The specifics of how to create a less literal landscape painting seem to be a constant topic of discussion with my students, especially those who don’t come from an art-school background where the artist spends formative years in the mix, constantly exploring or discussing different ways of making art.
I have previously written about the toggle between formal concerns and storytelling in representational work in the following post:
And about pure abstraction in this post discussing the shows of Ellsworth Kelly, Jenny Nelson, and Melinda Stickney-Gibson:
Stepping further into how to break down this discussion, I see that most non-realist landscape painters are combining several ways of achieving this, and that the methods fall broadly into the two categories of what you choose to paint (and leave out) and how you choose to paint it.
In the image selection arena, the artist can either choose a view that had reduced detail for an open, minimalist landscape, or a macro view that has a prominent pattern —-for example, a rock cliff , sundappled water, or a glen of tree trunks.
The tools that the artist then employs in the painting process to emphasize abstraction can include simplifying, flattening, or distorting the shapes: reducing the amount of elements included; changing naturalistic color to non-literal choices; and/or unifying the surface with brushstroke or other technique to create overall texture or pattern.
I have selected pieces from a number of contemporary artists who explore this terrain, many of whom I know or am friends with. In most cases artists are combining several of the approaches mentioned above, using pictoral tools that we, in this generation, have been fortunate enough to inherit and absorb from centuries of painting. The contemporary landscape painter then draws from the smorgasbord that art history provides and, putting it all in a sort of personal artistic blender, comes forth (usually over time) with their own version of the abstracted landscape.
Because the combinations are personal and often subtle, I have chosen to discuss each painting on its own merits rather than sift them into the categories introduced above.
I should add that I love gestural and color field abstract painting and generally am not so interested in realist landscape work. But having long ago chosen for myself a stylistic swath that lands somewhere in the middle, I find these explorations to be endlessly exciting, both in my own studio and in the work of other artists.
I couldn’t resist selecting this piece of Stuart Shils, as I have also painted this dramatic locale in Western Ireland. It is just clear enough that in foreground we have farm fields, but the second shape is so peculiar that the mind could read it as abstract. So, by choosing to paint this bit of cliff that wends its way out into the Atlantic in a long curve, the artist has chosen subject matter that lends itself to abstraction and has also painted it in a broad, loose, and painterly way, emphasizing the color field aspect of the shapes within.
Deborah has selected as her subject matter in this painting broad areas —and only two–that lend themselves to a patterned surface. It is key to the painterly beauty of “Sparkle Square” that the flecks of reflected light are varied in placement and shape, as are the shallow waves and subtly shifting color. Mystery is created by the dark shape of the shore. This is an example of the artist both selecting an image that is abstract in its simplicity and rhythm, and enhancing those aspects in the surface treatment.
Hannah, who also paints pure abstraction, selects material for her landscapes that has a feel that suits her sense of shape—squared off rhythmic forms that repeat within simple divisions of sky and land. In “Windham” I love the way the sky is so different from the ground—the sky like a Rothko and the ground a de Stael. At the same time, the mind reads them perfectly as an ethereal sky and cultivated sweep of land.
In Eric Aho’s ice series, the view is more pulled in than expansive, creating opportunity for very strong compositions that play with the formal elements of shape and line within a reduced color composition. The black shapes have depth when the eye reads them as descriptive—cracks in the ice leading to water below—but also emphasize the directionality of the fractured shapes as they point toward each other and the center of the piece. My eye delights in the play of shapes with this piece every bit as much as it does with a completely abstract painting.
As I have long influenced by the mid-century generation of American color field painters, this piece of mine reads as near abstraction, sitting on top of the picture plane almost before it reads as landscape. My selection of tidal flats as subject matter—already so stark and minimalist—is the starting point, enhanced by flattened shapes with subtle variations in color but no descriptive textural detail. The strong horizon evokes a vista, but turn this piece on its side and you have an abstract painting.
Brighter-than-literal color is not of itself abstract, but combined with the simple fields of color that Wolf Kahn is known for creates a painting that sits right up on the surface plane. In addition to his famous barns, Wolf has also worked extensively with the repeated motif of tree trunks moving across the canvas, creating the patterned effect discussed above. In some paintings this is a more regular and more pronounced repetition, but I particularly liked the color in this piece and the way that the folliage is treated as diffuse scrubs of color. Look carefully, though, and you can see that as soft-edged as these shapes are, they are very particular, varied, and elegant.
