I paint portraits of endangered species because I am concerned about their survival. My intent is to bring to life an equal being that is present and self-possessed. These are distinct and specific animals, not generic representatives of their kind.
In 2015, I began to meet all the animals I paint. To find them, I travel to zoos. Where possible, I spend days visiting and revisiting the same animals, sitting with them, talking to them, taking pictures, speaking with their keepers. Most regard me in return. Back in my studio, aided by these images and my impressions, I paint the being I met.
The painterliness of the surface is of great interest to me. As a self-taught artist, my most important tools have always been experimentation and observation. I want to pull together the spiritual and the earthly in my work, to get to the essence of my subjects. I am not a photo-realist. My interests lie more in fur-ness than fur and I experiment continually to achieve textural details without specifically painting them, depending on translucent layers and cheap frayed brushes.
Dawn Howkinson Siebel was born during a snowstorm in Lake County, Indiana, in 1950. Trained in the theatre at Carnegie-Mellon, she moved to New York City in 1972 to be an actress and quickly earned a Broadway credit. Almost as quickly, she lost interest in the theater as a career. A class at the New School introduced her to a wax-resist dye process called “batik” and she fell for its complexity and how it freed her to draw. This lead to 12 years as a dyer, beginning with batiked t-shirts sold in craft fairs and ending with one-of-a-kind hand-colored silk clothing. She has a t-shirt in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution from the early days. A decade later she sold her collection of hand-painted silk kimonos to Bergdorf Goodman and embarked on an 18-month trip around the world with a set of watercolors in her backpack.
In 1994, she abandoned New York for Boulder, Colorado, and there, in a community of many working artists, she finally found the gumption to devote herself fully to art. Oil became her medium of choice in 1998. In 2009, she began Better Angels, 343 oil portraits of the New York City firefighters who died on 9/11. Partnering with the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation, she moved back east in 2010 to complete the paintings and work on all other aspects of what became a national traveling exhibit. The project took three years, was profoundly instructive, and changed the arc of her future work.
Resettling in Easthampton, Massachusetts in 2012, she began developing a new body of portraiture, painting the world’s endangered species. By 2015 she was meeting every animal she painted and working from her own documentation. Dawn considers this body of work to be an advocacy for these animals and their right to be.
As a visual artist she is self-taught and always learning.