by Heidi L. Everett
Quiet and gentle. Live in herds. Surprisingly intelligent. Impressive memory. Destructive. Build friendships. Stick up for one another in fights. Listen to their leaders. Show esteem. Feel sad when their friends are sent to slaughter.
These words describe sheep and can be found in the artist’s statement for Sheep Series 2020, a new exhibit at Bad Habit Brewing Co. by local artist Jill Dubbledee Kuhn of St. Joseph.
“There’re good qualities about being a sheep and others that aren’t so hot,” she said. “It seems sheep and humans have several things in common.”
The series includes 12 16-by-16-inch acrylic on canvas paintings of sheep, some wearing masks.
When asked to create an exhibit, Dubbledee Kuhn first thought about painting a variety of things.
“I was going to do landscapes and whatever tickled my fancy,” she said.
But then she was looking through an old sketch book and found an image she had sketched of a sheep, and she liked it.
She created the series both as a distraction and side effect from the noise of 2020, she said.
“The conversations people were having about wearing masks, not wearing masks, what to believe or not believe about the coronavirus. I found it was easy to get angry about things, but that often didn’t really help the situation,” she explains. “Doing this series during these stressful times became calming and meditative for me.”
The vibrant colors used in the series are a sharp contrast to how some view the pandemic as well as actions taken – or not taken – to live through it.
“These may appear as black-and-white issues, but we don’t know the reasons behind why someone isn’t wearing a mask, for example,” Dubbledee Kuhn said.
She liked the idea of making a connection to what’s going on in our world at this time to sheep.
“Even though humans are rather independent in our thinking, we also are the type that needs community,” she said. “We felt that more than ever having to be as isolated as we have been this last year. I’m an introvert, and even I was getting antsy.”
Herd immunity and herd mentality were a couple of the phrases that would “marinate” in her head as she painted.
“This has been a trying time, but I’m hoping when people look at the sheep they will find some humor, maybe find some beauty or maybe find a sense of calmness in their style and commemorate this period of time,” she said. “That is one of the roles art has in our society. It does indeed reflect what is going on around us in a time period.”
Dubbledee Kuhn hasn’t painted an animal series since 2004 when she did a tribute to alpacas, an animal one can find roaming freely about the wooded wonderland she shares with husband Tom Kuhn.
“Bo and Finnegan are hilarious,” she said of her alpacas, one of which is pictured below. “Their heads are smaller than llamas, so they look like they are sheep that somebody pulled too hard on their neck and made it long. They have so much personality.”
Her alpacas make her smile, and Dubbledee Kuhn said she hopes her sheep paintings will have the same effect.
“That is my mission with art,” she said. “To make people smile.”
Sheep Series 2020 is on display and available for purchase at Bad Habit Brewing Co. Cards and prints can be found at Bad Habit and Minnesota Street Market. The artist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.