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An ode to nature's prankster

When Heidi Hehn was doing her graduate studies in behavioural science, little did she know she would one day paint an entire series about one of nature's most peculiar animals, the raven.

When Heidi Hehn was doing her graduate studies in behavioural science, little did she know she would one day paint an entire series about one of nature’s most peculiar animals, the raven.

It took Hehn seven months to create the 17 paintings and two sculptures in Raven Rules, a show that’s on display until April 26 at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery. But ravens have long been one of Hehn’s favourite muses, she says.

“They fascinate me, and remind me of human beings,” she said.

“They pick up a lot of our habits. For example they’ll go after cigarettes because they see them in our mouths, and they figure it’s either a form of pleasure or food.”

As a result, one painting shows a raven picking up a cigarette butt.

Another one, called “Out to lunch,” was the impetus for the series.

It shows a bear fishing in a stream in Haines, Alaska, while playing with a log.

But Hehn felt like the scene was too empty and lonely, so she added a raven and a piece of salmon.

“They’ll get close to bears and even tug at their tails sometimes,” she said.

“Most animals don’t harm ravens. In this case the raven has gotten close to the bear and if he teases him long enough, he might get a piece of the salmon.”

The raven’s intelligence is also on display in a painting where it is riding a moose, Hehn’s version of a “northern taxi.”

She’s seen ravens ride muskox before, knowing the larger ungulates can’t turn around and shuffle them off.

“I think sometimes they might be smarter than us,” she said.

“When you look at the raven in history, and the myth of it being a prankster, that’s because it’s a great little psychologist. It’s watching you, testing you to see how you’ll react.

“It uses that to manipulate you into doing what it wants you to do. It’s a very cool character.”

Hehn paints out of her home studio in Pine Ridge, where she has a great view of the Yukon River and the abundance of wildlife that visits on a regular basis.

One time, a moose even pressed its nose against her bedroom window.

People think her studio must be spotless because her paintings are so detailed, she said.

“But it looks like a bomb blew up in there. If you cleaned it up I wouldn’t find anything.”

Ultimately she paints because of her passion for colours, something she calls “colour lust.”

She uses three types of acrylic paint to achieve her vivid colours: fluid (creamy), impasto (pasty) and high flow (inky).

Apricot orange, lime green and violet blue are her favourites. She rarely uses brown or black.

“Colour affects you, and affects me a lot,” she said.

“I actually have a visceral reaction when I see colour. With ravens, I use multi-colours because of their personalities.”

She describes her clay sculptures as “quite odd.” One is of a raven on top of a big tequila bottle, holding a worm in its mouth and dropping it to a raven below.

The other shows a tequila bottle with raven feathers on it, and a raven head as a cork.

And while you might think they were inspired by wild trips to Mexico, that’s not the case.

“It’s the only thing I can drink because I have a lot of allergies.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at