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Paint Naturally

In the bygone era of artistic apprenticeships, Mark Joseph Sharer would have studied for years under a master painter, and then sought his own patrons. Today, artists often pursue their dreams around a day job, and Sharer, an Albany native and painter of natural history, feels fortunate to be exhibiting alongside internationally acclaimed experts at the Bennington Center for the Arts this summer—for the second time.

“It’s very selective, it’s international and it’s a great honor to get in,” says Colonie resident Sharer of his admission to the juried show, The Art of the Animal Kingdom XV, which runs through Aug. 8. He also exhibited in the show in 2008.

Sharer, 49, has spent his career studying what some call wildlife art, but which he calls “natural history” art. Like others in this genre, he strives for accuracy not only of the subject—in his case, wild mammals and birds—but also of the vegetation and terrain of the setting. Sharer earned an art degree at Russell Sage College and took painting classes at the University of South Florida, but it was during private lessons with the internationally ac claimed natural history painting masters John Seerey-Lester and Robert Bateman that he feels he really advanced.

Sharer’s entry at Bennington shows a cheetah reclining on a hillside (pictured), which is based on studies Sharer sketched during his 2009 trip to Kenya. Some animals he saw there, such as lions, have declined so much in recent years from poaching that Sharer fears his grandchildren may never see them outside of zoos, and he hopes his paintings will both document and heighten awareness of their plight.

His 2008 entry depicted deer in an Adirondack forest, all their senses alert as they prepare to leap out of sight.

This is the 15th year that the private Bennington Center for the Arts has hosted Art of the Animal Kingdom, and gallery director Shirley Hutchins says it is one of the few such exhibits in the eastern United States this year. (Another is the spectacular Focus on Nature XI show at the New York State Museum.) Natural history art is wildly popular out West, but has never had the same following here, says Hutchins, and she expects fans east of the Mississippi to travel some distance to see this rare show.

“These are all the same artists that sell out in galleries in the West,” Hutchins says.

For Sharer, the show is a prestigious step in a career balanced with his job and family: his wife, Donna, and their daughter, Lindsey, 9. Sharer is a graphic designer for NYSUT, the statewide education union; previously, he was an editorial artist at the Times Union. He was with the Times Union when he placed 11th nationally in the federal Duck Stamp contest. He sketched the studies of Canada geese for his entry at a pond near the Albany International Airport during lunch breaks.

He expects to produce paintings from his Kenya trip for years to come, and is mulling over how to paint certain scenes he witnessed, including predators on the hunt. He wants people to be captivated by these paintings; he also wants them to realize they do not depict life in a zoo. Sharer grew up in the Capital Region and doesn’t know what engendered his love of natural history, but he does know he will always gravitate to the artwork of the wild.

“You’ll never have anybody walk up to my paintings and say, ‘That’s adorable,’” Sharer explains. “It’s not going to happen.”

—Darryl McGrath

Information on The Art of the Animal Kingdom exhibit can be found on the website of the Bennington Center for the Arts, benningtoncenterforthearts.org. Sharer’s website is markjosephsharer.com.

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