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Galen Hazelhofer: Art and Activism.

An elegant Spanish hunting dog with a headdress and choker of flowers.
Audrey by Galen Hazelhofer. Watercolor.

Audrey. Yes, that is a great name for this beautiful creature, so classy that she reminds us of another elegant Audrey, the one whose last name was Hepburn. Dressed here as though she is off to a garden party (perhaps a wedding?), she appraises the viewer with gentle eyes full of keen intelligence. Hazelhofer says of this portrait, "I think the eyes tell a lot of the story and say so much, so when I paint, I paint the eyes and nose first. That usually looks so dramatic on the paper that I almost don’t want to paint anymore!" The artist compares Audrey to a fashion model, sleek and thin, with legs that go on forever. However, Audrey was born far from the fashion runways of New York or Paris. She was born in Spain and is one of a breed known as a Galgo, or a Spanish hunting dog. A type of greyhound bred especially for the hunt, after the season is over, the dogs are abandoned or killed outright. The fate of these dogs has caused outrage, protest articles by National Geographic, and people who come to Spain to rescue these animals. An American lady rescued Audrey and gave her the good home she deserves. Perhaps that is why she wears those flowers. "I just had to do a portrait with a beautiful headdress! Couldn’t help myself," Hazelhofer says. It seems, indeed, like a crown of victory worn with quiet dignity.

A brown and white stalllion with flowing black mane.
Picasso by Galen Hazelhofer. Watercolor painting from a photo by Scott Wilson.

As wild and free as the artist he was named for, this Picasso artfully arches his neck as he gallops forward toward the viewer. His mane tosses in the wind, and one can almost hear the pounding of his hooves and a sharp whinny rattling deep in his throat. Picasso is a wild horse of the Sand Wash Basin in Utah. Horses, anthropologists (and fossils) tell us, were actually an animal native to the Americas in pre-historic times (60 million years ago)! Given the name Eohippus by those who study these things, it was the ancestor of modern and prehistoric breeds of horses. This ancient horse crossed the land bridges to Asia and possibly to Europe until those passages disappeared, and the remaining breeds died off in the Americas. It took the Spanish conquest to reintroduce the horse to its native continent. Today the ongoing battle over grazing lands for cattle and sheep and the open spaces that wild horses (and burros) need hits the news when there are wild horse roundups. This beautiful painting was auctioned off to help gather funds to save some of these animals, like Picasso here, and keep these wild breeds from going extinct again.

Bamboo by Galen Hazelhofer. Watercolor

Winky by Galen Hazelhofer Watercolor.

The donation of paintings of rescued animals to the rescue organizations to be auctioned as a means of gathering funds is something that evolved out of Hazelhofer's volunteer work at various organizations like PAWS. It was PAWS that took Winky from the Detroit zoo when they realized she needed a bigger and better environment. The idea behind the donations of the paintings for fundraising auctions has another purpose as well. The artist desires to show people that these non-humans are sentient creatures with whom we share both the planet and, as any pet lover can tell you, many common characteristics. Developing sympathy for our fellow creatures can perhaps forestall events like the death of large animals when they are not kept in proper surroundings, which was the unfortunate fate of Bamboo.

The artist is on a mission. Painting these magnificent portraits so full of the life of the animal, presenting them for public display, and allowing the work to be auctioned to support further rescue operations is true activism. However, it is activism with a paintbrush, not with an AR15. Since she works from a photo of the animal(s), she can work with animal rescue organizations anywhere in the world. For the artist, it is a fun way to help out. It also is a way to offer a different narrative and one focused on positive action.

Galen Hazelhofer started out as a professional graphic designer with a studio in San Francisco. It was in San Francisco where she took some illustration classes in watercolor and fell in love with the medium. However, her career took her to Silicon Valley and ultimately work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though she also did graphic work for various non-profits, she left her beloved watercolors behind for many years. However, as a retiree with lots of energy, she took up watercolor again after joining a local watercolor painting group. The group often did set ups of still life, which Hazelhofer says she learned a lot from. She was able to loosen up quite a bit and even draw right on her watercolor paper instead of transferring the design from tracing paper.

She has grown so in terms of her still life painting that one of her pieces recently sold at auction. It is the picture, Three Pears, below, which along with its companions, Pomegranate and Squash make quite a lovely trio in support of veganism, another of Hazelhofer's passion. "If I could find more ways to express the wonders of a plant-based diet and not eating precious animals, I would love to do that," the artist says. Hazelhofer's

paintbrush will obviously continue to take on the issues she is most passionate about.

Missy May by Galen Hazelhofer Watercolor.

Painting of a rescue pit bull dog with a quizzical look on her face.
Mina by Galen Hazelhofer. Watercolor

"I try to capture the expression and feeling in the eyes before I paint the rest of the face. It’s imperative that I get that right. That the eyes speak to the viewer. If not, the rest of the painting won’t say anything either. The eyes grab the viewer and tell the story." Galen Hazelhofer

Hazelhofer also does pet portraits for people who want this member of their family to be forever remembered. When she gets a commission, she works from a photo but one that she scans with Photoshop. She likes to manipulate it a bit to see if she can catch an expression, see the shine in the eyes, or capture the variations in the coloring of the animal's coat. "I make sure to get the expression right at that point before I continue with the rest of the painting," she says. That can certainly be seen in the two portraits above. Mina has a quizzical look on her face, with her head cocked to one side, while Missy May seems to be expecting to be petted.

Two Horses by Galen Hazelhofer. Watercolor from a photo by Heather Hellyer.

Two Horses was created from a photo of two of the rescued Onaqui horses, which were sent to the Engler Canyon Ranch. The photographer simply wanted to see that photo turned into a portrait of those two animals. She then let the painting be sold at auction to gather funds to rescue more of the Onaqui horses. The beautiful way that the two animals touch noses captures the idea of tenderness. The sparcely colored background, which is a trait common to most of Hazelhofer's portraits, allows the viewer to focus on the animals, appreciate their expression, and connect to the animals in that moment. The simplicity of that format allows no distraction, which is a good way to focus on and make a point about the sanctity of all life, plant and animal.

Galen Hazelhofer is always at work on her favorite subjects, animal protection and veganism. Expect to see more expressive paintings of animals (perhaps one of your pets?) and close up and personal paintings of plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. It's all in a day's work for an activist with a paintbrush.

Find more of her work at these sites:

Should you be interested in articles on art history combined with a discussion of wines, go to my other art blog, Also see my author page at © Marjorie Vernelle 2021

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