Once Upon a Time, 2005
oil on belgian linen
120 x 120 in
(304.8h x 304.8w cm)
NASCAR legend, winemaker, and conservationist Richard Childress–like Banovich–has been deeply touched by the charms of Africa. He and his wife, Judy, invited John to create a painting (for their great room–a room framed by thirty-foot ceilings) that would redefine wildlife art. Banovich reached deep within, exceeding their expectations, and chose a painting he had been carrying in his heart since he was a young man, and one that no other artist had ever attempted: a life-sized elephant. The title, “Once Upon a Time” pays reverence to the magnificent tuskers that once roamed the African continent, before the world’s fascination with ivory greatly reduced their numbers. In modern times, it is very difficult for an elephant with this genetic capacity to live long enough to grow such an impressive set of trophies.
“The painting just reminds me so much of the real thing. It’s the details that count: the wrinkles on the tusk and brow, the clouds of dust rising from the massive feet, the birds scampering to avoid the charge. That’s like the real thing that you would see in Africa.” – Richard Childress, President/CEO of Richard Childress Racing
“Due to the physical and emotional challenges, I believe artists have a limited number of large canvases in them. The creative, physical and emotional tests of this painting pummeled and almost drained me. I started the idea of a life-size elephant with a concept sketch, then recreated this on to the 10 foot squared canvas and washing the line drawing in with an acrylic - sepia wash. Finally the whole canvas was over-painted with oil to "breath life" into the beast. An elephant is one of the hardest animals to paint; its skin wrinkles dictate shape and volume and give the painting a three dimensional look. Every little line must be drawn perfectly. In fact, it takes longer to draw an elephant than it does to paint one."
"Using a two-tiered platform, I placed my paints, chair and other tools and aids next to me on my perch. The high platform allowed me to work on the top of my ten-foot canvas while sitting down. I placed a large mirror twenty feet behind me allowed me to see the image the way others might see it. When you are ten feet in the air, you can’t just step back and look at your work. When I was working on the upper-right side, the lower left corner was twelve feet away, and it’s impossible to see a painting that big as a whole from a distance of two feet. The mirror also gave me a fresh eye. By reversing the painting, it broadcasted any issues I was having and was an indispensable tool.” – John Banovich
Directly across from the 10x10 foot canvas, Banovich worked with Childress on plans for an 11x6 foot bas-relief sculpture of a giraffe and acacia tree to be installed above the fireplace mantle. Bas-relief (French for “low relief”) is a method of sculpting which entails carving or etching away the surface of a flat piece of stone or metal. The conception, design, production and installation of this distinct project required the collaboration of several artists and designers. The project first began with a concept sketch by Banovich, which was then translated in clay by master sculptor Mike Barlow. After installation, the final piece was then flanked by two smaller Banovich original oil paintings, also created specifically for the incredible space. The final product was a room perfectly balanced, conveying the greatness and ancient mystique of Africa.
“I have been a fan and follower of John’s work for many years. His works relating to wildlife are so lifelike and detailed that it sometimes feels like they follow as you walk through a room. Judy and I have several of his pieces in our home and we always get compliments on the quality of John’s work when people are visiting.” – Richard Childress, President/CEO of Richard Childress Racing