“Waves at Jenner” uses brush stroke to create both an energetic expressive field and at the same time capture the feel of big surf crashing on rock, all of this using low-key, tonalist color. To my eye, the mind reads the scene perfectly for what/where it is, but the white strokes are actually more abstract than descriptive, sitting up on the surface of the picture plane. Arnold works in both abstraction and landscape painting, and this piece falls beautifully somewhere close to the middle of that spectrum…but rather closer to abstraction.
Heather very much starts with the first strategy, reducing the content not only by choosing the simplest sea and sky imagery but also by eliminating detail within that. The subject is just recognizable, mostly because of the horizon and the gleams of light in the sky. The color is dense and murky–and also gorgeous—evoking one of those heavy weather days, but even more so a color field painting that sits on top of the scumbled and blended surface.
In “Outlook XVI”, as in other work by this artist, the soft blend is a wet-into-wet technique starting with a little more detail than many of the pieces discussed here. The surface is so heavily blended, however, that the subject matter takes a back seat and the viewer’s attention is brought to the movement that Jeorg made to achieve this effect. The result, in a descriptive sense, feels both like moving weather and as if we are witnessing the scene from a moving vehicle. As a whole, the technique crates both dreamy narrative and energetic abstraction.
This monoprint of Steve Dininno’s is a study in monochromatic color and and reduced detail. To abstract an urban view—a scene that is inherently busy—certain light/weather phenomena are generally employed. In this case the image is being swallowed in fog, allowing the graphic elements to swim out of its implied depth even as the lines of perspective lead the eye forward into the scene. That there is so much interest in “Boardwalk” while at the same time so much empty space is a clear demonstration of the power of the less-is-more phenomenon, when skillfully done.
These trees and, I presume, a light pole, are about as un-fussy as they could be. They, and the blended and scumbled surface relate to the Wolf Kahn piece. However, the eye here is funneled back in space, much like in the Steve Dininno above, and the analogous color composition is quietly moody. The foreground blacks help anchor the piece, creating contrast within the otherwise low-light scene. This piece balances beautifully between capturing the mood of a moment and place and pure, delicious painting.
In this piece Kate uses surface texture to work the sky into a color field that is only just recognizable as a cloud bank. The shape of the shore is simplified, color exaggerated, though she did create a juicy reflection–so much a part of the land-into-water visual experience. The water is quieter than the sky, as is often the case. The white line that was scratched into the pigment on the left is a lovely graphic element that is entirely non-literal. Examining the elements, there is clear back and forth between those that are more descriptive of the scene and those that are more abstract.
Thomas is doing several painterly things in this piece that move it away from realism. There is clear patterning and brush stroke both in the field and the sky above that break up the surface into rhythmic abstraction. Combined with the soft band of fog in the middle distance, this creates a duo perception of paint sitting on top of the picture plane and a recognizable field/sky with atmospheric perspective. The relative symmetry of this image also illustrates the point that when a painter reduces the number of elements, those that remain hold an enhanced interest.
Staats is a master at relating shapes and creating light. Similar to my aesthetic, the number of shapes tend to be reduced and surface of them flattened, but the outlines of the shapes themselves have a good deal of subtle variation. In this piece, the paint handling within the shapes is also beautifully varied, the strip of light in a way that describes light itself and the shapes within the buildings in a more abstract manner. The blur on the left encroaching on the foreground building also seems to be more about the movement of the watercolor than about any recognizable visual phenomenon.
On the whole, what makes these all good paintings is that they are successful in capturing both the feel of the scene depicted and the surface, compositional, and color interest of pure painting, allowing the viewer to delight in both aspects. As for all painting, drawing ability is essential, since the artist needs the hand to do what the eye requires; creating dynamic compositions made of compelling—and usually highly edited— shapes, palettes, and surface.
Occasionally, there is an element that is barely or not quite recognizable…but interesting or gorgeous. My comment to my students when this emerges in their work is “I don’t know what that is…but I really like it so I don’t care”. This observation would apply to the irregular light shape on the right in the Fasoldt piece and the field in the Sarrantonio. In many of the other pieces, there is an element or shape that we think is probably this or that…but we are not sure: the cliff in the Shils; the dark shore in the Munson; the orange band in the Kahn—field or hill?; the tidal pool in my piece; the light pole in the Elder, and so on. These mysteries serve to create complex interest as the mind works to accept the mixed metaphor that they provide.
