Rebecca Haines

Rebecca Haines’ “Threshold” is part of her solo exhibit at Rare Gallery.

Having grown up in Wyoming, artist Rebecca Haines has seen her share of wildlife.

The animals and birds she’s observed — deer, coyotes, bison, owls, lynx, hawks and more — weave their way into her paintings, along with some of their history.

Working with Native American artists over the past 15 years has expanded Haines’ universe, opening her up to the spiritual meanings of the wild animals she grew up seeing.

“They believe we can learn much about being good humans and being in balance with all living things if we look to the animals as guides,” Haines said. “That belief is strongly embedded in me as well.”

“Lifelines,” one of the paintings in a show of Haines’ work at Rare Gallery this week, depicts two bison, one more natural and the other more of a spiritual being.

“To me bison represent the wise Grandfather being who has been here for a very long time and has seen much beauty and much destruction,” Haines said. “In his wisdom he is worried about the humans and what they continue to do to the planet, the other animals and to each other. For me this painting represents a wise ancient voice trying to reach out to us to let us know we are all connected, we are all part of the same world, the same life.”

Personal and universal interaction with wild animals, as well as people’s tales about them, are the inspiration for Haines’ work. Animals haven’t been “schooled” and still retain much of the mystery of the universe, she said. As much as we can learn about animals, we will still never know everything.

“When we are very young almost everything in life holds wonder for us,” Haines said. “Animals, nature, people, places, everything. As we grow and are educated and learn to classify everything into this box or that box, much of the ‘wonder’ of life is explained and reasoned away. For me there is still rich mystery in the lives of animals and how they exist on our planet, the way they move, the way their eyes capture us.

“To me they represent the sacred wonder and awe of life,” she said.

Haines also draws inspiration from other artists, but more from their marks and works than from their words and philosophies.

“We speak the same language, which makes me feel a part of a long continuum going back to the cave painters,” she said.

Haines combines her history of being a photorealistic portrait painter with her love of loose mark-making and sweeping gestural lines, strokes, smears and smudges. The finished product is part realistic representation, part abstract imagery that she hopes brings viewers in to a familiar image or form and engages them in a new way.

That new way allows for a wider perspective and perhaps a more magical communion with the elusive creatures, and thereby with nature as a whole, she said.

“People always love how the eyes look so real,” Haines said. “They feel like they’re looking into the eyes of an actual living being.”

Haines works with oil bars and china markers, a type of grease pencil. The oil bars are permanent oil paint congealed into a solid bar that’s easy to use with her hands. She doesn’t like using paintbrushes, preferring to draw with the paint on paper. The china markers create soft flowing lines that move easily within the oil paint, she said, and when used back and forth with the paint they become permanently embedded in it.

“I love the richness, texture and feel of oil paint,” she said, “but being a drawer I prefer to ‘draw’ the images rather than use a paintbrush.”

Haines hopes people will feel a sense of wonder and mystery, like they had when they were a child, while looking at her work.

“I want them to not feel the need to ‘explain’ or decipher the mystery but just to feel the magic of it,” she said.

Some of Haines’ favorite responses from people have been that they could feel the intelligence of the animal coming through the painting.

“They sense a familiarity and yet they’re not quite sure, but it seems somehow like the animals are talking to them or moving somehow,” she said.

Contact Erika Dahlby at 732-5909 or

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