Writer Shannon Severson

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he talons of a gray hawk curl around a bare branch as it takes a hunting break. A playful litter of cougar cubs scratch and climb. A mother elephant and her baby take a stroll through the tall plains grasses.

These moments depicting the beauty and personality of animals in the wild are captured on canvas by talented local artists at the Phoenix Zoo’s Art on the Wild Side — an exhibition that will run through May 31 in the Savanna Gallery located inside of the zoo’s newest restaurant,  Savanna Grill.

When the Phoenix Zoo’s director Bert Castro enlisted the help of board member Jean Bingham to catalog the zoo’s art inventory, the idea for the exhibition was born. Art on the Wild Side was inspired by the growing collection of sculptures and paintings throughout the property.

Since the spring of 2019, the Phoenix Zoo has hosted biannual art shows featuring local painters and photographers who share their work and donate 20% of sales to the zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts.

“The zoo wants to give people experiences that enrich the community, inspire them to experience the natural world and to support conservation,” Castro says. “It creates an emotional connection.”

One of this spring’s three featured artists, Lucy Dickens is known for her landscapes with intricate depictions of light and shadow. Every painting is accompanied by a written story that seeks to give greater detail, inviting the viewer to become part of the moment. A recent safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania with her husband inspired the work that she is displaying during the Phoenix Zoo’s exhibition.

“We visited five breathtaking preserves,” Dickens says. “It was an artist’s dream come true. I could hardly wait to get in my studio to start painting. I’m unveiling my Safari Adventures series at the exhibition. What excites me the most is that, together with the Phoenix Zoo, my collectors and myself, we are truly making a difference in the world.”

Meanwhile, Joye DeGoede’s JoyEful Party Animals art playfully juxtaposes reality with fantasy. Her whimsical pieces appeal to all ages. She is the Gallery at el Pedregal’s artist in residence at the Boulders Resort in Scottsdale and was recently invited by the U.S. State Department Arts in the Embassies program to exhibit at a three-year show in the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro.

“My work inspires the viewer to see the fun in the mundane and the vast opportunities for joy in our everyday world,” DeGoede says. “I love painting the surrealistic mixture of animals imitating human habits and in their natural habitat. I worked to embrace the mission of the Phoenix Zoo and I can use the JoyEful Party Animals to raise awareness locally [and] internationally and make a small financial contribution to the efforts.”

Anne Peyton rounds out this spring’s featured artists. For many years, she was one of the most sought-after motorsports artists. Today, her brushes depict the beauty of the natural world as she returns to her love of wildlife — the subjects of her earliest paintings at her grandfather’s Fort Collins, Colorado home, where she would spend hours sketching and painting the birds that came into his yard.

Peyton gets up close and personal to her subjects through her volunteer work at Liberty Wildlife — a Scottsdale-based animal and bird rehabilitation and education organization that trains owls, hawks, eagles and falcons to be comfortable around people in educational settings.

“Phoenix has been my home for many years and the Phoenix Zoo has been a big part of my time here,” Peyton says. “To have my art exhibited at the zoo is quite an honor. Many people who love birds will be able to enjoy my work and, hopefully, they will learn something about birds that they did not know before they studied the art.”

With the Phoenix Zoo drawing almost 1.4 million annual visitors from all walks of life, Dickens, DeGoede and Peyton’s work is getting a lot of exposure to new audiences through Art on the Wild Side.

Castro says that it is been exciting to see how enthusiastically the zoo’s guests have been responding to the art featured in the exhibition.

“We see kids who want to sit at a certain table in the restaurant because it’s near an animal they like,” Castro explains. “People have been very respectful of the art. It has been great for the artists, the kids and the parents. Art on the Wild Side has been a wonderful experience all around.”


Art on the Wild Side

Through May 31 | Daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Savanna Gallery at the Phoenix Zoo

455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix

Adults $24.95+ | Children $16.95+

602–286-3800 | phoenixzoo.org