I would like to mention the galleries that I share with many of these artists: Julie Haller Gallery in Provincetown, MA; Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; Gold Gallery in Boston’s South End; and Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury VT–check them out to see additional work!
After a hard and busy winter I am so very happy to be in transition to the warmer season ahead. The work in my studio and recent events gave me a wonderful distraction from the relentless weather in the Northeast, but all logistics and movement are so much easier and more enjoyable with warm sunshine, no snow or ice, and planning that can be relied upon.
My solo show at Gold Gallery in Boston remains up through April 25th.
Everyone has heard how massively hit Boston was with snow this past winter, and the reports were no exaggeration. We had planned a February show, agreeing that since they had February traffic and business, we should go for it.
Sometimes I just love the expression: “Man plans. God laughs.”
After a few postponements, we did open with a reception on March 13th. It was a lovely time for me, with many in-depth questions, especially about my Affinity Series and the multiple-panel pieces.
The gallery brought my work to the AD 20/21 Fair down the street from them a few weeks later. I love the way the work pops on the grey walls.
I wrote a blog post about this multiple-panel piece in the show as an example of how a new idea evolves. This piece has quite a story, involving photos of my son Tony; Maya Lin; Storm King; and many sketches and studies.
Edgewater Gallery of Middlebury, Vermont brought my work to the Affordable Art Fair NYC at the end of March, so I decided to attend. I hadn’t been in several years, and found the whole fair to be well-organized and accessible, a kind of bubble of positive energy. This year was very successful, not surprising with with the quality and variety of work and the good vibe.
I was meeting up with friends and collectors at different intervals for three days running, so I spent quite a bit of time there. The first day I decided to get further involved by collecting information on some of my favorite artists being exhibited at the fair in order to write a blog post about it. This is a review of the work of the five artists that I selected:
I got a first-hand look at how hard the galleriests at these events work as I returned often to the Edgewater booth, enjoying the chance to get to know Kate, Rachel, and Zoe a little better in between their many conversations with fair-goers and invoicing and wrapping sold work. The days were up to 12 hours of standing and smiling and chatting, and they had a great attitude throughout.
I have had several commissions in the first months of this year. Although I am a tonalist by instinct, over the years I have found that I like to meander this way and that with my palette. These five pieces are about as bright as I can imagine going, but I am pleased to see how “me” they look, even with more saturated color.
I recently enjoyed a visit at my friend Marie Vickerilla’s studio. She had new work finished for her upcoming show in New Jersey that I was determined to see before it left her studio.
Our conversation about this body of work had a lot to do with mixed associations (see my discussion of this in the blog post reviewing the Affordable Art Fair) and complexities of surface. I have always loved Marie’s more minimalist work, and found this new series to be exciting in a different way–lost and found edges and layers; unusual color juxtapositions; and stories begun one place and and finished in another.
From her statement about this series: “Not until after the work is complete do I realize from where the painting has come. From shifting lines holding up a shape, lines and bars moving from place to place, a kind of organization emerges from the randomness, and I find a correlation to some slow-moving event in life.”
Actually, I’ll just say it, since I have before in conversation: I think Marie is a genius. It’s not always apparent to me where and how her decisions are made, but they have amazing clarity, subtlety, and depth—“unique voice” is an understatement.
May 9th: Chace-Randall Gallery (upstairs space), Andes, NY, 10th Anniversary show, 5 – 7 p.m.
A solo at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY, July 16-Labor Day, reception July 25.
The Shandaken Studio Tour, July 18-19.
A solo or duo at Louisa Gould in Vineyard Haven, MA, August 13-26:
A few new pieces:
A few of my recently sold pieces:
My February workshop “Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape” at the Woodstock School of Art managed to come off, despite terrible weather, and succeeded in what I had set out to do. A new workshop, it involved an unprecedented amount of planning for me, as I was determined to develop exercises that would lead my students into a deeper analysis of composition and color, and a more conscious understanding how the elements form the whole.
The landscape itself is so seductive that it can actually get in the way of crafting a good painting, so much so that often I see artists plateau in their skill-building, finding it hard to advance to the next level. This workshop was designed for those artists, though I think it also works well for beginners as a step-by-step.
I was concerned that the artists in this workshop would feel constrained by so much structure, but they all surrendered to the process and felt that they learned way more than in a workshop with more open painting time. The exercises are also really fun—I did them myself first to make sure of that.
