Flexible. Adaptable. Supple.
While these sound like requirements for a CrossFit athlete, they aptly describe the attitude of an artist, specifically, Todd Telander of Walla Walla.
The painter and illustrator — who specializes in everything from commercial illustration to teaching art students from 10 to 80 years old — toggles back and forth between tasks with irrepressible fluidity, one moment brushing oil-painted cows onto a loose, almost abstract background, the next finessing exquisite detail on a falcon for a birder’s field guide.
Telander, who completed a graduate-level program in scientific illustration at the University of California in Santa Cruz, has been combining two seemingly disparate disciplines — science and art — for the last 25 years. Working as a freelance artist on a national and international level, Telander has undertaken commissioned works for Greenpeace, the Maui Ocean Center of Hawaii, the Denver Zoo in Colorado, the University of Chicago Press, and the Golden Gate National Parks Association in California, among many, many others.
Travel research for commissions has taken Telander as far as New Zealand to study a Northern Gannet colony, as well as closer to home: the Puget Sound Islands to study Herring Gulls; the Rocky Mountains for elk; the Platte River of Nebraska for Sandhill Cranes. A longtime birder, Telander found that the research needed to accurately render images to the exacting standards of commercial clients translated well to other subject matter, and part of completing a commission may include fashioning 3-D clay sculptures of the subject to see how light will fall on an object from different angles.
It requires precision, attention to detail, and a scientific mind.
But other times, as Telander approaches his fine artwork of representational yet impressionistic landscapes, malleability and elasticity elbow their way to the forefront, resulting in paintings that are spacious, airy, soft, and textural, with sweeping brushstrokes and an eye for light, movement, and emotion.
“If my art makes a statement, it is up to the viewer to decide,” Telander says. “But for me I promote peace, contemplation, beauty, and solidity, and I suppose I like to share my vision of these things with others.”
Telander finds inspiration from the natural world, and since moving to the valley 13 years ago with his wife, Kirsten, Telander has explored an area that he says felt immediately like home, because it reminded him of his hometown of Chico in Northern California: he loves the open space, the agriculture, nearby mountains, and college town atmosphere.
“There is an astounding amount of visual interest here,” he says.
Locally, Telander has worked with various wineries in creating labels for their runs, and images of his paintings grace bottles from Goose Ridge, Woodward Canyon, Figgins, Dowsett Family, and Seven Hills. He has also, through commercial commissions as well as the unavoidable interaction with them in a rural setting, developed a fondness for cows. An especially arresting piece is Cows in the Snow, featuring a lone figure separated off from the herd, staring boldly into the face of the viewer.
A typical day may find Telander out in, literally, the field, sketchbook in hand, then back to the home studio — “A wonderful space with skylights, a cement floor, an antique curved-glass bookcase, and French doors leading out to our garden” — where he guides that session’s 6 or 7 students through the intricacies of classical, representational painting of still life, landscape, and portraiture. Then it’s off to Colville Street in Walla Walla for some time at the Telander Gallery, which he and Kirsten opened in 2013.
Telander licenses his work through McGaw Graphics of New York, and his original work resides across the continent.
“I appreciate each and every collector,” he says. “One of my more meaningful sales was a painting of Sandhill Cranes to Estelle Leopold, the daughter of the famed writer and conservationist Aldo Leopold,” considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology, and instrumental in the founding of the U.S. wilderness system.
Awards for Telander include first place and Best of Show at the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts (Joseph, OR); and the Pendleton Center for the Arts; as well as a an Artist in Residency at Rocky Mountain National Park and a scholarship to study under master painter Ray Vinella at the Taos Institute of Arts.
But while awards and acclaims are gratifying, Telander muses, they are in the end only temporary.
It is the work that matters: inspiration, light, atmospheric effect, the reaction of viewers and clients. These have staying power.
“I work to continue providing provocative, inspiring work at every step.”
Todd Telander is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, April 10 through Saturday, May 6, 2017.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.