With the passing of John Nieto who became world-famous for his vibrant art reflecting North American animals, it’s time to reflect on his influences and legacy.
As old as art itself . . .
Cave paintings, also known as parietal art are painted drawings on cave walls and ceilings, mainly of prehistoric origin, beginning at the turn of time. The oldest dates given to animal cave images were reindeer depicted in a Spanish cave of Cueva de las Monedas dating back to the last ice age, and a pig found on an Indonesian island atleast 35,400 years ago.
Back then, the representation of animals on walls was primal as well as consequential. It dealt with animals as sources of protection and sustenance, namely as food products and pelts. However as our human hierarchy of needs evolved, so did our artistic expression.
Animal painting become subjective . . .
Ancient Egypt displays how art went from an objective need to a subjective reverence. Cats, jackals, hawks, herons, scarab beetles and scorpions were highly respected as sacred. Egyptians immortalized these animal as deities in much of their artistic expression.
Thousands of years later in both Western and Eastern civilizations, animals were interpreted as mythical beasts. Dragons, griffins, hydras, chimeras and phoenixes dominated the lore and the artistic and creative processes.
What's old is new again. . .
Southwest Contemporary Art in America in the 1900s became particularly rich in portraying the singularity of an animal, as well as the personal and unique feeling that each canvas evokes with its viewers. From this perspective, art of the that period sustained an active link between the many native traditions and customs while blending them with fresh and bold artistic techniques. John Nieto was one of the major originators of this movement.
His art represented the primitive features of animals indigenous to America’s Southwest. He paid special attention to wolves, bison, coyotes, wildcats, deer and even rabbits. Nieto can be viewed as today's modern day caveman. After a span of several thousands of years, his artistic portrayal of animals spoke again directly to man through his representation of animals' primal instincts on canvas versus cave walls.
Unfortunately this great artist died this past week at the age of 81. He leaves behind earthy artwork that was influenced both by the ages, as well as 20th Century's Fauvist techniques of vivid color and bold outlines.
In his paintings, Nieto employs classic linear techniques to create images of great detail and depth. In all of his art, sensitivity and respect for his subject matter are projected. He concentrated on capturing a unique vision of animals that were relatable — a rate feat by any measure.
Primary Source: Nieto Art