Ursus arctos horibilis

Ursus arctos horibilis. Acrylic on canvas. 9" x 12"
Ursus arctos horibilis. Acrylic on canvas. 9″ x 12″

Growing up, we spent two weeks every summer hiking in the Southern tip of grizzly country, the Mission and Swan mountain ranges of Northwestern Montana. Crashing through the mountainside bramble towards the high glacier lakes, we watched for the bear signs: slobber on the huckleberry bush, foul-smelling scat full of indigestible berry husks. We wore jingling bells to reduce the chance we might surprise a foraging bear, carried one loaded magnum in case the worst transpired. At the cabin, we devised an elaborate “bear escape” plan, should our homestead become the target of a hungry ursine burglar. Pervasive in our Montana stories, the grizzly bear was (and still is) a powerful and ominous force in the back of our minds. Luckily, we have not yet initiated the bear escape plan, nor required the loaded magnum on the trail!

Ursus arctos progress
Ursus arctos progress

The grizzly bear is a central part of our family folklore, so I did this small piece as a gift to my Dad, who guided me and the other kids hiking through all the high and low trails of the Missions and Swans. In our family, the bear embodies a spirit of power and resilience in the extreme environments of the North. In some indigenous traditions, the bear is a symbol of strength, and is used in many tales and symbols. I tried to convey this imaginative quality with vibrant color, filling the bear with bold energy, which also lends an illustrative character to the piece.

This is the first piece I made after finishing my last full semester of school. I sat down to work on this and the majority of the painting just cascaded right out of my head, eyes, and hands in about two hours. I couldn’t believe how quickly I just settled right back in to painting after a months-long hiatus. Kind of like when you have a million things to say but are just waiting for the right moment to interject, but suddenly you just blurt everything out at once. Overall, this piece was satisfying and successful because the subject matter is so fun and meaningful, and I used a balanced approach of thoughtfulness in color and composition, but relatively more expressiveness in technique.

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