I will be teaching the same workshop in Provincetown in September, as well as these others coming up in 2015:
Woodstock School of Art, “Landscape in Large Scale” , June 20-23:
Artists Association of Nantucket, “Landscape and Mood”, July 13-15:
Provincetown Artists Association and Museum, “Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape”, September 14th-17th.
Woodstock School of Art, “Interpreting the Landscape in Oil and Pastel”, October 17-19
I hope to see many friends and followers this spring and summer at a reception, a workshop, or my studio. Many of you have been students, collectors, and friends, in one order or another, and I love to see you show up.
Following up on the ideas that first led me to multiple-panel imagery, (see my blog post on this subject )
I recently completed an 8-part painting comprised of panels 12″ high and of differing widths.
I am always on the lookout for new ways to present multiple-panel pieces, whether they are parts of a whole, variations on a theme (as above) or completely different images united in a frame.
A few years ago, while chatting with my son Tony about his visit to Storm King Art Center (an expansive sculpture park located near Newburg, NY on beautiful, hilly terrain), I noticed a screen shot on his laptop.
It was a sequence of photos that he had shot of the Maya Lin earth installation Wavefield at Storm King, with which he was quite taken.
I immediately asked for him to forward me the screen shot, and filed the idea away for future use, thinking I would eventually apply it to some other imagery—ocean; field; or marsh.
Two years later, I visited Storm King with Tony and my sister Carla and niece Audri on a glorious fall day with a bright blue sky. When we finally wended our way down to the Wavefield, they had a sign up asking viewers not to walk out on it due to fragility from recent rains.
So this is my pic from the sidelines, not at all what my son had come up with from tromping around inside it and shooting it with his photographer’s eye. Our bright fall day also didn’t have the color of his original photos with a soft green-grass and white-sky palette that is a favorite of mine.
I, too, was intrigued by the installation, and got to thinking that maybe I would do a long, unequal-width-panel multiple using Tony’s earlier green/white palette photos after all, instead of some other view or hillside.
Back in my studio, I started planning and prepping.
First, I needed to establish the order of the panels, which I knew had importance as an element completely void of any imagery—-a horizontal grid of unequal-width units creating rhythm. After I cut apart the units and moved them around, I planned my hillside sequence.
Then, I was ready to move onto the small painting phase. When I do this I call it a color sketch, but it is really a finished small painting done to scale.
The first version I liked but found it didn’t have the horizontal extension that had captured my attention with the original image. I was worried about the larger final piece being too long and thin to be transportable and actually work in someone’s home, but had to set this concern aside and forge ahead.
Even in the pencil sketch phase of version #2, I was excited to see that I was creating a whole new sensation of wave with my varied placement of sky-meets-land horizon lines, and soon realized that this was the most salient feature of the evolving piece.
With more panels to work with, the horizon line creates a wave that, from left to right, sweeps across the piece. This was what I was after, so this became the final color sketch for the larger painting.
As I got deeper into the process, I loved the idea that while I was riffing off the work of another artist (first time as a mature artist), and that said artist had created artificial and mesmerizing waves within a landscape, I was also creating in my piece a new, 2-dimensional wave.
In version #2 I also enhanced the waves within the hillsides–Lin’s waves— more than they were visible in the photos and the first color sketch.
Viewers would mostly only experience this viscerally as the various waves in my painting move gently up and down across the panels. The soft green diagonal lines within the hillside are not the most noticeable part, but add interest compositionally and, upon scrutiny, are clearly not naturally occurring.
Next, onto the larger piece.
Using two easels, I painted the panels two and three at a time so that I could always ascertain how each one was interacting with its neighbor, and used my sketch as a guide.
When I use a color sketch as a basis for a larger piece (and this is only a fraction of the time) I proceed the way I always do, blocking in large areas of paint and painting detail with smaller brushes, rather than using any form of projecting or measuring. The pleasure of creating a painting lies in the process of using my painterly/drawerly hand, so I don’t use shortcuts. This way, I also keep my drawing skills sharp.
I had worked things out quite well with the second color sketch, but scale does make a difference. In the large painting, I found that panel #5 didn’t completely please me, so I added a low back mountain on the left, which you can see below in the final version.
If you look individually at these paintings of slanting hillsides, it is easy to imagine that the composition could feel unbalanced and visually slide off the picture plane on the downhill side. In each of them, I have counterbalanced the downhill slope with trees, treelines, back mountains, and the Maya Lin hill lines below the top hill.
