By Derek Ferrar
When Big Island painter Andrew Plack sets out to create one of his signature oils of Hawai‘i’s native birds, he draws on both of his lifelong passions: art and nature. "I have biology in my mind," Plack says, "and fine art in my heart."
Survivors of the Sandwich Islands 1995
Plack takes pains to portray his forest scenes with scientific accuracy, placing "the correct bird in the correct habitat, with the correct atmosphere." For each work, he does extensive research—reading, working with biologists and volunteering for forest projects. "I’ve done a lot of hiking," he says, "just sitting and watching, trying to get the feeling of the forest. Painting birds has taught me to be a birder."
Trained at the Art Institutes of Chicago and San Francisco, the thirty-five-year-old painter works exclusively with a "classical palette," eschewing synthetic colors in favor of traditional oils that "use only the pigments that nature can provide." When he first moved to Hilo in 1990, he started out painting biologically accurate underwater scenes, but soon found that the market for ocean art was flooded. Then Natalie Pfeifer, who at the time headed the highly regarded Volcano Art Center gallery, took him under her wing. "She told me that if I could tune into the mountain the way I tuned into the ocean, she’d be happy to hang my art," Plack says. "So I started hiking, learning the plants. And when I came back with a bird picture, she loved it."
While he strives for biological precision, Plack says, the heart of his work still lies in communicating feeling. "People need to feel the painting," he says emphatically. "The bird needs to breathe."
Pueo Harvest Moon 1996
Plack’s work is available at the Volcano Art Center and from the artist directly at (808) 935-7207, or online at arplack.com.