by Greta Blackburn
Many artists are willing to go to great lengths for the sake of their art. Few, however, are willing to go head to head with a Siberian tiger, a California Black Bear and a King Cobra. That's exactly what the whimsical, talented and innovative Peter Gullerud did.
But we're getting ahead of our story. "Ever since I could hold a pencil, I've drawn," Peter admits. As early as the 5th grade Peter was winning art contests. His earliest works, pictures of trees, animals, dinosaurs, trolls, knights and maidens on horses, foreshadowed what would become his signature tiki, nature, wildlife and pinup work. "When I look back on it, my early work wasn't really that bad. Even then, I was drawn to painting exotic animals and places. I think the dreamworlds I created back then live on in my work today. They're ever-evolving, ever-expanding and sometimes even I get surprised at the new directions my art takes me."
Self taught, Gullerud went straight from one year of theological college to the Disney Studios. There he worked his way up to the prestigious position of Visual Development Artist on their feature films. His work in this capacity included research, character design, background development and story embellishment.
Lured by the almighty buck to Warner Brothers Studios, where he continued work developing characters, Peter worked diligently while feeling the ever-gnawing pull of his own creative instincts. After toiling four more years as a studio artist in animation features, for what most people would consider an irresistible salary, Peter chucked it all and followed the siren's call of his muse.
"I wanted to do my wildlife work but I wanted it to be authentic. I had a couple of choices. I could study exotic animals at zoos and circuses, I could move to Namibia, or I could hang out with the wildlife right here in southern California in a habitat that was natural to them. Luckily, I had worked with the Mountain Lion Foundation, helping to keep California's largest feline safe from the trophy hunters' sights."
Doing that work, Peter met the admirable Tippi Hedren. She saw how comfortable he was with a Siberian Tiger and other exotic animals from rainforest Binturongs to Siberian Lynxes to Pigtail Macaques. She asked half-jokingly if he'd like to become a nightwatchman at her preserve Shambala. "To her surprise and mine," Peter acknowledges, "I accepted."
For thirteen months, Peter ate, slept and breathed exotic animals. His experience at Shambala included the illness/recuperation of Ciang, a large and friendly tiger who almost died due to a serious illness; to a fulltime death watch over two aging male lions, Richard and Albert, who during their last days survived longer in captivity than they would have in the wild; and security duty over the sensitive African elephants Cora and Timbo on stormy nights. Alone with the magnificent creatures for nearly 300 solitary, silent (except for the roar of the lions!) nights, Peter found further inspiration for his work.
Today, Peter brings to his work all of the talent, expertise and authenticity earned during his years as a paid artist and as a nocturnal observer. His work has been described as an unusual mix of Munch, Van Gogh, Peter Max and the old tiki artists of the 50's and early 60's.