As much as I happen to enjoy paleontological reconstruction art, which is essentially paintings of no longer extant animals, I have to say that I usually don’t respond well to contemporary wildlife art.
Too often it feels staged and artificial, and seems to lean on over-rendering and sentimentality in place of more solid artistic concerns. Of course there are plenty of exceptions to those (perhaps unfair) generalizations. Ralph Oberg is a case in point.
His paintings of landscapes in the western mountains of the the US and some of the larger wildlife of the area are fresh, painterly and immediate. The impression I had when I first encountered his work was that he was a landscape painter who happened to include animals, rather than a wildlife artist.
That impression was borne out when I read his biography. After attending Colorado State University on an art scholarship and studying at the Seibel School of Drafting in Denver, Oberg briefly worked in commercial illustration and then devoted himself to wildlife painting for ten years. He then became interested in plein air painting, and has dedicated himself to that practice for the past ten years, only recently reintroducing the study of animals into his work.
The result is a lively combination of plein air and alla prima techinque with a knowledge of animal anatomy and characteristics that come from long study.
Oberg uses an almost impressionistic application of paint that gives even his more finished studio canvases the feel of outdoor painting; and his wildlife subjects are rendered with the same painterly approach. Oberg’s years of plein air work have honed his sense of color and ability to suggest complex textures with an economy of brushwork.
His animals are represented naturalistically, incorporated into their settings rather than staged against a backdrop of landscape. Oberg avoids the overly dramatic poses of animals sometimes found in the genre, and incorporates them into his compositions as though they were as much a natural part of a landscape as rocks or trees; which, of course, they are.