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September 4, 2013

Local artist wins international honor from BBC

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — An Oneonta artist has won a high-profile international art contest.

David Kiehm’s oil painting, “Foundation Wall,” has been selected as the winner of the BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year Competition 2013 in the International Artists: Birds category.

“It’s a huge confidence-booster for my work,” Kiehm said.

The contest, which is in its fifth year, is organized by the magazine BBC Wildlife. It features 13 categories, 11 of which are reserved for artists from the United Kingdom, while two are reserved for international applicants. An overall award is also given, the winner of which is named BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year. That award was given to Georgina Gibbons this year for her painting “Dangerous Waters.”

The 2013 competition had 1,400 entries.

Kiehm grew up near Utica, and currently resides in the Oneonta area. A former art director for the Danbury Mint’s wildlife programs, for the past five years he has worked full time as a wildlife painter.

Kiehm said that he had won regional and national awards, but that the BBC Wildlife contest was his first venture into international competition. He submitted two paintings to the competition, “Foundation Wall” and “Slow Jay,” both in the International Artists: Birds category, and both of which made it to the final round of judging.

On having both his paintings make the finals Kiehm said, “I won in my own mind, in a way.”

“Foundation Wall” shows a great horned owl next to a old foundation wall, while “Slow Jay” shows a peregrine falcon that has just captured a blue jay.

As for winning the category Kiehm said: “I am shocked, and still am.”

Kiehm also praised the level of competition.

“I think they’ve already attracted incredible talent,” he said.

Kiehm said he found inspiration for “Foundation Wall” during his daily walks with his golden retriever, Maggie. On these walks, the two pass an old, abandoned farmstead on state land that borders Kiehm’s property where a great horned owl has taken residence.

“This is his homestead now,” said Kiehm. “He’s sort of the new tenant in a lot of ways.”

Kiehm said that while he’d seen and sketched both the owl and the foundation, the painting’s composition wasn’t derived from any one sighting.

“You never see like (a) perfect set up,” he said.

Kiehm’s prize for winning was to have “Foundation Wall” exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society (MIWAS), which was held this year from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1. The MIWAS exhibition bills itself as the largest annual exhibition of wildlife art in Europe.

“Foundation Wall” is also featured in the September 2013 issue of BBC Wildlife.

“Foundation Wall” is currently for sale, and still in Europe, but Kiehm says there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to sell it.

“If anything, this is going to make me branch out more,” said Kiehm, on how the award will affect the business side of his art. “It’s a shot in the arm.”

Kiehm says that he sells around 15 large paintings a year, which generally go in the $2,000-$5,000 range. Additionally, he sells smaller watercolors and prints.

“A big part of the business is in prints,” he said.

Most of Kiehm’s business is through galleries, but he said he sometimes does commission work.

“Commissions are certainly welcome,” he said.

Kiehm has almost finished building a studio on his property, the construction of which contributed to his decision not to attend the MIWAS exhibition. He said he expects the studio to be finished in two weeks.

When asked what he would say to a kid who wants to pursue a career in art, Kiehm had some very specific advice.

“You have to draw all the time,” said Kiehm. “That’s your head thinking through your hands. Draw, draw, draw.”