Tag Archives: wildlife art

Maximum Impact


Painter John Banovich, 20 years a SCI favorite, Goes Big For Wildlife Art Fans In Las Vegas.

Precious little that John Banovich does these days is small. He’s known for living large, dreaming big, painting expansively. And, when it comes to portraying African animals and conserving them, he is always thinking heroic, stalking opportunities and taking risks in order to achieve maximum visual impact.

“There is nothing that makes a work of art feel truer than when it’s inspired by real life and direct observation,” he says. “Sometimes that means putting yourself into a position where, if things go terribly wrong, you’re in trouble.”

During Banovich’s high-adrenalin forays to gather reference material in the African bush, lions have hunted him. He’s left tuskers and hippos so irritated by his desire to venture closer and look them in the eye that they’ve come stomping at full charge, resulting in narrow escape. Then there’s Cape buffalo. As anyone who has spent time around the temperamental widowmakers knows, he says, lowering one’s guard comes with the threat of imminent peril.

Banovich is not the kind of intrepid seeker who quakes in his boots. His fearlessness is one reason why he’s counted among the best living sporting artists in the world. His oils cover walls in museums, trophy rooms, and office buildings in a dozen countries.

While the 2014 SCI gathering in Las Vegas represents a convergence of personal milestones for Banovich—it marks his 20th year at SCI and his 50th birthday—viewers this year will be treated to the most ambitious showing of works he’s ever staged. He regards the event as his own grateful homage to hunters who have brought his art into their lives.

Red Dawn

“Any success I’ve had,” he says modestly, “reaches back to the days when collectors here expressed their confidence in me and my work. I want my booth to be a place where we can have a party around art.”

Over the years, Banovich has always turned his SCI gallery tent into a happening.  He’s brought in racecars, NASCAR champions and grand pianos, vintage wines, live animals, celebrities, and heroes from the front lines of wildlife conservation.  As a note to readers, Banovich’s original lion painting, “King,” on the cover of this magazine will be featured at auction to raise money for urgent lion conservation efforts. Time limited giclee canvas prints are also being made available to SCI through the last day of the convention in support of the SCI Foundation Lion Defense Fund and Banovich Wildscapes Foundation’s Lion PRIDE initiative.

“John Banovich has raised the bar for excellence in wildlife art,” say Dick and Mary Cabela, the purveyors of hunting and fishing equipment that need no introduction.

Five years ago, a hulking coffee table book, “Beasts: The Collected Art of John Banovich” asserted the diversity and depth of Banovich’s portfolio.  Some critics said it formally announced Banovich’s rightful place in the pantheon of 21st century wildlife artists.  Shocking perhaps is that his rise, in the beginning, was hardly assured.

In 1994, Banovich entered SCI as all newcomer artists do, receiving no preferential treatment and having to earn his way up from the bottom.  His first 10 X 10-foot booth was located off the beaten path, tucked into a corner. “What I love about SCI is the same thing I love about America,” he says. “You create your own opportunities.  The more you mix with people and exchange ideas, the more friends you make. I’m lucky to say that most of my collectors become friends and vice versa.”

A sign of his values, Banovich has never forgotten his humble, working-class roots in the gritty copper mining city of Butte, Montana. He came of age as the mines were shutting down.  The economic devastation lit a fire in him. He spent his youth, drawing, hiking and hunting in Montana’s backcountry, absorbing the adventure scenes that appeared in magazines like Sports Afield and Outdoor Life.

Part of Banovich’s charisma is his athletic build and long-locked rock-star persona.  Half his life ago, he moved away from Butte, first to study art and zoology at University of Montana and then arrived in Seattle as a mere twenty something, working as a personal fitness trainer.

High Roller

“My world was so different, like it is for a lot of men when you’re young. It was contained by the four walls of a gym. I painted only on weekends,” he says.  Some of Banovich’s fitness clients were executives with giant egos, Type-A personalities who had health issues.  “They needed to make a change in their lives.  They needed to get grounded in reality and tend to the things that really matter,” he says, realizing that he, too, had to heed his own advice.

