[Courtesy image]

If eyes are the windows to the soul, perhaps the essence of a creature full of power and majesty can be captured in a portrait of its gaze. Visitors and local residents are invited to explore the expressions of birds of prey in a new art exhibit at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North.

The 10 paintings in a series of acrylics titled “Raptor Eyes,” created over nearly a decade, will be on display beginning Saturday, Aug. 5, and the community is invited to join an opening reception for Moab-based artist, Deborah McDermott, that evening from 6 to 9 p.m. The show will continue through Friday, Sept. 1.

Focused on just the eyes and beaks of birds of prey, the series was inspired by owls, a subject McDermott said was loved by young artists with whom she worked as an art teacher in Salt Lake City.

“I loved it, too,” she added.

In her own work, she realized she particularly enjoyed working out a representation of the birds’ eyes, and decided to try a study focused just on facial features. The project evolved into a patterned study, the results of which continue to intrigue her, she said. The compositional uniformity of all 10 pieces, each displaying the same features enlarged and tightly framed with similar geometry, heightens the effect of unique personality in the expressions of 10 different types of raptors.

“When you look at their expressions, it’s easy to imagine human-like emotions behind them,” she said. “The eagle – the expression in his eyes is so self-assured. He’s saying, ‘I am The Eagle.’”

The snow owl, in contrast, offers a calm and settled gaze that seems almost gentle, she said, although she never forgets that all raptors are predators.

“What they’re actually thinking about is what’s on the menu tonight,” she said.

In some of the portraits, she can see the birds’ expressions may actually evoke a sense of fear, which she understands and appreciates.

“I just finished the ‘Great Horned Owl.’ He’s looking out from under these menacing eyebrows,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t feel threatened myself, I’m fascinated. But I have a house cat that I don’t let out … I do love the power in nature, and I think I have a healthy respect for it.”

The features and the color palette are inspired solely from photographs in nature magazines, and her own observations at regional aviaries and on a recent raptor-viewing river trip with Canyonlands Field Institute, she said.

Painted in acrylic on canvas, the portraits strike a tight balance between impressionism and realism, McDermott said. Influenced by her block art, which can be seen at Gallery Moab on Main Street, the decisive speed and direction of the strokes of the Raptor Eyes series retains roundness and texture.

“The challenge for me is that these are representations, but they’re also abstractions,” she said.

This exhibit is a first in August for the MARC, said MARC Director Meg Stewart, and is part of ongoing development of programming to enhance the visibility of artists and their work in Moab year-round.

“(McDermott) approached us, and it’s worked out really well,” she said. “We encourage people to come to us with their work. Keeping it family appropriate is always a good bet because our mission is to promote art for the whole community.”

Receptions like this are an opportunity for artists to connect, and lead to collaboration and support in the art community here, Stewart said.

“People arrive to Moab with art backgrounds of all types,” she said. “Some folks want to show their work, others just want to collaborate.”

It’s all part of the mission of the MARC to build a creative community, she said.

New exhibit focuses on birds of prey

What: “Raptor Eyes” exhibit by Deborah McDermott

When: Saturday, Aug. 5, through Friday, Sept. 1; reception on Aug. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North

Cost: Free

Information: 435-259-6272

When you look at their expressions, it’s easy to imagine human-like emotions behind them … The eagle – the expression in his eyes is so self-assured. He’s saying, ‘I am The Eagle.’