Life Outside the City Really Is for the Birds — the Wildlife Art of Hiroko Cannon

Hiroko Cannon drawing of Great Blue Heron in Brown Grass at Wenaha Gallery
Great Blue Heron in Brown Grass by Hiroko Cannon at Wenaha Gallery

The world of birds is thoughtful, peaceful, meditative, a far cry — or chirp — from the hustle and noise of Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, two metropolises known for their economic and commercial activity.

Fine artist Hiroko Cannon, who now calls Pendleton, OR home, was for many years a commercial and graphic designer in Japan’s two largest cities, creating illustrations for department stores during the day, and studying under her dream teacher, noted fashion and figurative illustrator Setsu Nagasawa, at night — that is, when she wasn’t still completing drawings for work:

“It was very hectic — projects came in the morning for the next morning’s newspaper,” Cannon remembers. “I would finish the drawings in the afternoon and wait for the first proof prints to come out for me to check. After the second and final checks I was free, to catch a taxi to go home in the middle of the night.”

And the next day, it started all over again.

Swainson's Hawk by Hiroko Cannon at the Wenaha Gallery
Swainson’s Hawk by Hiroko Cannon at the Wenaha Gallery

The quantity of work required, at the speed it demanded, was an art school all its own, and this in conjunction with studying human figure drawing and watercolor painting at the prestigious Setsu Nagasawa Seminar pushed Cannon to finesse her skills, and accuracy, in drawing.

“How to quickly catch the human movement on paper was one of Nagasawa’s curriculum, which I enjoyed a lot,” Cannon remembers.

In 1985 Cannon immigrated to the United States, and while she continued to produce illustrations and write articles on a freelance basis for women’s magazines in Japan, life changed from hectic to busy, simply because Pendleton, at its most frenetic, is not Tokyo. In the midst of raising two children, Cannon took a break from art, exchanging painting  for chauffeuring:

“Both children were heavily involved in music and required lots of shuttling to and from practice sessions, performances, and other activities,” she explained. But life goes on and children grow up, and when Cannon’s youngest child hit high school and began driving, Cannon knew that it was time to pick up painting again.

It was sheer happenstance that Cannon turned her skill, background, passion, and expertise to birds, sparked by a donation request from Lynn Tompkins of Blue Mountain Wildlife Rescue, who asked if Cannon would create a painting for the organization’s annual auction. Always a bird lover, as well as a strong supporter of the area’s non-profit organizations, Cannon agreed.

Redtailed Hawk by Hiroko Cannon at the Wenaha Gallery
Redtailed Hawk by Hiroko Cannon at the Wenaha Gallery

The public’s enthusiastic reaction to that first painting took its creator by surprise. Quickly sold for a good price, the painting sparked comments from others at the auction, who wanted to know where they could purchase more of her work. Cannon painted more originals which she reproduced as fine art prints, selling them briskly at the Pendleton Center for the Arts. Twice, Cannon walked away with the coveted People’s Choice Award at the center’s Open Regional Exhibit, and the demand for her work continued to increase. She then added greeting cards to her offerings.

Now working out of her house, which she uses as her work and storage place, Cannon explores the intricate detail and coloration of nature around her, concentrating on the big world of small things: birds, in their habitat; insects; spiders; flora; and the occasional snake. Her style is delicate, yet firm; accurate in detail; capturing the personality of her subject matter through its pose, or the expression upon its face. There is a sense of peacefulness far removed from sights and sounds and demands of a huge city.

“Looking back on my life in Tokyo, it was not for me anymore,” Cannon muses.  “Now, with my paintbrush, I am gently and slowly observing nature, including my life.”

Wenaha GalleryHiroko Cannon is the Art Event: Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from November 17 through December 15, 2014. She joins Vancouver, WA, wood artist Craig Hardin at an artist’s reception Friday, November 28, 2014, at Wenaha Gallery during Dayton’s annual Christmas Kick-off.

Meet Cannon at the evening reception, from 4-7 p.m., and enjoy good company, fine art, and free refreshments at Wenaha Gallery’s historic downtown location, 219 East Main.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery,  located in historic downtown Dayton, Washington,  is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton; phone 509.382.2124; e-mail art@wenaha.com.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.

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