Art in View : Wendy Buffum

When art and animals collide

By Stephen E. Adams

When asked why she paints as a means of expression, Lopez artist Wendy Buffum speaks without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s not really about expression,” said Buffum. “For an artist, it’s almost like blinking. It’s what I do. It’s what any artist does. I’ve heard artists joke when people ask if they’ve been painting, ‘As if I had a choice.’”

For Buffum, describing her work to someone who’s never seen it is next to impossible.

However, she says that if she had to characterize it, as a fine artist she would call herself a sentimental illustrator.

“I paint things that are sentimental to me and it’s the one thread that’s runs throughout all my work,” she said.

As to whether or not she’s trying to accomplish anything specific with her work, Buffum thoughtfully (and firmly) points out that for an artist, other than one who is strictly commercial, the question has only one answer.

“If I’m trying to accomplish anything,” she said. “It’s just to continue painting.”

A resident of the San Juan Islands most of her life, Buffum’s rural surroundings have always provided her most important influence, as well as the subjects of her best known works.

“I’m sure that every person who’s ever been in my life has influenced me to some degree or another, given how other people affect my emotional state,” she said.

She does, however, immediately return to the importance of her physical surroundings.

“Many times it’s a matter of whether or not I milked the cow today. How much milk did I get this morning? Did the cow try to kick me?” she said. “That’s the kind of interaction that will frequently come out in my art.”

Therefore, Buffum continues to emphasize the importance of who and what she encounters each day, as well as her reaction to these elements, as being the material from which her work is derived.

Interrupting herself, she then treats the interviewer to a detailed and fascinating discourse about recent studies of the effects of certain colors on particular areas of the brain. Focusing on the color purple, she points out that scientists have learned that, depending on a person’s “wiring,” purple can completely “turn some people off,” while purple “hits the part of the brain which seems to be affected by religion. I find it fascinating that something like the color choice of using purple can actually activate a spiritual zone in another human being.”

As Buffum has lived on Lopez her “entire adult life,” she said that she would, artistically, love to continue on the path she is on, which largely involves working with animals.

“I have such a history with animals that I know that is my thing,” she said. “They are, to me at least, a metaphor for the human condition. Since I know animals, they are the vehicles I’ve chosen to use.”

Continuing, she points out that for most artists they are ultimately trying to capture or make a statement about human emotions.

“If it’s a really good landscape painter and it’s a stormy day, there’s more shown there than just clouds or rain,” Buffum said. “There’s a sense of humanity in that storm. Since, so far as we know, clouds and water don’t have emotions, it’s the artist who is conveying them. Animals are the way I convey the same thing.”

When pressed to define her philosophy as an artist, Buffum points out that she’s never even been able to write what she considers a satisfactory artist’s statement.

“I think my art speaks for itself and people are either going to get it or not get it. It simply is what it is,” she said. “To some people, it’s just ‘Oh, that’s a cow,’ where to others they may see more than just the cow. That’s really more the viewer’s philosophy than mine. So, there really is no defining philosophy to my work. If there is, I’m sure that like me, it changes with age.”

Buffum, whose work has shown both locally and regionally, is happy to share her work with anyone who might currently wish to see it.

She can be contacted at if readers would like to see more of her remarkable paintings.