Honing your artistic skills can be a huge challenge once you've set your sights on realism. For wildlife painters, they need to be masters of it all - they can't spend 20 years mastering the human form when the world is filled with mountain lions, birch trees, stag beetles and granite. 

The artistically-restless Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen goes further than many wildlife artists. With each work, he tackles some new challenge of subject matter or composition. 

A Circle Unbroken - Spotted Towhee © Carel Brest van Kempen, 2015. Acrylic on board, 30"x20".

A Circle Unbroken - Spotted Towhee could have been the top third of the painting, and it already would have been masterful expression of nature in pigment and polymer. The little Towhee, standing on some lingering snow (meticulously dappled pointillist dots giving it that melted-yesterday, froze-again-overnight kind of look); a tangled copse of grasses, surrounded by drying out old leaves; the base of an old tree wearing lichen and shelf fungus; the scraped and rounded edges of abandoned bricks.

One of the incredible qualities of Brest van Kempen's painting techniques is the scale: you have to go pretty close to start seeing the brush strokes instead of the objects they depict. Take a look at this lichen and shelf-covered tree bark:

Detail from A Circle Unbroken - Spotted Towhee © Carel Brest van Kempen.

As noted, Brest van Kempen doesn't stop with the Towhee. He adds another element to the composition's "circle". Spring is a time for renewal and growth, and the receding snow is revealing human bones, slightly scattered no doubt from wild scavengers or shifting winter winds. A Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterfly rests on the skull. It's a peaceful scene, nature returning to a type of equilibrium after being punctuated by some mysterious violence in the season before. 

 

Detail from A Circle Unbroken - Spotted Towhee © Carel Brest van Kempen. Even the skull is in an unusual angle, lending both natural consequence to the scene and challenging the artist's skills.

In the last few years, since taking my own work online, I've been fascinated by each one of Carel Brest van Kempen's works. In an already challenging artistic genre, he takes the harder road each time. Our delight comes from discovering the challenges he had masterfully set for us as viewers.