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home : art & exhibits : art & exhibits September 29, 2016

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8/6/2012 9:01:00 AM
Painter of the animal kingdom comes to Sedona
Cher Norville
Cher Norville's paintings of wildlife were inspired by trips to Africa and Canada.
Cher Norville's paintings of wildlife were inspired by trips to Africa and Canada.
By Louise MacDonald

Cher Norville lives in her self-created animal kingdom surrounded by polar bears, a young zebra, a cheetah, a grizzly with mouth agape, an Arizona mountain lion and even a Sedona javelina. These fine paintings not only bring back her three trips to Kenya and Tanzania but also remind her of close encounters, as when her terrified nephew almost jumped through the open roof of a jeep when menaced by a charging elephant. On another close call Cher remembers obtaining a rare head-shot of a menacing rhinoceros.

The animals look out from Cher's many canvases of beasts in the wild painted from her own photographs which were taken during three trips to Kenya and Tanzania and others to Manitoba, Canada and Anchorage, Alaska. Most of her paintings were achieved in oils, her favorite medium and the one in which she achieves her most realistic treatment of animals. Others, including the cheetah and the Arizona bobcat, are painted neatly in metallic acrylics and remain unframed; they have a stylish, crisp, modern look.

"Out in the middle of the Kenyan nowhere" in the early morning, the artist came on two young cheetahs, barely awake. Her once-in-a-lifetime photograph of a yawning cub of the most elusive of all wild animals has been turned into an eloquent watercolor.

The javelina with the battered nose in the oil painting is a more recent achievement since Norville came to Sedona. And a painting created for a Surrealist exhibition in Tlaquepaque cleverly disguises the inclusion of a spider, a snake and a bobcat in a typical red-rock landscape.

Asked how she manages to paint the fur of animals so realistically, the artist replies, "I take a mangy old brush with tattered bristles, and apply it gently." I look at the four-foot-high painting of a very young zebra, perhaps a few months old. It still has its youthful shaggy coat of unmistakable black stripes; in it one can distinguish the black hairs from the white, the velvety eyelashes and the stolid young animal look that expresses curiosity rather than fear.

To become a great painter of wildlife, Cher will need to portray animals in motion rather than always stationary. She should also try including several animals in one painting rather than merely one, for the true story of wildlife is told through couples and herds of animals.

Cher has lived in Arizona most of her life. She was 14 when she first went on safari in Africa with her family. Her first animal painting depicts a Cape buffalo sporting gleaming drops of water on his nose. She received her B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Northern Arizona. In New York and Dallas, pursuing a 30-year career in art, she produced catalogs while directing photo shoots as a graphic designer. It was later as an art teacher at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix that she began to paint seriously and visions of the animals of Africa came back to her.

"Past trips to Africa and Canada had left a life-long impression on me. I had captured on film the beauty of the innocent wildlife that roamed the bush throughout Kenya and Tanzania in Africa and along the tundra in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. These images were so striking that they seemed to ask me to paint them," Norville has written on her website

Coming to Sedona to relieve a longtime illness due to lupus, Cher Norville has been living here for only a year. Nonetheless, her work has been seen in both fall and spring shows at the Sedona Arts Center. In the Village Gallery in Oak Creek her handsome oil paintings and striking acrylics of wild animals are on view. Cher may have lived in Sedona for only a year but her signature works are widely on display.

Louise Sheldon MacDonald is a free-lance writer living in Sedona. She has been an art reviewer in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md.

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