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The Sporting Life Book – Horses, Gundogs and Wildlife

Artist Joseph H. Sulkowski presents his viewpoint on outdoor heritage through a new book filled with paintings and sketches. The hard-cover coffee table size book has 240-pages, with more than half of this volume simply artwork detailing bird hunts, horseplay and the love of working canines in the field. For those who cherish outdoor experiences, turning the pages of this book will trigger memories of hunting and fishing adventures, and may inspire new ones.

Sulkowski came to Charleston as a guest artist at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) in 2018, balancing a full schedule of greeting art patrons and signing books. I asked him if he had been to SEWE before, and his reply came with some chagrin. “I did come to town for SEWE once before,” said Sulkowski. “That was 25 years ago, and it is great to be back in 2018.”
Sulkowski is based in Franklin, Tennessee and has spent the years traveling to hunt and paint at the finest plantations in the South. His life experiences include travel abroad too, all the while honing his style that he refers to as poetic realism. “My goal with The Sporting Life is to help viewers connect with the natural world,” said Sulkowski. This compelling book published in late 2017, so it relates many of his individual experiences, while delivering an overview how this lifestyle also offers nourishment for the soul.

Each painting in the book comes with a lengthy caption written by Sulkowski. The image of Llewellin Setters (above) comes with his message about when this breed came out of England in the 19th century, and how his good friend Drew Maddux in Kentucky invited him to hunt quail over this brace of bird dogs. Other written text including explanation of art techniques utilized and biography information comes from contributing author Brooke Chilvers, known for her work as art columnist with Gray’s Sporting Journal magazine.

A few photos of Sulkowski in his home art studio illustrate how this painter embraces the Old Master Tradition. He looks serious in these photos, but I can relate that Sulkowski is very personable, after visiting with he and his wife at Charleston Place and the Dog and Horse Gallery during SEWE. His large oil painting of more than twenty hounds titled Apokalupsis has different themes throughout it that he took the time to explain to me, and likely to many other curious viewers.

The book is dedicated to family, friends and other art enthusiasts who share a passion for the sporting life, and it offers a good mix of scenic images and close ups. On page 140 in the Gundog section a portrait of a dog’s head is simply titled Duke, while the next page shows two duck hunters in a piroque with their two golden retrievers sitting up listening for the call of wood ducks, while floating through a grand cypress swamp bottom in Arkansas. Sulkowski shares that the folks in the boat are kindred sprits, and that same concept is palpable for the reader.

The book celebrates how a still life portrait still tells a good story. In this modern age of nonstop streaming video and digital technology, will images wither away? Not for Sulkowski, who demonstrates how the basics of composition can lead the artist and the viewer into an appreciation of an event. “A great painting begins in the abstract,” said Sulkowski. “Shapes, forms, rhythms and patterns of light and shadow must all work together before a single object or figure comes into focus.” His image on page 50 depicts a still life after a quail hunt, showing harvested birds on an orange vest with shotgun shells and a double-barrel gun on a vintage Winchester wooden box.

It’s hard to convey the depth of colors in each image, but the titles are plain enough. Quail Hunt over the Palmetto Prairie, Controlled Burn at Blue Springs Plantation, September Dove Hunt over Middle Tennessee, Duck Hunting Among the Cypress, Dad’s Tackle Box, Casting on the Narrows and Sketch of a Sportsman’s Life. Seek out a copy of The Sporting Life to see if your vision for each of these titles matches the scenes Sulkowski shares, offering vistas from his own journey along the outdoors trail.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (345 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com