In case you missed it: Dawn Siebel’s animal portraits are where the wild things are

  • Dawn Siebel with her paintings in her studio at Eastworks, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 12/10/2018 11:19:15 AM

It’s no secret that many forms of wildlife are under siege. From habitat loss to poaching to climate change, animals great and small face myriad threats to their existence. The ones that likely get the most attention are the big ones, the majestic animals such as elephants and lions in Africa, tigers in Asia, and perhaps polar bears in the Arctic. They’re the most visible examples of humanity’s fouling of the planet, though there are countless other creatures at risk.

Rather than just make donations for wildlife preservation, Easthampton painter Dawn Siebel has taken a novel approach to this issue. In a new exhibit at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, she has hung a group of paintings of endangered species. But this isn’t a show about wildlife per se: Siebel is very clear about having painted portraits, about trying to capture the spirit and individuality of her subjects, even if they walk on four legs or have wings or tails.

“Wild at Heart” features large-scale (as big as four-by-four feet)oil paintings that do in fact feel like the animals posed for Siebel, with most of the creatures looking directly at the viewer. The black backdrop of these paintings, combined with the rich, textured colors of the animals, adds to the effect of a studied portrait.

Siebel began her work about three years ago and spent considerable time visiting select zoos to make a close study of elephants, tigers, gorillas and other creatures. She took multiple pictures, spent days watching the animals and making eye contact with them, and chatted with zookeepers to learn about the quirks and habits of her subjects. She talks of “meeting” these animals, not just seeing them.

A self-taught painter, Siebel has produced rich, layered work that at first glance has a bit of photo-realist quality. On closer inspection, though, you can see painterly details that give her portraits a luminous, almost otherworldly quality. After seeing this show, you might feel compelled to help our fellow creatures on earth. That’s a big part of Siebel’s goal, so mission accomplished. Oh, and she will also donate 10 percent of all sales from her exhibit to animal conservation.

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