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Anthony Gibbs

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One of celebrated contemporary animal and wildlife artist, Anthony Gibbs’ first visual muses were cowboys. Developing what he refers to as a fascination with all things Wyatt Earp in junior school, Gibbs would paint endless pictures of rootin’ tootin’ Stetson-clad gunslingers. And when he grew tired of cowboys, he’d set his alternate creative sights on a more Viking genre. Complete with their longboats. Which happened to be so good that his school teachers would often display the finished graphic articles on the walls. So maybe future artistic stardom always beckoned for young master Gibbs. Either way, Gibbs furthered his chances of making it when the time came by enrolling on the relevant art course at Bourneville School of Art in the West Midlands of his youth, having been born in Birmingham in 1951.
Aside from cowboys and, er, Vikings, Gibbs was entranced by the pictorial masterpieces crafted by the hand of a certain fine art exponent who’s CV requires little introduction. John Constable was one of Gibbs’ earliest heroes, and his monumental landscapes inspired the budding artist from the get-go. As it turned out, landscapes themselves were not destined to be Gibbs’ bag; instead wildlife grabbed his fledgling interest and attentions during his formative years. Despite painting his future animals in certain landscapes per se, it was the subject of the subsequent foregrounds which ensured Gibbs would make something of a name for himself once his professional art career took off. Initially capturing the likeness of his wildlife from various examples of literature, the actual catalyst for his consequent obsession with animal illustration was borne out of viewing a television programme. ‘The World About Us’ offered an insight into the artistic life and times of the acknowledged exponent of the very same compositional genre, David Shepherd; and instantly influenced Gibbs’ next moves.
Literally. No sooner had the end credits started running than a young Gibbs was charging upstairs and had begun painting a zebra galloping across the African plains in a cloud of dust. As you do. Or rather, as Gibbs did, back in 1971. Soon after he left secondary education and attended the aforementioned Bourneville School of Art. Having said that, this spell was relatively short lived as Gibbs spent just the one year there learning his trade. So effectively Gibbs classes himself as a predominantly self-taught artist for the most part. Still, this perceived lack of training has never held Gibbs back in any way whatsoever, as thereafter he began in earnest carving out a career for himself as a bona fida artist. And boy did he paint. Anything and everything wildlife related. In terms of Gibbs’ preferred subjects these typically comprise of big cats and the trees around which they freely roam. Elephant are also noted as a particular favourite. Gibbs also finds skies an expansive and somewhat beguiling part and parcel of his creative existence and remains adamant that they can ultimately make a huge difference to a composition.
Indeed, Gibbs is a past master at the oil sketching of clouds, and has practised it often down the years since he became a professional painter in his chosen wildlife genre, and insists that vistas containing clouds alter so rapidly that it provides the perfect grounding for the artist to work fluidly and quick. Gibbs also observes the manner in which light and details cast by light as such dances across his every potential visual piece, and how for example the sunlight holding court across a tiger’s fur plays on the surface area. Or perhaps how the texture of an old oak tree is affected by the presence of lichen and moss engraved within its bark. Waxing lyrical about contrasts brought to us by Mother Nature herself, Gibbs also suggest how he can be readily inspired by the reflections in a leopard’s eye and the way in which wet mud glistens in the self-same natural light source when cast on an elephant’s hide.
When Gibbs first started out with his paints in a professional context he reached for gouache, which he applied on Bristol board, covering a range of subjects from silver birch trees and conventional street scenes to landscapes, as well as a cornucopia of differing animals. His vision was, and remains to this day to convey a sheer sense of enthusiasm and fascination for his pictorial quarry, and knowing that if it furnished him, the artist with an overwhelming pleasure then instinctively it would offer others the same level of joy. This mantra took Gibbs on journeys to far flung locations, where he’d be sure to capture the native creatures in their natural habitat, and has seen him take in destinations such as Africa’s Masai Mara, the Aberderes and Tsavo game reserves in Kenya for the first time in 1989. When Gibbs’ isn’t boarding a plane on yet another illustrative fact-finding mission, he’s just at home compiling his all-important referencing materials and inspiration from visiting zoos and safari parks closer to home and by palming through books and watching countless wildlife programmes and documentaries; all of which act as visual trigger mechanisms in their own right.
Committing himself to full days of work, Gibbs paints with only the finest materials on the best quality canvas or papers, which in his case include cold-pressed linseed oil rather than refined linseed oil for example, which he steadfastly believes promotes a reduced suede effect when brushing out and does not yellow with age like refined linseed oil. Gibbs has enjoyed using pastels in the past, and admits to being persuaded to do so by the bright and vividly coloured options that they offer, and champions their quick drying times and resultant avoidance of cleaning paint brushes as pros to counter the cons of his oils.
Gibbs feels that in recent years his illustrations have become more subtle and refined to a certain degree and visual end and he continue to strive to improve on the quality of his paintings as most contemporary artists would concur. In his own words Gibbs adds; “I am trying to paint detail and subtleties combined with some spontaneity somewhere in the painting to act as a foil to the detail”. He goes on to say; “If this can be achieved in a balanced way, each complementing the other, I believe you have a work that avoids being too stiff and has more life and intensity”. Gibbs revels in painting big as he puts it and embracing the larger, fuller canvas from the outset of his approach, which to our mind ensures that his stunning compositions are more often than not, truly larger than life. Both in terms of size and graphic content.