August 31, 1913 - January 22, 2012
Why I Paint Wilderness
on packtrain trip with friend
Andy Russell 1957
Copyright © Clarence Tillenius
Updated January 26, 2012
Why I Paint Wilderness
by Clarence Tillenius
I strive through my paintings to communicate to others what has moved me deeply in nature. I believe that there is in the universe an underlying rhythm, a stream of life common to all ages; that the work of an artist who could tap into that rhythm would be timeless, it would be understood in any age, since man himself is bound by, and responds to, the same rhythm as the animals.
Art that is to endure must always derive its strength from nature; that is, the artist must have a profound understanding of, and a feeling for, the elemental sources of things, the rhythms of life that are not affected by passing fashions. In my paintings of animals and wilderness, I strive to convey what I feel about these things, to portray a wilderness world intelligible to any human being who is exhilarated by a mountain sunrise, who sees with pleasure a rabbit track across a snowy field, or who simply enjoys being outdoors. It is wrong to think that the viewer of a painting must be a connoisseur of art, or even must know how the painting was done. It is the business of the artist to perfect a technique that will communicate what he feels about what he chooses to paint.
The Manitoba Interlake country, when I was born in 1913, was then newly settled wilderness. But while I was growing up, the moose, elk, wolves, and bears were being destroyed, wiped out by the settler's ready rifle, leaving only nostalgic memories of the days when their numbers were such that no one thought they could ever disappear. So while I was young, I learned that much of the fascinating world of wildlife will always be doomed to disappear with the coming of settlement by man. I guessed that it must be so, and was determined to paint pictures that would convey what I felt about the wonderful world which I believed was slipping away.
It was with brush, pencil and pen that I was most strongly moved to try to render my fascination with wild creatures, but I also felt an urgent need to make people aware of the threats to their natural heritage. To this end, I used whatever time I could take from painting and drawing to write and lecture - always on my favourite themes: the singular beauty of animals as seen in the wild and the need to preserve their habitat.
In 1954, I began a series of large paintings of Canada's wildlife and wilderness landscapes. Many of these paintings are now grouped together in a collection in Winnipeg. Hundreds of thousands of reproductions of these paintings and their accompanying texts have been distributed across Canada and around the world. It was my hope that people who saw them would be moved to preserve some of that matchless wilderness we are now so blessed with but which will disappear unless people who care unite to safeguard it.
Discerning people have long sensed instinctively the human need for a continual renewing of mankind's bond with nature and with the earth. To me, painting wilderness is a way of saying that nature must be understood and protected by people if man is to survive in a civilized world.
Clarence Tillenius received the Order of Manitoba in 2003. The Order is the highest honor the Province can bestow on a citizen. Clarence also received the Order of Canada in 2005. The Canadian Museum of Nature dedicated Clarence's Dioramas as "national treasures" at an award ceremony at the Museum in Ottawa on April 4, 2007, a very special distinction, an achievement shared by a very select few amongst the ranks of Canadian artists.
Download part of Clarence's CBC radio interview (MP3)
Download part of the QuickTime movie "Art Of Nature"
Available for purchase from www.karvonenfilms.com
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