Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Exploring the Work of Arthur Singer
by Dan Grinthal | published Oct. 4th, 2017
If you walk through University Gallery in Booth these days, you might see something wild on the crisp white walls. The Gallery's new exhibition, Arthur Singer — The Wildlife Art of an American Master, features a large collection of work spanning the prolific career of Arthur Singer, a New York native and world-renowned wildlife artist.
“I want students to know that this space is open and available for them to come look, ask questions and explore,” she said. “This is for RIT.”
Gallery director Wendy Marks is thrilled with the show and invites students of all disciplines to experience the inspiring work of a true master. “I want students to know that this space is open and available for them to come look, ask questions and explore,” she said. “This is for RIT.”
University Gallery chose to time the opening of the Arthur Singer exhibition with RIT Press' release of a book of the same name written by Alan and Paul Singer, Arthur Singer's sons and co-curators of the gallery exhibition. The lavishly illustrated book follows the extensive career and work of Singer from the early 1920s to 1990.
“Alan and his brother Paul are managing the estate of their father's work. They wanted to have an exhibit on campus somewhere. The calendar was booked to the end of 2018, but a space opened up so we were able to align the exhibit exactly with when the book was published,” Marks explained.
The exhibition is a collaboration between CIAS, University Gallery and the RIT Press. Marks says their combined networks and contacts contributed to a record number of attendees at the exhibition's opening reception on Sept. 8. Over 250 people showed up to hear Alan Singer introduce the show and to tour the breathtaking work lining the gallery walls.
"Wildlife art has such a wide appeal. Anybody could say, 'I'm not interested in art,' and you could bring them here and it would be engaging."
Marks also credited the approachability of Singer’s work as another key draw. “Wildlife art has such a wide appeal,” she said. “Anybody could say 'I'm not interested in art,' but you could bring them in here and it would be engaging. It reaches just about everyone.”
The artwork adorning the gallery walls spans the duration of the artist’s prolific career. Singer is best known for two famous bird (also know as ornithological) field guides published by Golden Books, and the internationally renowned collection "Birds of the World." His work revolutionized popular and professional ornithology with its realistic and meticulously detailed illustrations of birds in the context of their natural habitats.
“That's the big change. Before it was just scientific diagrams and very, very flat. This brought in naturalism,” explained his son Alan during a tour of the exhibition. “Many of my father's books are still in print, which I think attests to not only the longevity but the accuracy of the work that he did and the usefulness. People put them to work.”
Another factor that set Singer apart from his contemporaries is that he painted from direct observation or from photographs he took himself. This meant that in order to produce a work like "Birds of the World," he had to be a prolific traveler. “He went to Central America and South America, the Caribbean, all over the United States and wherever he had to go to see the birds,” recalled Alan.
Though his expeditions focused primarily on ornithology, Singer took the time to capture many other subjects during his travels. Visitors to University Gallery can enjoy scenes of lions on the Serengeti plains and impressions of the iconic landscapes of the American West, among many others.
History buffs will appreciate watercolor sketches and portraits Singer created during his service in World War II with the Ghost Army, a special battalion dedicated to creating battlefield deceptions.
“We've got his work as something like a journalist in World War II. These are the boats landing on the shores of Normandy. You can see the activity of all this. There are dirigibles up in the sky, there are boats that are half sunk. Of course it's a war, and there's a lot going on,” said Alan.
Anyone exploring the gallery will find themselves inspired by the breadth and quality of Singer's work, but for budding RIT artists, the exhibition holds the extra benefit of casting some light on the process behind the masterpieces.
Alan highlighted a series of rough sketches Singer gave to his publisher as particularly inspiring. “I thought these were very instructive because they show you the starting point of the project,” he said. “This is really meant to be a very educational show if you take a careful look at it you get a good idea of what the process is.”
To expand on the value of the artwork itself, the exhibition will host three publicly open, free speaker events coordinated by the Singer brothers and chosen by the gallery for the cultural and educational enrichment they will provide the RIT community. Two events have already occurred, but there is still one more to attend on Oct. 5, at 5:30 p.m. — The Ghost Army: a talk and documentary screening presented by Rick Beyer, author and filmmaker.
Arthur Singer's contributions to society are both beautiful and enduringly useful, but to Alan, their chief value is their inspirational effect on viewers who cannot help but feel the passion that drove the work of a master.
“If you really have your heart set in your work ... then you're going to inspire people with the work that you do," Alan said. "That's the most important part. People are going to feel the love and joy you get out of doing what you love to do."
The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The show opened Aug. 7 and runs until Oct. 28.