THE WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER, Detail by Barbara Sparhawk

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Oil on Canvas
Life Size


Oil on Canvas, Life-size

I had the luxury of spending nearly a year on this large oil painting, a commission for a portrait of an American Wildlife Photographer. He travels the country year round, headed into national parks and wilderness to natural habitats, finding grizzly bears, buffalo, eagles and hawks, wolves, owls, foxes, cranes….and records their thrillingly dangerous exotic lives on film.

There was so much to include, and the painting went through a great deal of editing out and adding into. I wanted his intense focus, coupled with expansive kind humanity of him I learned (though we’ve never met) from our correspondence. Hair blown by wind, sunburnt from camping and hiking.

His love of books is in there, and a map pinned to the wall behind him. The universe opening up beyond his shoulder, a canvas jacket thrown over it, strong bare arms and sleeves rolled up for action. A notebook in his pocket, he’s a writer, too. And a shirt that I wanted to look like a comfortable favorite, a second skin, practical and functional. (The wardrobe’s invented). The camera, his beloved Nikon, cradled near his heart and kind of making a glow through his fingers. His left hand cradling a special lens. The equipment from photographs he sent.

It kind of went beyond just the person, I wanted to capture the sense of his life in what he did, to make a portrait maybe of all who follow such lively pursuits and go off to wild places to find what’s in them. What’s in themselves.

It was a major undertaking. He’s a remarkable fellow. He was very pleased with the outcome. He said I got it right. I like it a lot, too.


portrait of the wildlife photographer, detail oil portrait, the wildlife photographer in detail, oil portrait by barbara sparhawk

Professional Expressionist, portrait painter, writer, children’s book illustrator, entrepreneur, and adventuress.

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  • Anne Gitto
    Anne Gitto6 months ago

    I am always impressed by your marvelous artwork. You are truly up there with the great artists of the ages. This is so wonderful, the eyes deeply look into you and capture your heart.The colors and all the details of the whole painting just fabulous. …You are Blessed by God with such a gift ☺.

  • And bless you, Anne for writing this.
    Although we never met, the Wildlife Photographer and I, I have the feeling he looks very directly at people. He’s also a college professor. And I began to see both his directness and warmth, concern for life, love of life, in the emails we were writing. He was traeling almost the entire time I was painting so it gave me the chance to continue reaching for and adding his personality. His photographs are totally marvelous.
    I am so very pleased that you like this. Thanks, Anne. Love to all.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • Nikolay Semyonov
    Nikolay Semyonov6 months ago

    cash looks more vivid when I don’t see his other hand with the camera)))

  • Not sure I understand this ol’ buddy, but thanks for the visit.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • billyboy
    billyboy6 months ago

    Jeeze I could look at this for hours.
    And on top of all the other reasons your work does it for me, there is one thing I don’t know if i’ve mentioned on previous portraits…
    Though your style has a flamboyance that could so easily distort crucial facial features, you manage to translate such engaging realism in your subjects’ expression that I actually feel like I’m face to face with the man. A nickel-drop moment smack in the middle of his explaining to me how he manages to get away without using image stabilizing lenses at long focal lengths. It’s uncanny.
    Your amazing marriage of absolute living realism with vivid larger than life embellishment is what makes your portraiture so difficult to look away from.
    And then I got back to Trevor to get a comparison and yep, stared at that one for another 20 mins :-)
    But this is the one that pulls me in and totally refuses to let go. It’s seriously fabulous. Much like the artist…
    Your serving of The Wildlife Photographer was absolutely the highlight of my day.

  • You really go into things I do that I don’t know I do but you make it clear that I’m doing. Thank you, Billy. It’s very moving for me that you can spend so much time drinking this in, and Trevor’s portrait, and not want to turn away.

    You know, I think I see people that way in life. Not just reality but the character in them. I thought (briefly) to hold back some and make this a more conventional portrait, but everything cried NO NO NO. The painter’s life is full of risk, and that’s what’s worth going for. As in all my life, I don’t want to deprive myself of startling experiences.

    I only recently read that Rembrandt was one of the first portrait painters to have the sitter really address the viewer full bore, contrary to the standard profile, full or 3/4. I think that may be true. Chancey of him. Met with disapproval, but then the Dutch still don’t like being jarred. The Impressionists followed suit to great uproar. Sargent who nearly painted with too fabulous a facility for anyone to stand thrust his sitters into voluminous rooms, ala Velasquez, the import of the manor or castle wealth being equal to the inhabitants. The more modern people painters, like Bacon, his work is so original and interesting that the distortions are more important than the face, and most looked like him, but they are a great romp to witness. And Lucien Freud, like Schnable, I loathe because they are incapable of seeing how glorious life is and that any human exuding truth and focus is like (totally corrupt though admiring man’s possibility) Sommerset Maughm said through his Razor’s Edge hero that man can feel at one with God. Yes. That is true.
    I’m saying all this because by God you, Billy, get to study human beings in your work and life and have such keen interest in observation. The people and their artifacts, their cities. And because these are all the kinds of things I think of, and study, while I paint pictures.
    Thank you for everything, Billy. Thanks for being there. For keeping a sharp eye on the world. For appreciating my view of what’s out there and in here.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

  • billyboy
    billyboy6 months ago

    … and btw, Anne is so right. You are truly right up there !!

  • This does me so much good to hear. Thank you for all you notice (here and my work and in the world generally) and then say.

    – Barbara Sparhawk

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