In my wave—where the white sky meets the land—the eye goes down; then up to panel #5; and then gently back down and slightly up again in the last panel. The fifth panel is really the acme painting in the grouping, being the highest horizon and almost centered (that almost is important, too). By adding the back mountain and adjusting the top line of the hillside just a hair, I flattened out the horizon and made it sit better as an independent piece while also transitioning more successfully to its neighbors.
This piece was first shown in 2015 in my solo show at Gold Gallery in Boston’s South End, and then made its way to Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, where it is hanging in my solo show there, up through April 23rd, 2017. Here is my blog post on the body of work:
I may very well return to this theme in the future with an entirely different type of image/locale which will require fresh problem-solving. One of the gifts that comes from decades of moving deeper and wider into a body of work is the pleasure that this brings—a complex universe, all my own.
Those caps are not an accident.
If you were in a BFA program in the late 70’s, as I was, conversation turned frequently to the various methods of exploring the ubiquitous grid by our hero-artists, from Sol LeWitt to Chuck Close. Two great loves of mine in this pantheon were, and still are, Agnes Martin and Louise Nevelson, both of whom used grid imagery in the most moving way possible.
What are the associations with the grid that hold our attention? Order, containment, rhythm, vibration, line and edge, surface and depth…and then all of the artistic possibilities of using it as a framework to break out of.
Agnes Martin, for example, applied the lines on her paintings free hand. It is the subtle variation in those lines that convey the meditative moments of their creation. In the lithograph below the lines were clearly ruled, but there is all kinds of lovely variation in the surface. (Basic tenant of minimalism—reduce the amount of information in the piece and what is left becomes supremely, gorgeously important.)
Louise Nevelson, often worked with constructions of irregular boxes painted black or white, asymmetrical sculptures creating an off-hand sort of grid; and other times adhered to a more organized grid, as in “Ancient Secrets”, both below.
Mark Rothko, my biggest influence ever, worked with a very reduced grid, just a few rectangles—the epitome of less-is-more. There is a remarkable amount of emotion in these canvases, and they allow the viewer to bring personal experience to the moment of contemplation. This is another aspect of minimalism— open, non-specific imagery invites the viewer to interact rather than being told exactly what to think or feel.
Like all of my classmates, I ate it all up, exploring the grid myself in my earnest art-student manner. After I got over the most derivative phase, I used architectural plans as a basis for a series and a few years later did several abstract triptychs while attending the Royal Academy in Madrid.
When I was looking to bring my exploration of the landscape into new terrain back in the late 1990’s, I circled back to my longstanding affection for the grid and pondered multiple panel imagery. Thinking, at that point, from the outside, I could only see two possibilities, and they seemed a little bit obvious—either dividing one image into multiple panels (an illusion of window panes) or joining several related images into one piece.
This was, kind of blissfully, pre-internet, so I had no idea if/what other landscape painters were doing in this arena. I decided just to jump in and see what evolved. (I still tend to leap before I look at what others have done when exploring a concept that is new to me. It keeps it fresher.)
Below is a recent example of one of these options, and, as so often happens, once immersed in the process I found it anything but ho-hum.
I have explored the divided field imagery repeatedly over the years, and just now understand that it, too, is loosely grid-based. We’ re seeing it in perspective, which creates the slanting diagonal lines that I love so much.
Returning to my comment about minimalism, I am including the triptych below because I feel that it illustrates well my version of of less-is-more.
“River in 5” is an example of one image in five parts, exploring the more extreme horizontal. In single image multiple-panel pieces the subject wants to be quite simple, so often I begin with the size and format and then look for imagery to suit. The landscape that I choose generally has a strong horizon and often other elements that visually link the panels.
I am frequently asked if each panel should be able to stand alone as an individual piece. My answer is that this is not something I look for—often one panel might need to be quieter to serve the composition as a whole. In the piece below, the far left would not work on its own; in the wave piece above the right hand panel would be too static as a single. “Triptych in Reds”, in contrast, is comprised of panels that would each stand alone quite nicely…but it just so-happened that way.
The piece below explores the other option, three separate images. In this case they are of the same stretch of road minutes or seconds apart and so are tightly linked. This also creates a film strip feel, though without a progression that moves the action from point A to point B. Each of these panels would most definitely function well as a single piece, something that I do look for in multi-image pieces.
