Ellensburg’s Climber Museum is currently hosting an exhibition by artist Justin Givens called Animal Spirits.
Using his signature brand, Classical Natural History Paintings, Givens draws and paints animals from real-life specimens. His decorative and stylized images use traditional Chinese fine-line drawing and classical scientific illustrations to celebrate the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
In his biography of Gibbens, published on justingibbens.com, “When he first started working with pencil on paper, he was drawing the standards of his boyhood: dinosaurs, creepy crawlers and other quirky animals. 40 It hasn’t changed much over the years.”
A master draftsman, Givens was trained in both scientific illustration and traditional Chinese painting. This is the set of skills he employs in his animal paintings. Gibbens’ biography states that he “destroys the formal conventions of classical natural science illustration and imagines through his artist’s lens the fields of the 19th century the fascinating wildlife of forgotten natural history.” increase. His “stylized and embellished images speak of evolution, mutation and biodiversity, and perhaps serve as cautionary tales and stand-ins for our anthropocentric selves.”
As Givens sees it, “our world is mysteriously fascinating and astonishingly bizarre, and the relationship between mankind and the animal kingdom is multilayered, complex and ambiguous. He is delighted to celebrate this.” It is through his work that I feel
Givens often references classical natural history sources, but prefers to paint directly from actual, hand-held specimens. This process allows us to observe colors, textures and shapes in greater detail. Gibbens uses taxidermy mounts along with window casualties and runover finds to render provocative, larger-than-life gestures of birds, mammals, and other creatures, often bleak and undefined. Draw each one in space with the animation suspended. In doing so, these images serve as a totemic reminder of the impermanence of all living things.
Clymer curator Matthew Lennon said: Through Gibbens’ Animal Spirit, it’s a gentle reminder that death makes no distinction between animal and human. We are bound to all living things through death. Givens’ work encourages us to live with caution and respect. ”
Gibbens received a BA in Painting from Central Washington University in 1998 and a Science Illustration Certificate from the University of Washington in 2003. He is a founding member of He PUNCH Projects, an artist collective based in Central Washington.
“Animal Spirits” will be on display until February 4th.
David Lynx is Executive Director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. He writes this weekly column for Explore. For more information, please visit www.larsongallery.org.