Big Cats in Art and Sculpture
From the Paleolithic people to the ancient Greeks, from the pre-Raphelites to contemporary times, artists throughout history have depicted Big Cats. The largest members of the feline family have inspired Rubens, Bugatti, Delacroix, Puget, Stubbs, Scott, Ernst and Klimt. It is not hard to see why. The sheer power and strength of these animals is remarkable, and artists have celebrated them in paintings, etchings, ceramics and sculpture.
Big Cats are anatomically very defined so they make a great subject to sculpt. You can really see what is going on under the skin, especially if the animal is lean and wild.
Leopard and Cheetah Sculptures
I have been studying Leopards and Cheetahs for over two decades and they are two of my signature subjects. On my visits to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, I have been able to get up close to these big cats. I have also observed them in the wild at Africat in Namibia. Most recently I sculpted Cheetah 2017 and Leopard 2017 as companion pieces. They are scaled to each other and make a great pair, but are available individually.
A couple of years ago, I sculpted Leopard Climbing Rocks 2016 and Leopard Ambush 2016. They were originally for an interior designer to place in a niche in a corridor of a London house. As with all my big cats, I chose poses which highlight the characteristics and anatomy of these animals.
Sometimes in the wild, I see a moment of animal behaviour that inspires me to sculpt. For instance, Cheetah on a Termite Mound 2014 came about when I was in Kenya. I saw a cheetah standing on a termite mound looking out. I was able to take photographs and that image stayed with me for a long time. It was one of those inspiring moments which only really happen on my research trips. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is a vitally important part of my work.
Leopards, Three in a Tree 2014 was inspired by observing leopards at AfriCat in Namibia. I wanted to convey a sense of wildlife in action, each leopard in a different pose. The piece is a dynamic snapshot of life in the Kenyan bush. The leopards are alternately reclining on, stretching and dismounting from a rough branch.
Life Size Leopard and Cheetah Sculptures
In 2012, I made Cheetah Life Size Launch Pad and Cheetah Life Size Foot Down. Working at this scale gives me scope to use large gestural marks to create movement. These two sculptures of big cats came about after a trip to Namibia, tracking cheetah on foot with a guide. It was so exciting and such a privilege to watch these elegant lithe animals in their natural habitat. The sculptures work as a pair, aiming to present a freeze frame sequence of a cheetah chasing its prey. I love seeing those sculptures placed outside. In an otherwise ordinary garden, they create a powerful and unexpected impact.
I also made Leopard Stalking Life Size 2012 that same year. He slinks along, close to the ground, intent on noiselessly shadowing his prey. It was an opportunity to really explore the anatomy beneath.
Similarly, Leopard Life Size Climbing Tree 2008 was an earlier leopard study where the animal’s muscular build was on display. I am often struck by how perfectly big cats have evolved for their habitat. We might be top of the food chain, but big cats come a close second!
I was lucky enough to visit India on a research trip in 2015 so as to observe and study tigers in the wild. Of course, with their distinctive markings and impressive physique, tigers have been the subject of artists since time began. There is something almost magical about their ability to hide, camouflaged perfectly in the forest. I was thinking of this when I sculpted Tiger in a Tree 2016. The tiger lies silently along the branch of a tree, watching intently.
There is simply no comparison between a wild tiger and one confined in a zoo. Because they no longer have to fend for themselves, the whole character of a caged animal changes. Getting up close to tigers in the wild was incredible. I will never forget seeing a tiger dragging along a freshly killed Samba. The power and might of these big cats is simply awe-inspiring. I think we have an almost primal reaction to them, probably left over from the days of sabre-tooth tigers! Tiger Head Study 2016 was an attempt to communicate some of that intensity.
My big cats sculptures are some of my work of which I am most proud. Observing big cats in the wild has been a privilege and has inspired me over and over again. You can read more about my trip to research tigers in Bengal on my blog.