Starting around 2000 I did a series of four “Samplers”, named after the quilt style, 16 square 5″x5″‘s in pastel. I debated doing them individually and then moving them around until I liked the order, but decided that I liked the integrity and challenge of figuring out the order as I went along and then committing to it. Thus, these were all done on a single sheet of paper.
There were questions of composition (both within each small piece and for the piece as a whole), color (which in landscape painting is related to season, locale, and time of day), directionality, and type of imagery (manmade objects? more detail or more open?). Simple things like placement of a horizon line had to be carefully considered to create variety and enhance the whole.
From 2009 to 2011 I did a series of five vertical triptychs in a wide black frame that I titled “Colorcode”, related color being the unifying factor. I have a few more of these frames, so I may pick this format back up again.
In 2002 I created the Cyclone Sampler, 37 tiny pieces in a vintage tintype box. Below the image is an excerpt from notes that I made about the piece when it was acquired by the Tyler Museum of Art in east Texas in 2009.
“The Cyclone Sampler reflects a synthesis of my interests in the landscape as narrative, the listening aspect of working with vintage, distressed objects/frames, and the postmodern use of the grid and serial imagery.
The result of my investigations, these multiple-image pieces are about a sense of contained energy (unlike my single-image landscapes, which most often have a feel of expansive energy), the telling of multiple stories, and the rhythm of the grid.
The narrative in my landscapes is ever-present, though often second to abstract concerns. The image of the cyclone fascinates me on a very formal level—the shapes are varied and gorgeous, with the complex, soft, scumbled edges that I love, and often have unusually juxtaposed colors. The story that they tell is equally riveting — nature at its most intense, both deadly and awe-inspiring. The Cyclone Sampler projects the feeling of energy tightly controlled within the grid, since the images are tiny, but the energy of the twister that they depict is vast. The final decision I needed to make while assembling the piece was to leave some sections empty; after trying it out with all of the spots filled, it became clear that to avoid seeming like a dry and busy cataloguing of twisters, the empty sections were essential to give space and emphasis to the 41 that I chose to include.”
In 2007 I did a larger piece in oil that is similar to my Sampler series, made possible by a lucky find with a frame that came with dividers for 35 images. The finish on the frame has tones of red, so each piece in it has at least some red, and a number of them quite a lot of it.
Like the Cyclone Sampler, I found that it was becoming too busy, but I knew that with this presentation I couldn’t leave compartments open. I opted to include six very minimalist images using only black and red, inviting the viewer in by creating depth and encouraging the eye to travel around the piece.
I found a smaller version of the same frame, and did 16 images with a road theme. Using fewer panels allowed the detail in the many manmade objects to create a rhythm of alternating focal points that doesn’t feel overly busy.
I am currently working on one last version of Trove, this with a weather theme, which I will exhibit in my solo show at Gold Gallery, February 18-March 21, 2015.
A vintage box or tray that has several compartments always provides an enticing challenge for a multi-panel piece, even more so because no two are alike. My choice of imagery follows the same idea of strong horizontal or vertical elements to link that panels, and also needs to visually mesh perfectly with that vehicle (for more on this, see my earlier post: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/vintage-boxes-slates-and-siftersthe-occasional-found-object/).
Recently I did a commissioned piece in two trays from a vintage fishing tackle box. Many of the images are from places of significance for the couple, and I worked with a combination of diptychs and single panel pieces, which created an interesting challenge while finalizing placement. The view of Opus 40 on the upper right was the only panel that didn’t get moved around repeatedly in the process.
With multi-image paintings, concept and execution are both complex. They generally are thematic, and I always find that these pieces are a wonderful balance to the more open minimalism that I normally work with.
Finally, my Affinity Series, oil on linen with frayed/distressed edges on board overlaid with graphite gridding—about which I will write a separate post another day—can be expressed in the diptych and triptych format as well. In this series I have incorporated gridding into the image itself.
Recently, I had a vision for a different type of multiple image piece, now almost finished (and also headed for my Boston show). But that, too, I’ll describe in another blog post—exploring how a new idea is conceived and executed.
I choose to do a multiple panel painting for several reasons. Most importantly, I like variety in the studio, so today’s choice of format, color, and type of imagery is likely to be different from the piece I just finished. That is also why I feel the need to come up with new series from time to time (see my post on this subject: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/staying-fresh/).