The pivotal year: 1993. At age 29, around the time that the upstart Banovich stunned many by claiming best of snow at the Pacific Rim Art Expo for a lioness painting titled, “In the Heat of the Day,” he also sold his first big painting—a full-framed portrayal of an elephant, his trademark—for $10,000 at the last Game Coin art exhibition in San Antonio.  His big works created a sensation.

Steadily, one work at a time, he grew a global base of collectors while channeling portions of profits to wildlife conservation. This year at SCI, he is displaying a full range of large and small paintings—originals and high-quality giclees—in a space measuring 50 X 60—30 times the square footage of his booth 20 years ago.

“I like to paint big because most of my subjects have a larger than life mystique about them and SCI is an arena where that’s appreciated.”

NASCAR driver, SCI life member, and founder of a namesake driving team Richard Childress started collecting Banovich originals years ago and today he and his wife Judy have several prominently displayed in their North Carolina home.  “We always get compliments on the quality of John’s work when people are visiting,” Childress says.  “They’re so lifelike and detailed that it sometimes feels like they follow as you walk through a room.”

Banovich’s reputation indeed has put him in lofty company. There is perhaps no more harrowing example than that of Tom Siebel, a world-renowned computer software executive and philanthropist, who approached the artist to complete a special commission.

On Aug. 1, 2009, Siebel was in Tanzania on safari watching elephants when he and his guide were charged.  Severely injured, Siebel saw his right leg impaled by a tusk, had his left leg crushed and suffered several broken ribs. He barely survived and his recovery led him into a period of introspection.   Although a deeply private man, he opened up to filmmakers for a documentary that aired in autumn 2013 on the National Geographic Channel.

Bad Day

Siebel asked Banovich, who extensively researched the circumstances and worked with Siebel, to re-create the defining moment. The work, “Bad Day,” was displayed at SCI-Reno in 2013 and hangs today in Siebel’s California office.   “He’s a man who loves nature. He wanted to make sense of what happened and thought that a painting could speak to the experience in ways that words can’t,” Banovich says.

Banovich says SCI played a crucial role in the growth of his career. “In the beginning, I didn’t have exclusive relationships with any agents and galleries. I had my booth at SCI and it taught me there is nothing more rewarding than the personal contact you have as an artist with your clients.”

That contact has fueled almost three-dozen safaris in the African bush, often in the company of SCI collectors. Michael Meldman, founder and CEO of Discovery Land Company, fondly recalls how a conversation about art led to friendship and Meldman’s first trip to Africa, chaperoned by Banovich.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to be shown Africa by anyone besides John.  Having the opportunity to see the land and wildlife with my family by someone so passionate was a-once-in-a-lifetime experience that I plan on doing every year. To have a custom painting of the experience makes the memory even more unforgettable,” Meldman says.

Reflecting on Banovich’s ethic, he adds, “The connection to each piece, along with his dedication to the protection and preservation of the wildlife and environment is truly spectacular. He is a true advocate for the protection and preservation of African wildlife and land.”

Not long ago, the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana needed a work that would command a powerful presence over the mantle of its main lodge where residents from around the world gather.  Sam Byrne, the founder of Cross Harbor Capitol, which owns the ultra-exclusive enclave, turned to Banovich.  “Cold Air-Deep Powder” portrays a herd of bison stampeding through deep snow, an allusion to the kind of downhill ski terrain the club provides.  “It’s perfect,” Byrne says. “I always had a vision of what a Banovich painting would be like in this space and he executed it perfectly.”

Perhaps the most important transformation affecting Banovich over the last 20 years is that he got married to his wife, Amy, and became a father. It caused him to think more deeply about the kind of wild legacy his generation is leaving to the next. And it convinced him that, as a conservationist, there’s no time to waste. Ecosystems, too, are like the human bodies of his fitness clients. In order to be healthy, all of the parts need to function, including predators and prey.

In 2007, Banovich received IRS approval to formally launch the Banovich Wildscapes Foundation. Banovich has seen the carnage of poaching, witnessed dwindling


numbers of game animals in Africa, and watched ferocious debates erupt over whether species should be listed,  “What I do know is that whenever you bring hunters into the equation of problem solving, you make things better on the ground for animals you care about,” he says. “The North American model of conservation can work in Africa but you need to keep hunters in the picture, not take them out.”

