“I saw my first black squirrel in Stanley Park in Vancouver several years ago and was immediately determined to paint one. As much as I love exotic animals, I am even more drawn to animals we know well- and in fact take for granted- that I can present in a new and interesting way. As such, an unusually colored version of the ever-so-common squirrel seemed practically to be begging for me to explore it in an artwork. Melanism in squirrels is actually not uncommon and occurs in both Eastern Grey Squirrels and Fox Squirrels; apparently there is evidence to suggest that the phenomenon was more common prior to widespread deforestation throughout the North American Continent, when a darker colored squirrel blended more effectively into dense old growth forest. It still occurs today, but is most notable in isolated communities where the melanistic genes more obviously and frequently express themselves. In the case of Stanley Park, the black Eastern Grey Squirrels are not even native, and the entire population is rumored to have originated from breeding pairs given as a gift from the Mayor of New York in 1909, which were then released in the park. Unfortunately, the species is an invasive one, and they compete quite ruthlessly with the two native squirrel species for food and habitat.
Ecology aside, they are a fascinating animal, and on the couple brief occasions I saw them, I was beyond intrigued. Unfortunately, I failed miserably at taking any useable photos, so the reference for this painting was very generously taken by my partner on my behalf when he was on a business trip to Vancouver several years after my first sighting. In “The Standout” I was most interested in exploring color and texture. I never use black pigments in my work for precisely the reason this subject illustrates. Though he appears “black” there are an abundance of violet, brown, and shockingly blue undertones and sheens on his splendid coat. This is not me being fanciful, but rather a reflection of the beauty and intricacy of nature that has always inspired me to paint.”
-Andrew Denman, 2016
“During a trip to Trinidad’s Aripo Savannah, one of the first birds to catch my eye in the dry, parched landscape was the White-Headed Marsh Tyrant. I spotted this small flycatcher relative in a dry field not far from a water treatment facility, where his bold, black-and-white color pattern made him stand out dramatically even from a considerable distance. As their name suggests, Tyrants are quite territorial, but I found this bird’s oversized head, jaunty crest, and big black eyes more comical than threatening…but then I’m not a Marsh Tyrant. One must be a king, or in a similar position of leadership, before one can be a tyrant, so I imagined a background that suggested a suit of playing cards; this is the King of Diamonds, and the regimentation of the diamond pattern, the hardness of the contrast, and the lance-like abstraction of the branch on which he perches all suggest the harshness and severity of his reign.”
– Andrew Denman
“This piece was an attempt to portray a favorite subject in a simple and unassuming manner. Of course, there is nothing simple about capturing a feather pattern as complex and subtle as that of the burrowing owl, but then all my attempts to be “easy” typically fail; hopefully in the process, the painting succeeds, as here. I am fortunate to have two colonies of burrowing owls in my area that I know of that are easily accessible to viewing. This fellow is a particularly habituated owl whose nest is just a stone’s throw from a heavily trafficked skate park, so I had no difficulty in observing or photographing him. There is a dauntlessness about these owls that I find compelling; perhaps it’s simply that they show themselves during the daylight hours when us lucky humans can get a good look at them, but there is something about their direct stares and alert but comfortable demeanor to which I can’t help but ascribe a certain degree of challenge, of impishness. In the summer, they can be hard to spot amongst the grey clay banks and dry, golden grasses, but in the spring, their little round shapes stand out starkly against the new shoots of acid green. Seeing them in this setting brings an irrepressible smile to my face, hence the title of the painting.”
– Andrew Denman