Bob Kuhn, a dear friend of mine and the reigning giant in the artistic depiction of wildlife, passed away on October1, 2007.
Bob Kuhn was the greatest wildlife painter of our time. With his passing, the art world lost more knowledge of that particular genre than exists in all of the other living wildlife artists combined.
It was fantasy master Frank Frazetta who introduced me to Bob’s work. I had asked Frank who his favorite animal artists were. He replied Bob Kuhn and Antoine Louis Barye. I was quite familiar with Barye’s sculptures but had only vaguely heard of Bob Kuhn. I promptly did my homework and was happily rewarded and introduced to a world of first class paintings that exhibited astounding draftsmanship, thrilling original color and impeccable design.
Bob’s work exhibited an impressionistic freedom, energy and gutsy looseness that was completely unlike the work of the vast majority of other wildlife painters. With a profound accumulation of knowledge gained from decades of intensive zoo and outdoor wildlife painting under the guidance of friends and mentors like Paul Bransom and Robert Lougheed, Bob could reveal more about the nature of an animal’s fur with a quick scumble than any of the legion of wildlife painters could who spent hours laboring over the depiction of every hair.
I first met Bob when I enrolled in his final wildlife painting workshop in Loveland, Colorado. I helped him to structure the workshop and we became fast friends. I loved the dry, sparkling wit that laced his conversations. Bob was generous with his knowledge and helpful to everyone. Like Frazetta, Bob’s only expression of disdain was for his imitators.
About a year after the workshop, Bob, a handful of the workshop members and I got together and plein air painted out in Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. I recall him sketching a fox on a napkin during one of our dinners together in Oak Creek. It looked as if he had drawn it from life.
After Sedona, schedules permitting, Bob and I would always try to get together when either of us was in the other’s state. I dedicated my first collection of animal drawings to Bob. Over the years I tracked down and built a complete collection of every single outdoors magazine (Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Argosy, etc.) for which Bob had done illustrations. These magazines provided a fascinating glimpse into Bob’s rapid development from illustrator to fine artist, or “easel painter” as he called it.
The last time I saw Bob was when I drove up to Santa Barbara to hear him speak at the opening celebration of a one man exhibition of his in Los Olivos. He insisted I sit next to him; we had the greatest time talking about art and animals and laughing about life in general. I told him I was planning a trip to Alaska and asked him what he liked best about Alaska, hoping to glean some insider scraps of wisdom in regards to Alaskan wildlife painting.
“THE FISHING!” he exclaimed, his eyes twinkling with pure delight.
The passing of Bob Kuhn leaves a huge hole in the world of art that I doubt will ever be filled; and an even bigger hole in the hearts of those of us who were lucky enough to know him.