Sunday, May 3, 2009

The essence of the animal


“She was known simply as Vivi,” writes Robin Beaver in a tribute to Wyoming wildlife artist, Vivi Crandall.
“A skillful horse woman and hunter who turned to wildlife art and found enormous success. She was gracious in her cowgirl hats, western skirts and boots. Vivi Crandall's home was secluded on Casper Mountain, but her paintings were hot throughout the West, selling for up to $100,000. When she died of cancer April 30, (2000,) at age 56, Vivi left a void in the lives of the people who knew her personally as well as those who captured her personality solely through her art.”
The Casper Star Tribune agreed. “A famous international wildlife artist, Crandall’s paintings literally sprang to life. Some people even thought her paintings were photographs. You can feel the fur, see the motion and see the breath of an animal on a cold day through her paintings, all Vivi trademarks.”
I wrote this story after the owner of the paper I was working for at the time, Mike Lindsey, came running in one afternoon saying, “You have to meet this woman.”
I am certainly glad I did.
A few months after the story appeared, I ran into Vivi in the bar of the Wolf Hotel in Saratoga. Gracious as always, she was very complimentary of the piece and offered to buy me a beer. I declined, as I already was just finishing a Pabst Blue Ribbon and headed out the door. A few days later a full case of PBRs arrived at Saratoga Sun for me, compliments of Vivi Crandall.


The sunlight streams through the corner windows of the hotel room and dances in the artist’s blond hair and off her bare left shoulder. The bits of straw matted in the buffalo’s shaggy mane also reflect the light and one has to look twice to decide what is real and what is canvas.
But Vivi Cardall knows. Art is art, and the trick to capture the essence of the animal.
“I won’t do anything I don’t want to do,” Crandall said as she put the finishing touches on her hauntingly realistic image of a buffalo in her hotel room at the Saratoga Inn last Tuesday.
“I want to bring out the essence of the animal instead of just the appearance. It gives you much more of a feel for it.”
Detail is the key.
“She picks up where other artists quit,” said Val Scheller of the Cedar Chest Galleries. “Detail has become her trademark.”
Crandall started he buffalo painting only a week and half prior to Tuesday’s interview. She expected to finish it in three or four hours, “and then I’m going to party,” she said. The painting was to have been hung in Cody at Buffalo Bill Art Show by Thursday.
Crandall says she paints a minimum of 12 hours a day. Sometimes she can still be found at the easel at 2 a.m.
“I just get too involved to break concentration,” she confessed.
She decided to set up her studio away from studio at the Saratoga Inn because “My husband went sheep hunting and I didn’t feel like being all by myself.” She and her husband own a guide and outfitting business and live on a ranch north of Rawlins.
“It has really been fun being down here, having other people around to wait on me while I’m painting.”
She says the many visitors who watch here working in her hotel studio do not bother her in the least. “I get so intense, I don’t know anyone is there.”
Crandall begins each of her paintings with ideas and then research, she said. She works with wildlife photographer Jim Hamilton and studies his photos along with other resources such as hides and draws very heavily from her outfitting and ranching experiences.
“My next one is going to be a beaver.”
She only works with acrylics even though she admits, “I always wanted to be sculptress.”
“If you do too many things, you create confusion for your audience. You bastardize your work.”
Crandall has really only been painting for three years but has enjoyed national and even international success. “I am very grateful that I was able to develop a style of my own. Some say it is too photographic but people like it. That’s the audience I’m painting for.”
Although she has only been painting for three years, she has been involved in art for some time including a stretch as Art Director for the Washington Post.
“I went to good art schools so I had a feel for it, but the painting was really self-taught. I started when my kids went to college. We had the guide business and it just was the natural progression to begin to paint animals.”
She and her husband moved to their ranch in Wyoming about 12 years ago. “It is one move I have never regretted.”
Crandall has already completed 36 painting this year and she says she usually only takes one day to rest and clear her mind between paintings.
She doesn’t keep any of her paintings either. “We don’t own any art.” But she says she usually gets to know the people who buy her paintings somewhere down the line. She also publishes her own prints.
When asked what she thought the buffalo painting she was working on would bring, “I would think about $9,000,” she said.
But then it is a Vivi Crandall original. One of a kind.
Artistic success has found her and as she puts it, “it pays the bills.”
“I have been incredibly lucky but I work very hard,” she says and she returns to her work. The little daub on the tip of her brush becomes a glint in the Buffalo’s eye. The huge bison stares back at her approvingly.
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