I grew up in Africa where much of the commercial art is geared towards the tourist market. Paintings of lions, giraffes and other wildlife are common. Many of these paintings are beautifully executed yet interchangeable.
Very few commercial works bear the stamp of the individual artist. The style and treatment of the subject matter is functional – the artist is creating a product rather than a unique art piece. This is understandable since these paintings are designed to appeal to the mass market.
This isn’t limited to South Africa. It seems that in order to sell, artwork of animals has to be somewhat generic. The exception to this is portraits of pets. But in general, few artists, local or otherwise, seem to paint realistic animals and still imbue them with an unique flavor.
Devin Elle Kutz (known as TamberElla on Devianart) is the exception to this. Her artwork combines realistic rendering with often fantastical subject matter.
Some of these creatures are the same ones you’d find prowling a veldt or a forest. Others are chimeras, blending the anatomy of one species with the color or characteristics of another. Big cats with the plumage of peacocks. Felines with the faces of owls. Serpentine weasel-like Eastern dragons howling in the rain.
But even the more prosaic species are portrayed with a beguiling energy. TamberElla manages to captures dogs and cats at their most whimsical. There’s nothing stiff or posed about these works. Each piece is like a glimpse into a moment in time. The subject is frequently poised for action or leaping through the air. The more sedate images often show lively interactions between beasts or animals and their owners.
But what really stand outs is the facial expressions of these animals. As any artist will tell you, it’s difficult to make an animal expressive without stylizing it or making it anthromorphic.
But TamberElla manages to do exactly this. Without even sacrificing their realistic style, she manages to still show glee, contemplation and even sorrow. This is partly due to her mastery of animal anatomy – she knows exactly how to use animal body language for the best effect. It’s equally impressive that she can paint endearing pet portraits without being trite. Her life-like portraits are sincere rather than sentimental.
Among other projects, the artist has also worked on Catamancer, an online Collectible Card Game. The game is a digital card game that focuses on felines and allows one to “summon Black Panthers and White Tigers, Meowls and Mewsicians or even mythical units like Catdalf the Grey or Cathulhu.” TamberElla’s exquisite artwork helps bring to life a world in which wizards battle for supremacy by summoning various cat allies.
Her online portfolio reveals a diverse range of styles from the animesque to the Expressionistic. Her DA gallery even features some Disney-related fanart.
But her preference seems to lean towards a more realistic approach. It’s this realism that gives her artwork its immediacy.
The artist chiefly uses Photoshop, only occasionally dallying with Sai. Eschewing the glossy highly-rendered style so common these days, she prefers a more painterly approach.
There’s a tactile quality to TamberElla’s artwork. She pays special attention to texture and as a result, you feel as if you can reach out and touch each creature. She sometimes employs loose brushwork which gives her pieces an energy often lacking in overly rendered work. There’s an almost Impressionistic feel when it comes to the artist’s naturalistic depiction of light. The brushwork itself is very fluid and expressive.
TamberElla is a former student of LCAD and her formal training works in her favor. It’s evident that this artist has a solid grounding in the principles of art. She has a professional’s grasp on perspective, shading, anatomy and light sources. Because of this, she can portray unlikely new species with confidence. Her technical expertise allows us to suspend our disbelief willingly.
We’ve grown used to seeing the monstrous and miraculous in anime and cartoons. We’ve grown jaded. But in a realistic style, it still has the power to startle us.
TamberElla’s work reminds me why I love figurative painting. Because it can accomplish something that more conceptual work cannot – it can make the impossible accessible.