MICHIGAN CITY — In Kimberly Beck’s 2019 piece “Black Tie Banquet,” downy woodpeckers feast on seeds from a mullein plant in a spiraling pattern suggesting blue flowers on a green stalk.
Beck said the long, narrow, life-size painting was inspired by her observation of woodpeckers in the meadows of the Tryon Farm Institute in Michigan City.
It is also one of the many avian-themed works to be featured in the 44th annual “Birds in Art” exhibition, a show on display from Sept. 7 through Dec. 1 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.
The 2019 exhibition features work by 114 artists, including 23 master artists recognized by “Birds in Art,” and 91 other artists whose work was selected by jury. This year’s exhibition also includes 33 international artists.
For seven out of the last eight years, Beck, a resident of Michigan City, has had work selected for the international show, which features various interpretations of avians in paintings, sculptures and graphics created within the last three years.
On opening day, Saturday, Sept. 7, more than 60 “Birds in Art” artists are expected to attend the exhibition’s debut, part of Wausau’s Artrageous Weekend.
Recently Beck spoke to The Herald-Argus about her success in portraying birds in art and her interest in the avian world.
HA: How do you feel about getting your work accepted in the exhibit?
KB: “Birds in Art” sets the standard for bird artists. Acceptance to this exhibition is a great honor. Nicknamed by the Woodson Art Museum’s director Kathy Foley as “the best indoor bird-watching in the country,” it draws artists from around the globe. I always attend the opening weekend that the museum sponsors for their patrons, and it is a great opportunity to make connections with other professional artists as well as with the public.
HA: What interested you in painting birds?
KB: I grew up in Northern California in a rural setting. Birds were a large part of the landscape. My maternal grandmother taught me the names of common songbirds through a song she wrote and sang to me when she visited and thus planted the seeds for identifying and learning about birds.
I have always been an animal lover, and when I became serious about learning to draw and paint, I naturally gravitated to depicting animals and birds. I worked as an illustrator in the ‘80s for a company called The Nature Company creating artwork for them that was reproduced as posters, greeting cards, T-shirts and even umbrellas for sale nationally in stores and through a mail-order catalog. Many years later, after raising my family, I learned to paint in oils and began to bird watch with more intensity.
As an artist, I am most interested in the natural world, and often find subject matter in contrasting that which exists in nature with the inventions of man.
HA: What do you hope to capture in your avian-themed work?
KB: My paintings are based on direct experiences with birds seen in nature.
Usually a painting germinates from a memorable experience or seed of an idea that occurs during a walk in nature. The idea for “Black-Tie Banquet,” for example, began while I was walking the fields where I live at Tryon Farm. Last July, I noticed the downy woodpeckers, normally seen feeding in the forest, were out on the meadow feeding on the mullein plants, an invasive species that has made itself at home here in the Midwest. I took photos, and began thinking about how I could get others to notice this bird and its behaviors. By making the dimensions of the painting mimic the tall mullein plant and multiplying the birds on the stock, I created an interesting composition with the idea that perhaps it is just one bird making its way up the stock in time lapse. It also reflects my desire to incorporate “story” into my work.
HA: How did you get into painting?
KB: As a child, I copied the cartoons from the newspaper and loved to copy my dad’s perfect printing. I also always enjoyed making things and doing things with my hands, like sewing. We lived in a rural setting, and I had a lot of time to create, observe and just think.
I didn’t have any formal drawing training until I attended the University of Michigan where I studied English literature and took art classes. By the time I graduated, knew I would pursue the arts. I then attended the California College of Arts to develop my drawing and painting skills.
HA: Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Michigan City?
KB: My husband and I raised our three children in Lake Bluff, Illinois, north of Chicago. We recently downsized and moved to Chicago for a brief period, then purchased a home here at Tryon Farm where we enjoy observing nature on over 100 acres of open land. The Indiana Dunes National Park was also a huge draw for us. This is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the Midwest, and certainly one of the best places to observe birds firsthand. We love the slower pace and small-town feel of the area as well.
The three jurors for the 2019 “Birds in Art” exhibition were Jillian Casey, curator of collections, Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Stamford, Connecticut; Luis Purón, executive director, Rockport Center for the Arts, Rockport, Texas; and Robin Salmon, curator of sculpture and vice president of art and historical collections, Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.