To see a slideshow of Mark Eberhard's paintings, click here.
August 2012 Issue
Call of the Wild
Painter Mark Eberhard captures nature's beauty on canvas.
Wildlife artist Mark Eberhard has sketched and photographed animals in Kenya and all over the United States. But most days, the 63-year-old painter doesn’t have to venture beyond his back yard — near the banks of the Little Miami River — to find inspiration.
In fact, sometimes he doesn’t even have to leave the house.
This spring, one of Eberhard’s favorite subjects — a cardinal — built her nest right on the other side of his living room window. In winter, two dozen cardinals at a time show up at the feeder outside his studio.
A barred owl and her fledglings — a rare sight — once appeared in his Terrace Park driveway. A pair of Cooper’s hawks took up residence in the back yard. And each morning, a little rabbit waits patiently for Eberhard to emerge with a handful of cracked corn and sunflower seeds for breakfast.
Clearly, the word is out that wildlife is welcome at the Eberhard house.
“Growing up and living in the Midwest has made me look at and appreciate the more commonplace,” Eberhard says. “I’ve been on safari in Africa, explored the Everglades, experienced the animals and landscape of the West. But when I look out my studio window, I don’t see lions, alligators, a prairie full of bison or a majestic mountain range. I see chipmunks!”
And it’s Eberhard’s ability to capture common things with uncommon grace and detail that’s earned him a place as one of America’s best wildlife painters — particularly when it comes to birds.
“For me, there is incredible variety in their shapes, sizes and coloring,” he says. “Having the opportunity to experience and observe the four seasons here in Ohio also gives me unlimited possibilities for paintings.”
The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Wyoming recently honored Eberhard with an exhibition inspired by his 2008 painting, “On the Edge.” In the image, the powerful wings of a brown pelican curl elegantly as they lift the great bird into the air. An ivory-billed woodpecker and other birds emerge from the edge of the canvas, only half in view. At that time all were “on the edge” of extinction. At the top is a pointed question from poet Wallace Stevens: “But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields return no more, where then is paradise?”
The museum placed the newly acquired work alongside those of John James Audubon and Andy Warhol to show how Eberhard’s style compares with these legendary artists.
While many wildlife artists pose their subjects with clinical stiffness in the center of the frame, Eberhard’s style is far more natural: Yellow-headed blackbirds cling sideways to cattails, defying gravity. A snowy owl is all but invisible in the winter landscape. A cheetah locks its hungry eyes on something just outside the borders of the painting. A wild turkey is so nearly three-dimensional, you want to reach out and feel the rough texture of its neck, but you’re afraid if you do, the bird might jump and run for the woods.
Eberhard renders his subjects with intense accuracy, yet his works are like moving pictures, not photographs. It’s as if the viewer has stumbled into an animal’s habitat and is seeing the bird or beast in one glorious, tremulous, split second before it bolts away and disappears from view.
“I feel the paintings are already out there in the universe,” Eberhard says. “I have simply been given the ability to see them.”
And the ability to find beauty where others do not. Take the starling, for instance. A homely bird to most, but not to Eberhard.
“The iridescence of their coloring — there’s purples and greens, reds in them. And the tips of all their feathers have a little light yellow on them,” he says. “If you look closely, they’re a very gorgeous bird. It’s the design and color that most people miss.”
Eberhard still lives in the lush river lowlands where he grew up playing Lone Ranger in the woods with friends, picking blackberries, and encountering families of bobwhite quail.
His grandparents gave him his first bird book at age 5. A lifelong passion was sparked. “I was interested in art as far back as I can remember,” Eberhard says. “My mother told me I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil.”
The artist earned degrees in design from the University of Cincinnati and Yale before opening a graphic design business in nearby Cincinnati with Alice, his wife of 34 years. He credits that grounding in graphic arts with guiding his work today.
The Eberhards ran their business by day and Mark painted by night. He worked from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. — after everyone had gone to bed — so he could spend time with the couple’s three children.
Now he paints full time — primarily oil on canvas — and maintains the same tireless ethic. He works each day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch. In the afternoon, he walks his dogs on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, then works into the evening, stopping only for dinner.
He considers those daily walks to be as important as time spent at the easel.
“If I am working on a painting or an idea for a painting, I can just walk out the back door and find a tree branch or some leaves I can use in it,” Eberhard says.
In addition to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Eberhard’s work is part of the permanent collection at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin. A number of his paintings are in the corporate offices of Frisch’s Restaurants in Cincinnati, and have appeared in wildlife books and magazines.
“I hope people enjoy looking at my paintings,” Eberhard says. “I want them to see the beauty and humanity in nature that I see. A bare tree branch can be just as beautiful and moving as a Grand Canyon vista. I hope people will slow down and take time to not just look at the trees in the forest, but the leaves on the trees.”
Eberhard’s work can be seen at Row House Gallery, 211 Main St., Milford 45150. For more information, call 513/831-7230 or visit rowhouse.com.