Home Back Forward July 31, 1998: Three Portraits



Being labeled a "wildlife artist", would be slanderous in the world of professional artists at the "cutting edge" of contemporary exploration. In spite of this danger, I am producing a set of portraits of Chico, Biscuit and Rosie. I ultimately wish to see the 3 drawings exhibited as a triptych. My goal is to reveal the personalities of our 3 very individual cubs. I have chosen traditional portrait poses alluding to my bigger goal; that of dealing with "anthropomorphism". Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human feelings and emotions to animals. In most scientific and wildlife circles any such comparisons are deemed trivial and stupid (on a polite day).

As with, for example, a Stieglitz portrait of Georgia O'Keefe, I have acknowledged the importance of the hands (paws and claws) as a revealing method to expose a personality. As with Karsh, I have zeroed in on the lighting and position of arms and legs. And like most portrait artists I place my subject just off of center on the page to draw maximum attention to my subject. I look at the eyes of these cubs too. And that is interesting in itself. Many times I have read "don't look a bear in the eye" as it could incite rage and consequent attacks. Chico, Biscuit and Rosie seek eye contact. They want to understand how I feel by looking into my eyes. I do likewise with them. I think the bears and I use what we see as a barometer of how much we are willing to trust one another. With the above listed formal concerns in mind I use my camera loaded with black and white film to gather images I will later develop in the small, far from dust free, darkroom in a corner of our one room cabin. Thanks to people at Daymen Photo Marketing in Toronto, Canada, I have a well equipped dark room. (The wonderful Lowe Pro Photo packs Charlie and I wear are also the compliments of Daymen) Keeping the developer at a temperature of 21°C is a bit of a joke. I warm the D-76 developer on the stove along with the other chemistry and work as fast as possible before it all cools. I concentrate on one cub at a time as I gather photos of them. I later select the best photo to work from in the drawing.

Biscuit was the easiest to photograph and draw as her personality is the least complex. She is a very straight forward kind of bear. She is generous and kind in the mothering role she has assumed with this trio. Her behavior is consistently honest. No games, no worries about anything. In the line-up for walking across the tundra, she is in the center and is likely the most secure. She sees me as her favorite human and Charlie once saw her curl up her lip is a sort of a smile the way some dogs do, when they see people they are attached to, who smile a lot. Biscuit smiled as I spoke to her when she was passing me.

The drawing of Chico was more of a challenge. Chico is the lead bear and is full of mischief and love of life. She is alert and inquisitive about everything in her environment including what she can explore about being close to Charlie. Neither of the other two bears seek out physical contact with us the way Chico does. She shows great awareness of her responsibility as leader and is the most on the alert at all times, next to Biscuit. Chico is full of love for her siblings and for both Charlie and I. She loves to hear my voice. Two days ago the 3 cubs and Charlie were across the creek from where I was approaching in the fog. Chico saw me coming first and stood up to have a better look. She glanced at Charlie as if to say, "no it isn't you". Then I started to talk "Hi little bears etc.". Chico jumped with obvious joy soon followed by Biscuit and Rosie to come to greet me. Chico is very polite. She watches carefully to see if she has done anything that will upset me and doesn't like to repeat anything that elicits a harsh "no" from me.

Rosie, who as I have written about before, always walks last in line. I have left her to draw last as she is the most complex. I have always referred to her as the artistic one of the three. She chews plants more slowly, savoring the finer flavors. She is amused by a number of small objects and likes to look at things in greater detail. She is the most inquisitive about her visual world and often is left behind as she stops to examine something. She enjoys me looking at small things she has discovered. She is always looking around or moving somewhere to see or eat something. She almost never sits still to gaze around like Biscuit and Chico. She will lie on her stomach, feet extended at times. I think she enjoys the feeling of the tundra on her belly. She is a sensual bear. This morning I tried once more for the portrait on film. Rosie was lying against Biscuit. She needs the comfort of the "mother figure" close by when at rest. I was talking to her. Suddenly Chico walks over and slides her nose into my range of vision as if to say : "I'm here. See me!" She likes to hog the show. Another complication has arisen with Rosie's portrait. She is shedding her winter hair and is looking most scruffy with the hair shedding in clumps and patches. Portraying all three as equally beautiful is of course important in the best of families.

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1998