LONDON—It may look like a photograph at first glance, because not one detail has been missed. But in fact, each fine hair of this gorilla has been painstakingly drawn by wildlife artist Chris Wright, who works on his drawings with a very sharp pencil.
“When I’m drawing, I feel great because I feel that nothing else is clouding my mind,” he explains. “I sit there, and get all the details right—it doesn’t mean I’m not relaxed. I know that someone’s going to appreciate it and I like the fact that this is something people will enjoy.”
Wright is one of the 40 top contemporary animal artists who will be exhibiting at The Animal Art Fair (TAAF) this month.
TAAF has grown exponentially over the past three years. It was started when co-founders Jamie Polk and Barnaby Parker saw many of their artist friends suffering from paying high commission rates to galleries, and wanted to create a new opportunity for artists to interact directly with the buyer.
It has become a huge success. Artists pay a one-off fee for their stand, and 90 per cent of all sales will come directly to the artist. This is a big saving compared to the usual 40-50 per cent commission paid in most galleries. Ten per cent goes towards TAAF’s charitable partner, The Angus Lawson Memorial Trust.
“I see it as the way the art market will be trending the next few years,” predicts Polk, co-founder and director of TAAF. Prices of the artworks at the fair start from £100 each for prints, and originals range from £250 to £12,000.
As part of your visit it is guaranteed that you will come across some leopards and giraffes as well as some quite moody looking ostriches, by wildlife artist Dominique Salm.
“The way they peer at you is just hysterical,” she says. “I don’t think anyone’s really captured that before, so I wanted to capture that character.”
Salm, winner of the 2009 BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year, World Mammals Category, exhibits regularly in London and New York. It is hard to keep a straight face when looking at her ostriches.
“The comments I get are just so funny, like, ‘oh that looks like my mother in law’, ‘doesn’t that look like so-and-so …’. Quite often in an exhibition people don’t know you’re the artist, and I’m standing there listening to the comments, and it’s really amusing.”
Her fans include Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson and brother of Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, Rupert Soames OBE, who claims to have “an obscene love” for her ostriches. It is difficult not to fall for them.
In contrast, Salm’s elephant scenes are sleepy and majestic, and are carefully tinted with the red earth they just rolled in. Salm rubs in the actual African earth on her images, making them even more lifelike.
Artist Chris Wright will also be back at TAAF this year. His passion for wildlife comes across in his delicate pencil drawings, which capture the beauty and charisma of each animal, without missing any tiny detail.
“I really want my artwork to make people value these animals, because I don’t believe wild animals should be in captivity,” Wright explains.
Wright is not only an artist, he is also a senior programmes officer at the Born Free Foundation, and shares their mission to keep wildlife in the wild. A percentage of all his artwork sales are donated to the Foundation.
Perhaps one of his most moving drawings is of Titus, the silverback mountain gorilla—a highly endangered species only found in remote parts of Africa. His drawing was inspired by a moment captured on camera by Wright’s colleague at Born Free, Ian Redmond OBE, who studied under Dian Fossey and later introduced gorillas to Sir David Attenborough.
Although Wright was not on scene with Ian Redmond at the time, when working on this piece he recalled his unforgettable memories spent with gorillas in Uganda during his gap year. “When I was drawing that I was completely reliving the whole experience,” he explained, “and I couldn’t wait to sit down at my drawing table again because it transported me back.”
Titus featured in the film Gorillas In the Mist and the 2008 BBC documentary, Titus: The Gorilla King, and was closely studied by Dian Fossey.
Wright’s intricate drawings are drawn purely in pencil. “People often pay more attention when they know someone’s done something with their own hand, rather than a photograph,” he says.
TAAF is an annual exhibition of 40 contemporary animal artists covering all mediums. All exhibited works are for sale. It will open from Thursday, May 17 to Sunday, May 20, at the Riverside Walkway on London’s South Bank, SE1 9PP. Tickets are £8 via www.animalartfair.com. Entry into the Sculpture Garden is free.