Driven With a Purpose, Creating Art as His Vehicle
BY BRUCE K. LAWES, AFC, SAA, OPA
Many of my successful paintings tell a story and are a journey of learning and discovery—whether I am researching something historical or have the challenge of creating a painting with great personal meaning. “Spirit of the Forest” (above) was both; it was a journey of the past adventures of an incredible lady and a journey with great personal meaning. Dr. Jane Goodall has been my hero since early childhood, and I was determined not only to create a significant painting, but also create something that she would be proud to say represented a part of her life with fond memories.
Jane’s wonderful staff in the U.S. opened their arms in friendship to assist me with the Jane Goodall Institute archives of video and still photography. This is where it began. The question was how to create a painting that told a story, while prominently depicting the iconic chimpanzee in an artistic composition.
Scrolling through the beautiful imagery in the archives I began to get a feeling of what I wanted to do. In one video Jane is seen near a waterfall in Gombe, Tanzania, where she studied the chimpanzee’s behaviors around the falling water. She observed that it was a place of play, wonder, and contemplation—almost a spiritual response, if compared in human terms. I knew from that video that the waterfall had to become a big part of my story.
While researching and talking to Jane’s staff I found out the female she named Fifi was one of her favorites. It then became obvious which chimpanzees I’d feature in the painting: Fifi, with her baby, Flirt—one of the nine offspring she had over her lifetime—had to be my stars. Now, with the stage set and the stars determined I began to create a composition that would be both scientifically accurate and artistically appealing.
By the first week of April the painting was nearly completed, but final details not quite refined. An opportunity to meet Jane in New York City presented itself and the painting was done enough to show her, to hopefully get her blessing. This would be the first time anybody, other than my wife Luisa, would see what I imagined Jane would appreciate in a painting. It was a little nerve-racking, but I was quickly relieved when she first saw the painting and said, “That’s Fifi!”
While discussing the painting I said that during my process I had come up with a title, “Spirit of the Land,” and Jane quickly responded, “Spirit of the Forest.” With the title finalized by one of the great women in history, the painting went on to raise funds so the good work of Jane and her Institute will continue in perpetuity.
Editor’s Note: Bruce Lawes has pledged to raise 1 million dollars for the Jane Goodall institute in the coming years. Later this year a large painting of two charging bull elephants will be painted on a 6×7-foot canvas and auctioned off with 100% of the proceeds going to Jane Goodall Institute.
Another passion of mine is to paint equine images. They, like a figurative nude, can convey such beauty and grace. The painting featured here has won multiple awards, including First Place in Southwest Art Magazine’s 2016 Artistic Excellence competition. It was also featured on the front cover of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine. The title of this equine painting was given not just because it is representative of the dust cloud this beautiful dressage horse and rider have stirred up, but it also symbolically represents what all riders must feel when mounting their horse: “On a Cloud.”
I think the success of this painting was the mystery of suggesting a rider without a recognizable person. This puts the emphasis on the form of the white horse against the black background using negative space to create a dynamic tension.
My painting “With Grace” (below) was selected for the initial exhibition and chosen for an extended year tour at the following venues:
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Brookgreen Gardens, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts.
ABOUT BRUCE K. LAWES
Bruce K. Lawes is an internationally collected artist with a passion for animal art and conservation. He is a signature member of the Artists for Conservation (AFC), The Society of Animal Artists (SAA) and The Oil Painters of America (OPA). He was born in 1962 in Toronto, Canada. International Artist Magazine wrote, “One of the first things you notice about the art of Bruce Lawes is the artist’s versatility; whether it be a figurative painting, a landscape or an equine his work always upholds a strong level of quality, craftsmanship and technical skill.” Art of the West Magazine recently praised Lawes as “one of the most versatile among today’s field of highly skilled representational artists, Lawes moves with seamless articulation between the genres of wildlife and equine portraiture, landscapes, and figurative renditions of historic events.”
Upcoming: See work by Bruce K. Lawes in person at the Eiteljorg Museum’s “Quest for the West” exhibition, September 11, 2020.