The Wildlife Paintings of Carl Brenders

February 1-May 18

Natural History Gallery

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Click here to preview Brenders' art.

Carl Brenders says that wildlife art is not only the result of experiences in the field, but that imagination forms the basis for many beautiful wildlife paintings. Often, the only way for the artist to get close to animals in a natural setting is in his imagination: "It is often frustrating to see animals in nature, because they almost always run away; one rarely sees them up close. I bring animals close to the viewer-what I paint is nearly impossible to see in the wild. In my scenes of nature, I like to share the experience of being within the intimate world of animals-a little moment in paradise together with them." Brenders feels very fortunate to be able to express his imagination: "I think that this is a big advantage that artists have; we imagine a scene with such reality that the impossible becomes possible."

In addition to imagination, inspiration is a key to Brenders' work. His inspirations are driven by the harmonies of color and texture in nature and, he says, by "the thrill of encounters with the wild creatures." Brenders can be inspired by the elegant, elongated line of a cougar's hind leg or by the bright yellow plumage of a meadowlark. He says, "Inspiration is a strange thing and can come to you in very unexpected ways-sometimes in the field, sometimes in a bookshop. It can happen any moment of the day."

There is little in this world that escapes Brenders' attention. In his detailed paintings (which are often mistaken for photographs), in his observations of nature and of the behavior of wildlife or humans, Brenders doesn't miss a trick. To him, omitting a detail would be distrespectful of nature. "If there is a God," he says, "He is in nature." Everything is worthy of inclusion in Brenders' paintings-tiny pebbles, dried grasses, broken twigs. What might be considered irrelevant to another artist is honored by Brenders and rendered to perfection. "My disease is perfectionism," he says. Brenders paints every rock because, he says, "I feel what's underneath." If he could, he would also put the smell of the mosses and the leaves in his paintings.

"Art is an explosion of impressions, and I have to make my impressions visible," says Brenders. He tells of ancient Japanese artists who would stand in front of their canvases or silk panels until they felt a kind of tension. They could stand there a long time before it came upon them, but when it happened they would work quickly to capture their art. "I have that tension, too," says Brenders, "but I have a big conflict because I'm devoted to details. My impressions are too complicated. One thousand details make it impossible to make the explosion happen."

Modest about his talent, Brenders claims, "I am not an artist; I am a painter. I don't sell art, I sell my work. I leave it to the public to decide if it's art or not. I am not a philosopher, I just paint animals. I only worry about beauty. I want to create something that has not been done before, and I think I do. If details can make my work more beautiful, then I will try to make my work more detailed than it already is, even if it drives me crazy. With all the ugliness in the world, I am thirsty for beauty. And I remember very well what my father said before he died: 'Boy, all beauty is in nature.'"

Excerpted from Dana Cooper's "A Brief Biography of the Artist," in Wildlife: The Nature Paintings of Carl Benders. The book, which contains 51 full-color plates of Brenders' extraordinarily realistic animal paintings is publish by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with Mill Pond Press, Inc. It is available for purchase in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Store.