Artist
Emil Morhardt Santa Barbara, California

Emil Morhardt is an artist based in Santa Barbara who expresses his passion for birds through his portfolio of lifelike acrylic paintings. He works from his at-home studio, which is on a high ridge with an unobstructed north-facing view of the mountains behind Santa Barbara. While he paints, foxes, bobcats, and roadrunners occasionally walk up to the glass doors and peer in, and deer and coyote run by. Emil learned to paint from his father when he was growing up in the high desert of California. His father—also named Emil Morhardt—was one of the early California watercolorists. He taught Emil painting technique and instilled him with an appreciation of opaque media. In 1980, Emil began his art career by painting landscapes of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Eastern Sierra. Today, he focuses his attention on painting bird portraits reminiscent of those by artist John James Audubon. He bases his paintings off hundreds of photographs he takes of birds in the wild and at wildlife recovery centers. A single painting often uses information from several photos to get the features, behavior, and background. Every painting represents hours and sometimes days of photographing birds in the field. Through his work, Emil hopes to capture the freedom and inquisitiveness that birds show in the natural world. Emil earned a BA in Zoology from Pomona College and a PhD in Environmental Physiology and Ecology from Rice University. In 2011, he moved to Santa Barbara, where he was a Professor of Environmental Biology at Claremont McKenna, Scripps, and Pitzer Colleges.

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    About The Artist

    Emil Morhardt is an artist based in Santa Barbara who expresses his passion for birds through his portfolio of lifelike acrylic paintings. He works from his at-home studio, which is on a high ridge with an unobstructed north-facing view of the mountains behind Santa Barbara. While he paints, foxes, bobcats, and roadrunners occasionally walk up to the glass doors and peer in, and deer and coyote run by. Emil learned to paint from his father when he was growing up in the high desert of California. His father—also named Emil Morhardt—was one of the early California watercolorists. He taught Emil painting technique and instilled him with an appreciation of opaque media. In 1980, Emil began his art career by painting landscapes of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Eastern Sierra. Today, he focuses his attention on painting bird portraits reminiscent of those by artist John James Audubon. He bases his paintings off hundreds of photographs he takes of birds in the wild and at wildlife recovery centers. A single painting often uses information from several photos to get the features, behavior, and background. Every painting represents hours and sometimes days of photographing birds in the field. Through his work, Emil hopes to capture the freedom and inquisitiveness that birds show in the natural world. Emil earned a BA in Zoology from Pomona College and a PhD in Environmental Physiology and Ecology from Rice University. In 2011, he moved to Santa Barbara, where he was a Professor of Environmental Biology at Claremont McKenna, Scripps, and Pitzer Colleges.

    Artist Statement

    Emil Morhardt lives on the Pacific Coast in Santa Barbara, California, one of the world’s best spots for observing birds. He photographs them in the wild and at wildlife recovery centers and uses these images as a basis for capturing individual birds’ personalities in his life-like paintings. These are portraits of birds going about their lives, acclimated to the human environment but on their own terms. Birds often ignore the artist if he has been still for a while, and some come right up and peer into the camera. Emil’s artistic goal is “to paint birds as free and inquisitive and interesting as they are in the field.”

    Artist Background

    Pomona College
    Bachelor of Arts, 1964

    Rice University

    Doctor of Philosophy, 1968

    Hear What Collectors Say About Emil's Work

    commentsGreat Crested Tern #1
    L Drake 6/20/2019 | 8:34 PM

    Emil, I love this story and thank you for bringing portraits of the animals of the Archipelagos back to us. - Leah @ UGallery

    Emil Morhardt 6/11/2019 | 9:33 AM

    Great Crested Tern #1: Lately I’ve been thinking about my long career as an ecologist and climate change scientist and the subtle ways it seems to be driving me to paint sea birds as a sort of antidote to the unrelenting onslaught of bad environmental news. My thoughts were amplified recently on a trip aboard the National Geographic Orion from Tahiti, through the Tuamotu Archipelago, to the Marquesas Islands and back. The trip was fantastic. The atolls we snorkeled and the islands we visited are out of the way, mostly undeveloped, and when populated at all, only lightly, by people living close to the land; no wonder Paul Gauguin chose this place to paint and be buried. The young naturalists on board enthusiastically located, pointed out, and identified nearly every species of coral, fish, and bird with amazing alacrity with little reference to climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, accumulation of plastic debris, and other environmental ramifications of the growing human population that currently fill the scientific literature. It felt good to celebrate what we have rather than bemoan what has been lost, and it is the business of cruises like this one to seek out the best wild areas in the world where degradation is minimal. Approaching Mo’orea near the end of the trip I spent hours photographing Great Crested Terns swooping from 50 feet above the bow waves to pick flying fish from the air as they tried to avoid what must have seemed like a very large predator. These large terns fly so fast and change direction so abruptly that they are hard to photograph, but when you get one in focus they are compelling.

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