Not many people experience standing within arm’s reach of a polar bear; however, I consistently feel the up-close presence of this frightening arctic predator when I’m interning at the Asheville Art Museum. Bo Bartlett’s massive painting, Dominion, hangs adjacent to the second-level staircase and stares at me when I walk between different floors and galleries. The daunting gaze of the enormous painted creature makes me slightly uncomfortable but also entices me to reflect on his dire circumstance and admire the artistic talent that went into his creation.
Capturing my attention first, the bear’s alarming facial expression and powerful open-jaw make me wonder if he’s on the hunt looking for an afternoon snack or crying for someone to rescue him from his tiny diminishing habitat. Intimidating yet vulnerable, the bear has a visible wound on the left side of his belly, alluding to a dangerous dispute that recently occurred. Providing no hints to indicate what may have transpired, Bartlett leaves me puzzled and questioning how the mighty beast got into such an exposed position. Possibly referring to this unique contrast, the title of the work, Dominion, further guides my mind to contemplate the compelling juxtaposition between the strong bear and his vulnerable, unsafe estate. Providing an engaging experience every time I walk past, this gigantic painting has quickly become one of my favorites, and I can’t imagine my internship without it.
Known for his realistic scenes of everyday life, painter Bo Bartlett ventures into a more exotic locale with this arctic scene. Learn more about Bo Bartlett at bobartlett.com.
—Benjamin Nikolai, spring 2021 visitor services intern