Vermont Arts Council

A View to the Souls of Animals

The glisten in the eye of this rooster is one bright detail sparkling in the Council’s Spotlight Gallery. Twenty paintings of roosters, sheep, cows, and owls project emotion to the hallways. This is the work of Caryn King, an artist living and working in South Newfane. For the last ten years, she has painted animals. It started with a rooster.

“I never painted, I always designed and taught and did a lot of artwork. Always art. But I was intimidated by a white canvas.” She felt stuck at the beginning, wondering, “What do you do? You have to put yourself on the canvas. Finally, my son wanted a rooster, and I painted him a rooster. And, that was it.” It was easy after that. Her subject matter? “Animals… I just love them. So, it was kind of was a natural.”

Call it Nature Plus

Caryn works from photos. Photos she takes, photos she sees, photos sent to her. But there’s another element. She says, “I don’t think of myself as a naturalist painter. I try to portrait the animals and really enhance them in my own feelings. I put my emotion into all my work. I’m not trying to copy nature, I’m trying to add to it a little bit.”

Caryn has learned a lot about animals in the past decade. She recalls an early trip where she asked permission from a farmer to take pictures. She shrugs in imitation of the farmer and says, “No problem.” She crawled under an electric fence and began to move toward the cows. This was a new experience for her. “I don’t know cows, I’m from New Jersey!” Probably motivated by the idea of food, the cows ran toward her. She got scared and dashed back. “Since then I’ve learned that cows are large, but for the most part gentle. But I still stay on my side of the fence!” She has learned to wait. Curiosity seems to get the best of them.

It’s a Love Affair

As she finished hanging the show, Caryn talked about some of the work. She started by saying, “I really do fall in love with all my references.” It shows. Here are some of the other things she said about her subjects.

GoatDon’t Forget the Goats
“This goat was at the Retreat Farm in Brattleboro.” Caryn described a beautiful barn there, and a petting area. “I was taking pictures and having a great time. I kept feeling something on my back. I was ignoring it. Then, all the sudden, I turned around and this guy (meaning the goat) was on the edge, pushing me like ‘what about me? What about the goats?'”
Three-RoostersTom, Dick & Harry
“These three roosters were down on Martha’s Vineyard at the ag (agricultural) fair, just hanging out there. My daughter took the picture and sent it up to me. I just loved the personality. They look like they are making a judgement, possibly!”
That was actually her name. This lamb was at Edgar’s Mission in Australia. Hannah was participating in one of those ‘Bless the Animals’ church services.”
Two-CowsMarigold and Buttercup
“That one I put together. I did go to school as an illustrator—the Massachusetts College of Art. I enjoyed this cow being so shy behind the other one. But, it might have been a completely different kind of day. So I kind of use my… ‘illustrator’s license.’ The cows looked like this, but probably not the sky.”
“Pigs are the hardest to find reference for. I have been called a couple of times by farmers and told they have new piglets. I try to take pictures, but they just don’t stay still! I come home and the pictures are all blurred. They’re impossible! But a photographer took this picture and I got permission to use it. I just feel like she’s just really honest. I call her my zen pig.” Caryn imagines the pig’s emotion is level and it is thinking, “I’ll just go on.”
“I chose her just because of the emotion in the eyes and the mouth and everything.” Queenie was at an ice cream stand/dairy farm in Grafton. “The story with her is that someone asked me to do a five-foot square [painting] for a wall. So, the first time I painted her, she was a five-foot square. I shipped her to Oklahoma in the middle of winter. It was a very complicated process.” In the square, Queenie’s body wasn’t showing, just more of her chest. “We have measured cow’s heads. Someone wanted an exact size cow—to open the door and have it just looking at you. We were surprised how small a cow’s head is!”


Meet Caryn and talk to her about the art at a reception from 4-7 p.m. February 5.
Read the artist statement for this show here.

–Susan McDowell