By painting his “Hoot Owl” in orange colors, I think my father, artist John H. Stermer, was having fun and peaking our curiosity. I see stoic owls, teaming with energy as they wait for the night’s hunt. What do you see?
I remember when my Dad painted his owls, titled “Hoot Owl”. The owls were recently purchased and reside in a new collectors home. I was talking to my Mother, Lucianna, about the painting and thought I would share my remembrances.
At the time when Dad painted the owls I was studying zoology at Western New Mexico University (WNMU) in Silver City, NM. I remember talking about animals and biology when we would go out on evening walks. Some evenings we would hear owls in the neighborhood.
Dr. Zimmerman, Ornithologist
I also remember that my Dad had conversations with WNMU’s ornithology professor Dr. Dale A. Zimmerman. Dr. Zimmerman shared a common interest with Dad: painting. He was painting bird illustrations for field guides. I imagine that Dr. Zimmerman and Dad talked about birds in addition to conversing watercolor painting.
Richard Bove’ and Vincent Malta, Artists & Friends
Another event occurred about the same time that the owls were painted. Dad’s friends Vincent Malta (Instructor Emeritus, The Arts Student’s League, New York, NY) and Richard “Doc” Bove’ (Instructor Emeritus, Pratt Institute, New York, NY) were visiting. Dad, Doc and Vincent were each conducting workshops in Silver City. I remember having a conversation about how one might paint birds and animals in a fresh and exciting way.
What exactly inspired Dad to create the owl paintings I do not know. I imagine it was a convergence of events; conversations and nights spent listening to owls. I figure Dr. Zimmerman, Doc Bove’, Vincent Malta and I all contributed in some way.
I can see my Dad’s eye’s light up when he thought he had a good idea, and imagine the same with the owls. I do remember him being excited about the painting and pleased with the results.
And, the result was a painting with what I think of as an unusual color choice for a painting about owls. What is the story behind the orange in the owl? This is a question I’ve asked myself.
Color as Symbol
My father was acutely aware of the artistic possibilities of color. Being a classically trained painter, this was important to him. He knew of the symbolic meanings associated with different colors. Orange is a warm color associated with activity, happiness, energy, sunshine, tropics, and deserts for example.
Since owls are often a symbol of intelligence, perhaps the orange color alludes to the intellectual powers of the bird. I can imagine the owls sitting on a bush or pine tree branch and scanning their environment during the day. The owls observe and remember the movements of every mouse in the area. Stoically, they wait for nightfall and hunt time to begin. There is energy behind the silent stare of the owl.
Color to Surprise
Sometimes my Father would purposely do something in a painting to surprise the viewer. When I think of owls, for instance, I think of nighttime, dark forests and cool woods. I think of black, blues, greens, and violets. I think of quiet muted tones. By using a strong orange, I am surprised. I stop and ask “why; what are the owls doing that would make them orange”?
Optical Powers of Color
Another possibility is that orange was used because it makes the blue and green look good. My father routinely used complimentary or near complimentary colors in his paintings. Complimentary colors, being opposites on the color wheel, make each other “sing” and vibrate optically. Perhaps the blue and green of the owls were what was important to Dad. He used the orange to make the colors glow.
What Do You See
What is the meaning? I think of these owls as New Mexico desert inhabitants; does the orange allude to environment? Or, is the orange used symbolically – referring to the owl as symbol of intellectual power. Could it be that orange was used just to make the blue look good? Or…?
I like to think that my Dad considered all of the properties of color and would have used orange for some or all the reasons listed. With a twinkle in his eyes, he would have loved the orange. He would have been curious to learn what you see in the owls and how the color affects you. Mostly, I think he would be happy that you enjoy the painting too.
+ The photograph of “Hoot Owl” was done by photographer Keith Bauer.
+ Copyright of the painting is John H. Stermer Estate/Stermer Art LLC; used with permission.
+ The painting “Hoot Owl” is in a private collection.
+For more about Keith Bauer, I invite you to see his website http://keithbauer.smugmug.com.
+For More about artist John H. Stermer, I invite please see his website http://johnstermer.com.