Alabama artist uses a rifle to create “gun paintings” of wild animals

By Helena Sung
Updated September 30, 2009 11:45 AM
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Art is hardly the first word that leaps to mind when you think of animals and guns. But 34-year-old artist Walton Creel uses the .22-caliber rifle his father gave him as a Christmas gift when he was 15 to create unique animal portraits – made entirely of gunshot blasts.

“Growing up in the south, there’s a big outdoor sports culture of hunting,” Creel, a Birmingham, Alabama native, tells PEOPLE Pets. “I didn’t hunt, but I grew up around guns and was familiar with them.” Several years ago, Creel began exploring how to incorporate guns into his art creatively.

“I took my gun and some canvas and went into the woods to see what I could do with it,” Creel says. He shot at the canvas from different angles, quickly destroying the fabric. “It’s really scientific, but I decided to switch to aluminum, based only on the fact that I shot aluminum cans as a kid,” he says, wryly.

After experimenting for months, he discovered a technique that worked. Using a sheet of aluminum that he paints white, reinforces with pressboard and overlays with a printed image of an animal, Creel stands at point blank range with the muzzle of his gun against the aluminum and shoots. There is little recoil on the rifle – “it’s a small-caliber gun typically used to hunt squirrels,” he says – but blasts from the bullets spray debris in the air and rip away the paint surrounding each hole. “It’s more textural in person,” Creel explains. “There are holes, indentations and the paint has gun powder all over it.”

From afar, the “gun paintings” – measuring 6 feet by 4 feet – look like giant printouts from a dot matrix printer or massive dot-to-dot pictures. Spacing the bullet holes just so – some areas are sparse, others dense – Creel captures the shading on a deer’s fur, the bushiness of a squirrel’s tail and an owl’s furrowed brow. His first collection of southeastern wildlife portraits also includes a bunny, wren and opossum.

“The reason I wanted to go with animals is that I live in a place where a lot of hunting is done, so it seemed like the right thing to do,” Creel says. “Instead of seeing an image of a man holding the antlers of a dead corpse, I wanted the animals to be portrayed as majestic and beautiful. Of course, the irony of guns being used for that is great.”

Is Creel making a statement about guns with his art? “A lot of people will project their own opinions onto my art,” says Creel. “I’ve never stated whether I’m pro or anti-guns. I don’t want my stuff to be preachy. People should take what they know about guns and the politics of guns and make their own opinions.”

Creel will admit, however, to a fondness for felines. “I have cat allergies and never considered myself a cat person,” the artist says. “But when I met my girlfriend, she had two cats and they just won me over.” There’s ChiChiLarue, a tabby who is a “full-figured girl, and Shrimp Scampi, “a Siamese who loves to talk to us,” he says. “And Wild Nasty is our most recent addition. I found her in the parking lot while I was visiting my grandmother at a retirement home.” Will he make gun paintings of his cats? “Eventually I may do my cats,” Creel says. “I probably should. It would be good to have a portrait of the girls.”

Creel’s art work is available at www.waltcreel.com; prices available upon request.