of art today?

Posted By carel on Apr 23, 2010
There hasn't been "a" vanguard of art for a century or so, but a number of them, each advancing in its own direction, and I can't see how that's anything but good. As long as lots of folks are interested in what Damien Hirst does, he'll have a place in the museum world; still, many people forget that plenty of museum doors are closed to Hirst's work. There isn't a living artist whose work is universally accepted, and that's a healthy symptom of a diverse, vibrant art environment. Hugely successful artists who complain of getting a venue or critic's cold shoulder remind me of Paul McCartney's whining because Lennon's name always comes first in their song catalog. The greatest achievement one can attain as an artist is the leisure to voice such grievances.
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