Back in December of 2014, we hosted a solo show of illustrator Terese Nielsen’s paintings and drawings, which included a set of “Creatures of Spirit”. These were small 10 x 10″ paintings of animals derived from moments of meditation, much like a shamanistic totem animal arises from dreams.
These were quite popular with our visitors, who enjoyed seeing the personal side of Terese, who is best known for her game art (such as Magic: the Gathering). All the work was gold leafed and she often experimented with mediums in her pieces as well. The result made each animal painting a little jewel in its own way.
|Terese Nielsen -Vulture, charcoal, oil, pencil on 23k gold|
We still have two of those paintings, “Buffalo” and “Vulture”. The vulture is hands-down my favorite of all the set. I was sure it would be a harder sell to the average collector; I mean, who wants a vulture perched on their wall? For most people, its a reminder of death and decay. It’s bald and ugly and gross.
|Headdress of the Upper Egypt region|
People forget that for the Egyptians at least, the vulture transcended beyond the everyday. She represented the protection and strength of the mother and was represented the goddesses Mut and Nekbet, the mother of the pharoahs. Vulture was the herald of Upper Egypt and was worn prominently on the headdress of the pharoahs. There is a belief in Asia (I forgot exactly where) that you should never harm a vulture; as they feast on the dead, they carry with them the remains of the local people (who in that area leave their dead out for vultures to eat). They are considered the purifiers of the earth in many Native American tribes, as they clean away the putrefied flesh that could cause disease. They never kill prey, only scavenge what has been killed. They are social, they share with each other, and they are excellent parents.
They are bald for a reason: it keeps them clean (can you imagine trying to dig around a dead body with a head full of feathers? Gross). Otherwise, they have a stunning body of feathers, sleek, black and lustrous.
|The one stab of blue in the feathers immediately adds depth, hatching points back to the head.|
Terese renders her vulture with tight, detailed line work on the head that terminates to feathers that are rendered far more loosely. The hatched lines in the feathers point back towards the head, which keeps the eye from wandering off the picture plane. You literally can’t stop locking eyes with the vulture, which is a compositional win. I love the flush red of the head; in real life its pure and vibrant and jumps off the page. Ironically enough, it’s the gold leaf that anchors the red back in place and keeps it from becoming too strong a pigment choice. The result is intense and rich with an air of restrained tension.
Terese captures the strength of this bird in such a way that it appears as a shamanic creature, fiercely intelligent, ancient and wise. It embodies the archetype of the Wise Grandmother, the elder of the community the demands the respect of her people. She sees past the veil, she knows all, and she understands the cycle of the seasons. Her feathers are her shroud, and she appears hideous only to the uninitiated.
Disgusting carrion eaters? Ugly? Perhaps they don’t live up to our standards of beauty, but Terese saw past the superficial connotations and drafted a stunning and regal piece of work. I personally think this is a really beautiful depiction of a vulture, and certainly the best I’ve ever seen of one.