Lives & Times: Conceptual Wildlife

  • Date: Thursday, February 29, 2024 – Tuesday, March 12, 2024
  • Time: 11:00am
  • Venue: Cre8ery, 2nd floor - 125 Adelaide St. Winnipeg
  • Admission: free
  • Links:   More Information

Lives & Times: Conceptual wildlife

by Brian Longfield.

An exploration of empathy, mortality and documentation as they pertain to the secret lives of animals.

Exhibition dates: Feb 29th to March 12, 2024

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11-5pm; evenings by appointment.

First Friday, March 1, 11am to 9pm.

Meet the Artist times: First Friday, 5pm to 9pm; Saturday, 12noon to 5pm. Additional times by request.

Exhibition Statement:

Lives and times: conceptual wildlife art.

An exploration of empathy, mortality and documentation as they pertain to the secret lives of animals.

This exhibit collects work from my series of animal portraits and my trail camera paintings. I began my exploration of wildlife art by looking for subjects that were really real. Often wildlife art involves generalization of a species to a single type, or working from a constructed schema. I was looking for a near scientific degree of objectivity, at least conceptually, while still making painted images. This led me at first to making animal portraits, exploring the subjecthood of individual animals in a genre of painting derived from images of the historically powerful or important, and then to making paintings of photographs taken with a trail camera or camera trap. Both bodies of work maintain a relationship with scientific observation through painting. The Trail Camera paintings make use of a genre of photography used for the collection of data and which includes elements of that data, such as the temperature, date and time directly in the image and the animal portraits are accompanied by fictionalized zoological text panels.

Animal portraits:

As an exploration of empathy, my animal portraiture encourages seeing animals as beings with thoughts and feelings, but it is interesting to note that the personalities and emotions we ascribe to animals are not likely to be their actual feelings. What we tend to see are projections of our human perceptions of human emotions. As a sort of parody of this process, I include fictional depictions of emotional life on the expanded gallery label that depict their subjects as human beings in human situations. While animals do indeed have emotions and feelings that can be observed and recorded by behavioral scientists, and certainly people who live with pets develop a sense of their pets’ emotional life, the emotional lives of the subjects of these paintings are ultimately unknowable.

Trailcam paintings

Different genres of images, like mug shots and instagram selfies confer meaning to their subjects differently and in a way that derives from the images use or function, rather than its contents. In this way images taken with a motion sensitive trail camera confer a unique context on their subjects. Trail cameras, sometimes known as “camera traps” are used to study animal populations in wildlife ecology and also to track game for hunting. These images, easily recognisable by the strip of data along the bottom and by their use of infra-red night vision that appears to give animals spooky glowing eyes, confer a fascinating layer of ambiguity on what could otherwise be conventional canadian landscape paintings. Do they show research subjects or prey? Typically Canadian landscape painting is also a romanticized pursuit, to have examples of it derived from a genre of photography used for scientific data seems like an ironic way to question that reading.


Before the advent of photography, painting served a vital function in the study of history. Both through artists painting significant figures and historical subjects, and through historians using the studying the content and materials of artworks as a form of anthropology, painting has been a significant connection to the past. This function hasn’t entirely disappeared from contemporary representational painting. It adds importance to the choice of subject and the means through which it is observed. To this end, I generate all my own photo references. The animal portraits are from photographs I have taken myself, and the trailcam paintings are from images taken on my trail camera. I have been maintaining a trail camera at various locations in Manitoba including the Assiniboine Forest, Bird’s Hill Provincial park and at Whitemouth. Approximately once a week, I ride to the location of the camera and move it to a new spot. The paintings of these images maintain their function as data. In both series the paintings are still evidence that a particular animal was in a particular location at that time. In the Animal Portraits the documentary function of the work is more oblique and operates much like a portrait of a historic figure. With the Trailcam Paintings, that status is both more obvious and more complicated because the date and time are recorded instantaneously with the photo, but the painting obviously takes longer to make than the photograph to record.


Over the years, Brian Longfield has exhibited video work, installations, and paintings, and explored performance, theatre and avante-garde music. His acrylic paintings are made with original photos and a data projector. His current work incorporates an interest in biodiversity, ecology, science and empathy. Brian has recently returned to painting after exhibiting video based work with the now defunct collective Viewing Method Group and performance based work as a part of the duo 6. Through his various projects, Brian has had work exhibited at The New Music Festival, Nuit Blanche, Video Pool, Graffiti Art Programming, Frame Arts Warehouse, and as part of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Brian holds a BFA from the University of Manitoba and an MFA from the University of Western Ontario. He has curated exhibitions, both at Frame Arts Warehouse and at his own former Gallery, Tumble Contemporary Art. He lives in Winnipeg with his partner Charla and their children, Aria and Zephyr.