That’s why Banovich has supported and partnered with SCI and other hunter membership organizations.  He’s helping to raise millions of dollars for safeguarding lions in eastern Africa and aiding the survival of Siberian tigers in Russia.  The initiatives, funded through the sales of his art, have focused on paying local people to become game guards, trying to help dollars generated by hunting trickle more effectively through communities on the edge of vital habitat, funding scientific research, teaching the value of co-existence and making the case for sportsmen and sportswomen to open up their wallets.

“John is truly one of the artistic masters of our time,” says collector Steve Chancellor, CEO of the American Patriot Group that does business around the world.  “His work gets better with each passing day but he’s much more than a wildlife artist.”

“If my art can bring enjoyment and be a positive, motivating force in people’s lives, then I’m happy,” Banovich says.  “And if it’s hunters leading the way, then all the better.”– Todd Wilkinson


Good Things Come in Small Packages

Linda Besse
Linda Besse

Introducing the Miniature Art Invitational Showcase at the 2014 SCI Convention In Las Vegas

Small paintings and sculptures are poised to make a big impact at the 2014 SCI Convention in Las Vegas.

For the first time in SCI history, the convention will showcase a special exhibition of miniature art — both paintings and sculpture. The showcase is open to exhibitors and other invited guests for submissions and is open to all members who attend the convention to admire and bid on – yes, the art work will be sold during the convention.

Each artist has been invited in advance to offer his or her work in the Showcase.

The Showcase presents only one award – Best of Show – that will be selected by a highly qualified jury of art aficionados. Art created by the award winner will be featured on a future cover of SAFARI Magazine.

Cynthie Fisher
Cynthie Fisher

Submitted works of art exemplify the artists’ best work and skill. Each submission is original and created for the Showcase specifically — not previously displayed elsewhere.

Paintings are limited to 108 square inches maximum. For example, a maximum of 9×12 inches or less. All paintings are professionally framed and “ready to hang,” including high quality custom framing that complements and adds value to the piece. Bronze works and other sculptures must be able to fit within a 12-inch cube – including the base.

Lauren Bone

Each piece of art will be priced by the artist (or the artist’s representative or gallery) at Fair Market Value. Each piece will be offered for sale, and sold, during the Showcase for not less than the Fair Market Value – or a higher price offered by the bidder. Bids for less than the Fair Market Value will be rejected. Unsold works will be returned to the artist.

Bids may be placed until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8. A list of successful bidders will be posted at the display site and at Auction Payment as soon as it is compiled and verified.

This exciting new art program, destined to be an annual event, was developed especially for the 2014 convention in Las Vegas. SCI members attending the convention will have the exclusive opportunity to become a part of this living celebration of art as part of the hunting culture.

Sculpted Elegance

Loet Vanderveen
Loet Vanderveen

Loet Vanderveen, A Master of Stylized Animals In Bronze, Is Today The True Elder of Wildlife Art.

Loet Vanderveen may not be a household name in the Safari Club world.  But he is the undisputed elder of modern wildlife art and may boast the distinction of having his works in wider circulation than any other animal sculptor on the planet.

The prospects are good that Vanderveen may also be making a rare public appearance at SCI when the 2014 edition opens in Las Vegas.

For collectors who savor sleek and stylized sculptures that range from iconic African species to creatures of the ocean, American West, and Far North, Vanderveen has won acclaim for mastering the magnetic allure of the animal form.

Even today as a nonagenarian (a man in his 90s), he still is churning out captivating compositions. The long list of famous clients owning and proudly displaying Vanderveen’s work over the years has included Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the late U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, famed conservative senator Barry Goldwater, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mary Tyler Moore, comedian Bill Cosby and racecar driver A.J. Foyt, winner of the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and Le Mans.

“I began buying Vanderveens 20 years ago because they were affordable and my wife absolutely loved them,” says an SCI lifetime member who has a large collection of wildlife art but who asked not to be identified in this story.  “We have a home in the city that is filled with traditional art and a retirement place in the Desert Southwest that has a more contemporary motif. Loet’s animals fit in well at both.”

loetvanderveenCapeBuffalohnt4evrblog112213Vanderveen’s passion for nature—and his mission to celebrate and protect it—actually began during wartime in an era that now seems distant to many. In 1940, when German bombs were falling upon Rotterdam, Holland, Vanderveen’s birthplace, the artist, then a late teenager, vividly remembers what happened to animals housed in the nearby city zoo.  Authorities shot all the predators such as lions, tigers and bears ironically to spare them suffering and, secondarily, to ensure they didn’t escape. One of the big cats was a lion he had bottle-fed as a cub.

