Bonnie Marris has been studying and painting wolves, foxes, dogs and horses since childhood. She remembers her family home as a refuge for anyone in trouble, human or animal. “At one time we had two wolves and a three-month-old coyote living with us,” she recalls with a smile. Always, when Marris wasn’t around animals, she was painting them and this love led her to pursue degrees in zoology and animal behavior, studying predictors (wolves, big cats, bears, and foxes).
She cites David Shephard, the great British painter and preservationist, as her hero and mentor. His mastery of color and pure magic on canvas, she says, motivate her every day to become more skillful, to make an animal seem to step off the linen canvas so that viewers hold their breath in preparation for the meeting. If anyone has never had the opportunity to see a fox running through a field and stopping suddenly to listen for a mouse or to watch a pack of wild wolves at play, Marris wants to give that person some of the experience with a painting.
She also wants to let viewers see each animal she paints as an individual, to connect with its soul. “We all know that our dogs and cats have personalities and their own ways of being,” she says. “Well, this is also true of grizzlies, of horses, of wolves—all nature’s creatures. Once in Alaska, about thirty yards from my campsite, one wolf from a pack of twenty got down on her front elbows and wagged her tail at me in play mode. Another time a coyote spent a whole morning watching me watch a grizzly—and then hiked with me all afternoon and sat on a nearby hillside while I waited for more bears. A very grateful wild skunk once patiently let me clean caked mud off him after he had been stuck in a window well.
Studying color and light, Marris says, has become an obsession with her. “Color sets a mood, an atmosphere that can create feelings ranging from contentment to terror. There are colors within colors, too. The many colors in a shadow, for instance, convey cold or heat. The way light plays with the subject is also very important. Light may dance across snow or water, then lead the eye through the thick fur of a wolf’s neck or flash in the corner of a cougar’s eye. I’m fascinated by hue changes in light as it ages with the day.”
Marris is very much a loner, spending most of her time in the fields and woods with a horse or a dog. She does a lot of outdoor photography and sketching and tries to take one major field/research trip a year. Watching polar bears along Hudson Bay, grizzlies fishing in Alaska or elk sparring and bugling is thrilling, Marris says, but at the same time she finds herself impatient to get back to the studio to paint these sights. Then, back in the studio, she can’t wait to get outdoors again!
The passion Bonnie Marris has for wilderness, for animals and for light and color come together in her art and she feels her work has accomplished its purpose when a viewer feels that same passion.