Wildlife artist Andrew Denman prepares for "homecoming" show
By Lou Fancher
Like the Chinese golden pheasants and Demoiselle cranes he paints, Andrew Denman is a rare bird. The 36-year-old Antioch resident is an established, successful 21st century wildlife artist with a home, stable relationships and a solid bank of award-winning work in galleries, museums, and private collections nationwide.
A three-day solo exhibition at Scott McCue Gallery 83 in Orinda, Nov. 14-16, is a mini-retrospective presenting limited edition glicées (prints), 11 new acrylic paintings and six new drawings. Subjects cover a broad spectrum, from local animals like a burrowing owl and a California sea lion to exotic birds of Kenya, Mexican fiddler crabs and more.
Denman's work is sold through a number of national galleries, but none in the East Bay: he says the show is a way to serve local clientele and the people who helped him start his career -- first and foremost among them are his parents, Rob and Candy Denman.
"What I never had was discouragement," Denman said during an interview at his parent's Orinda home. "My dad played trumpet and my mom the piano, but I had talent in a different area and they fostered creativity."
His father says most kids go through phases but his son has "stuck with art since he was 3." His mother describes an early drawing, rendered in magic marker when Denman was age 5: "A frog, sitting on a rock, tongue out, with a fly a quarter-of-an-inch from the frog's tongue," she says. "He won a newsletter contest in kindergarten and it just went on from there."
Mounting his first solo show in the early 1990s at the Orinda Library while he was a student attending Miramonte High School, Denman sold nearly two-thirds of the exhibit's 35 dpaintings within days.
"People were counting out $100 bills and putting them in my hand," Denman remembered. "For a teenager, that was unforgettable."
The show was titled "Wild Visions: Wildlife Past, Present, and Imagined," and revealed the unique niche Denman had carved for himself. Blending fantasy, science fiction and hyper-realism, influenced by the nexus of intellectual, philosophical and spiritual thought he found in the vivid artwork of Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch and other heroes, Denman's paintings appealed to collectors seeking poetic work rendered with technical prowess. Capable of producing exquisite, hyper-realistic representations of animals in their natural environments, Denman wasn't adverse to creating surreal depictions that placed a chicken atop a naked man's head or morphed a peacock's tail feathers into paint chips.
Denman's parents engaged private teachers like Barbara Weil, an Orinda Intermediate School art teacher who recognized he was not only good at drawing monsters and dragons, but skilled at explaining how to draw them to others. She encouraged Andrew's natural teaching ability. Bay Area artist Mark Jezierney taught Denman to be analytical and separate fact from emotion when evaluating his work.
"He was only a teen and I was basically just fine-tuning his artistic applications," Jezierney recalled. "He could grasp the concepts right away. I could show him a perspective drawing and he could do it right off the bat."
Denman's first solo show at Lafayette's now-closed Pacific Wildlife Galleries in 2001, had owner Dennis Salvo phoning Denman within the first 20 minutes of opening telling him 15 paintings had sold. His award-winning work has been featured in Southwest Art, American Artist and other national publications and he has toured nationally with Birds in Art and the Society of Animal Artists. A touring exhibit, "Andrew Denman: The Modern Wild," will visit the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in 2015.
But lest anyone think Denman's success relies solely on wielding a golden paint brush, a closer examination reveals the importance of an equal talent: teaching.
"He had students from when he was 13," his mother says. "He'd teach them at our kitchen table and I'd drive them home afterward because it was long before he had a driver's license."
Denman earned a degree in fine art from Saint Mary's College in Moraga and continues to lead workshops and teach privately.
"I have one wonderful, brilliant, eccentric kid," Denman says, "from him I learn not to put up roadblocks. He doesn't inhibit his own creativity and that reminds me to keep doing exactly what I want to do."
Denman said the artists he most admires continue to evolve throughout their careers. Teaching is humbling and reminds him not to "ruin myself as an artist" by overthinking or growing static. He said the biggest mistake in teaching is instructing a student to draw in the same way he draws. Still, he expects them to think as well as draw: "Any choice an artist makes is valid, but it's more valid if they know why they did it," he said.