What do a series of photos chronicling the moments before a 400lb mountain gorilla hits you in the chest, days waiting in 45-50 degree heat hoping for that one shot of a mother tiger and her cubs at a watering hole, and a break neck jog up the side of a mountain ridge in northern India for the once in a life time view of a snow leopard lounging after startling its prey have in common?
Well, for one thing, they are all experiences that artist Edward Spera has had in his nearly thirty-year career of capturing animals in their natural habitats, both with his camera, and then with his paints, and for another, they’re honestly just a tiny sample of the stories that he has to share.
It’s undeniable, whether you stick your head in through the door or walk right into Edward’s gallery located at 91 Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake, that you’ve found the sort of place that you immediately want to explore, and Edward himself encourages that. Very hands on with the gallery, even doing most of his work at the front, he is always on hand to share the stories of his paintings – and what stories they are.
Entirely self-taught, Edward spends most of his time with his paintings adding layer after layer, focusing in on the details that bring the animals to life. Spending roughly two to three months travelling in a regular year, venturing across Africa or Asia, and diving into the oceans, every single painting is based on a photograph that Edward has taken himself, harkening back to an experience he is now sharing with those who view his work.
While Edward does always try to get the best shots that he can – the artist in him would accept nothing less – he doesn’t need to have the “National Geographic” cover photo to create a masterpiece. He uses all of his photos for composition reference, and then proceeds to dive into those previously mentioned layers, expanding from a simple sketch io a beautiful piece of art that is full of life – and it is that life that Edward wishes to capture.
Nature, to Edward, has already created the perfect picture. While he is too modest to state that he has achieved his goal, he is looking to get as close to what nature has given him with each painting that he makes. Rarely smoothing out the imperfections that all animals have, just as we humans do, Edward tries to paint what he sees, hoping that through his work people will come to understand and love these animals as much as he does. It is important to Edward that people understand the beauty of the animal kingdom, but more than that, that these creatures are not all that different to us. Through his years of watching them, he has managed to capture their habits, watch the way that they interact with the world, observing their various thought processes and the lessons that they teach their children – living their lives just as we do.
With this in mind, Edward always respects nature on his trips, working primarily with telescopic lenses, and doing his best to keep his distance from the animals; he respects the fact that he is entering their homes, not the other way around. Though, this does not always work out as planned. As previously mentioned, he’s been shoved in the chest by a 400lb mountain gorilla, woken up to find a grizzly asleep outside his tent, and even hit in the head by the tailfin of a baby humpback whale.
This job is not without its risks, but neither is life – you could just as easily be hit by a bus as eaten by a tiger, and as Edward laughingly put it, at least while the tiger is chowing down on you, there will be a small part of your brain thinking “… cool.”.
In the end, Edward’s work is all about that experience. The pieces that stand out the most to him, are the ones that have the best memories, the most breathtaking moments attached to them. He knows that we can’t save everybody, or everything, but if his work inspires just one person to be a little kinder to nature, to donate to a worthwhile cause, or better yet, protect and respect nature in their own backyard, then he has achieved what he always wanted to do.
So, if you have a spare moment, check out Edward’s work, marvel at the wonders of nature – and then get out, and do a little preserving yourself. After all, it only takes one small gesture from each of us, to make a big difference, doesn’t it?
Written by: Jillian Kent | Photography by: Red Seven Photography