“As a boy, the Rotterdam zoo had been a sanctuary, my favorite place in the world. I credit its influence with giving me the dream of going on safari in Africa,” Vanderveen reflects.  “After the bombing raids, the zoo, like much of Rotterdam, was pretty much destroyed.  Elephants and rhinos and other big animals that weren’t killed or maimed by the blasts were found roaming loose inside the zoo gates. A seal had been propelled out of its water enclosure into a canal and a chimpanzee, shell-shocked, tried to find shelter in a bar.  It was a sight of chaos and pain I’ll never forget, but their survival and resilience also helped people heal.”

It was a metaphor that has stayed with him these last 70 years. The subsequent German invasion drove Vanderveen, orphaned of his parents and half-Jewish, underground though he was captured by the Nazis and thrown in prison. Somehow attaining a release, he joined the armed resistance, hooking up with Dutch fighters in Vichy France and then decamped to the Dutch West Indies before heading to London. There, he received a medal of valor from exiled Dutch Queen Wilhelmina.loetvanderveenGerenukAndTreehnt4evrblog112213

While in England, Vanderveen enlisted in the Royal Air Force with hopes of becoming, ironically, a bomber pilot or navigator, but vision problems stopped him from being assigned to the cockpit.  Following the carnage of war, he vowed to devote the rest of his life to elevating the profile of beauty.

Using his skills as a draftsman, Vanderveen landed jobs in Zurich, Switzerland, London and New York City with clothing designers.  One of the biggest mistakes of his life, he said, was turning down a job offer to collaborate with a young contemporary clothing designer in Paris named Christian Dior.

Dissatisfied with the clothing industry, he would eventually head west in America, settling along the rugged Pacific Coast near Big Sur where his studio exists today. In the meantime, his talent in creating tactile objects earned him three years of mentorship from Fong Chow, the renowned curator of the Far Eastern department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The stint gave him knowledge about ancient Chinese glazing techniques for fired ceramics and, by extension, the nuances of patinas (the surface coloring) that would become his signature when he moved into creating bronze wildlife works.

In 1960, Vanderveen started producing one-of-a-kind wildlife creations in ceramic, 15 years later he moved to bronze, and has expanded to marble from the same Italian quarry used by Michelangelo. “You see a lot of wildlife art that usually is very realistic and detailed,” Vanderveen says.  “I want to achieve a totally different effect and try to convey the essence of the animal or group of animals with a minimal amount of detail.”

Vanderveen says he’s been influenced by art produced during the Han Dynasty in China 2200 years ago and more recently by some of the European animaliers like Rembrandt Bugatti and Francois Pompon.

loetvenderveenBaboonhnt4evrblog112213Many high-end collectors are familiar with Vanderveen’s acclaimed series of pieces created in fine crystal for Baccarat, hencely called “the Safari Collection.” His bronzes range from small portrayals that one can hold in the hand to monuments adorning the grounds of private and corporate clients.

While today there are plenty of talented stylists in wildlife art, people like Simon Gudgeon, Rosetta, Tim Cherry, and Robert Duerloo, Vanderveen was arguably the first to popularize it for a mass market.

Vanderveen, who divides his time between Big Sur and Polynesia, makes few public appearances. But he is planning to be at Call of Africa’s Native Visions Gallery in Las Vegas during the 2014 show.– Todd Wilkinson



Writer, hunter, conservationist and art connoisseur Todd Wilkinson, who pens this column in every issue of Safari, is author of the new critically-acclaimed book, “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.”

From Field to Canvas: Painting from Real Life Experiences


The 2014 SCI Convention is very excited to have a seminar given by noted wildlife artist Joshua Spies. Listen to this international award-winning wildlife artist and conservationist  discuss the process by which he paints from his own experiences, traveling and hunting. Learn how Spies’ desire to work for conservation has led to his success as an artist. And observe Spies in action as he works on a new piece during this seminar. Questions and interaction are encouraged.