And then there is the reference to the grid, an association that is interwoven through my own history as an artist and is, much like with food, my
It has been a busy, fruitful year, but I am not dwelling too much on the past! My sights are set on 2015, when I will have several shows that I am very excited about.
The first will be in March at Gold (Au) Gallery in Boston, my second solo show with the gallery. My solo in fall of 2012 was quite successful, but I am looking forward to this show taking place in a better economy. Below is the piece we have used for advance PR, just finished less than a month ago.
There will be another version of “Trove”, 35 3″x5″ paintings in a divided frame—here is the one that I did and sold in 2007. This second frame is the last that I have been able to find, so only one more of these! The new one will have a weather theme.
I am working on a new idea for a multiple-panel piece, waiting for the delivery of canvas to begin work on the final version, which will come in (framed) at something like 14″x82″. A planning stages photo is below.
Some recent highlights have included three blog posts that I quite enjoyed writing. These often generate quite a bit of discussion on FB that I wish was taking place on the blog where more folks could enjoy it, so feel free to jump in.
Most recent, this short one about how grounding a creative process is:
Some stories that I love (and a few of you might recognize them!):
And my version of a rant about the costs, hidden to many, of making an artwork and bringing it to the public eye:
My early fall was well-occupied with this commissioned piece which was challenging in certain ways. My clients–who are also friends–wanted a piece that was most definitely in my signature style, but that also included a fairly large structure.
The small pastel looked great with some loose detail for the building, but when I got to the large oil, there was just too much of it to leave open. So I hunkered down and went after the architectural detail, surrendering to process. Then, however, the building looked too linear and didn’t fit with the rest of the painting. Finally, I made it all sit together by putting a fairly translucent layer of a lighter brown over the whole castle and embedding it with more blend into the white sky.
This is what makes each piece an adventure. I thought that the large Rhododendrons flanking the pond would be difficult to pull off/make interesting, but they fell right into place.
The reflection, however, was always going to be the star of the piece!
One other observation about process is that when it comes to a section that has quite a lot of of detail, I think of it as an abstract painting within a painting. This slows me down and enables me to focus with pleasure and patience, eventually backing up and scrutinizing how the area is working with the whole.
Below, a few recent pieces.
And this piece that I repainted last summer, brightening the color.
Some work that has sold recently through my galleries.
My other shows coming up in 2015 are with the Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard and a show exploring my most minimalist, color-field imagery with my gallery of longest-standing, Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck.
My fall workshops on in Provincetown and Woodstock were very focused and great fun. For 2015, I have two new themes on the schedule. (Contact me for a full course description.)
Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape, WSA, February 14-16 Sat-Mon
Landscapes in Large Scale, WSA, June 20-23, Sat-Tues
Provincetown Artist’s Association and Museum, Sept. September 14-18 Mon-Thurs(Workshop will be similar to Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape.)
Interpreting the Landscape in Oil or Pastel, WSA, October 17-19 Sat-Mon
Last comment for now is that I have been doing quite a bit of mentoring/coaching of other artists this past year and especially recently, enjoying working with both early career and experienced artists. I developed my mentoring programs years ago after meeting and conversing with many artists who had so much hope and conviction, but didn’t understand the ropes. The work is satisfying to me because I can clarify and demystify, and thus take some of the emotional weight out of the process of bringing artwork into the marketplace. I am grateful to the many artists who have trusted me to help them rewrite artist’s statements, brainstorm new series, scrutinize resumes for old contacts, and open themselves up to advice.
Happy holidays, happy 2015!
Over the top busy this spring and summer, with new galleries, a solo show in place and several other shows coming up between now and August.
We had a lovely, packed opening reception at Chace-Randall Gallery in Andes, NY. I will be updating the blog post I created about the work in the show as pieces continue to sell—but you really should see the show in person, if you couldn’t make the opening! Thank-you to Zoe Randall for the party and especially for a great job hanging the work. The show will be up through July 7th.
I am showing again at Butters Gallery in Portland Oregon— and so pleased to add this reputable gallery in a new locale to my list. I participated in the “Line” show there last winter, curated by Melinda Stickney-Gibson, and have remained on the roster. Opening June 5th is a 4-artsist landscape show, invitation below. For my work in the show, see their website:
BUTTERS GALLERY LTD 520 NW DAVIS PORTLAND OREGON 97209 (503) 248-9378 (800) 544-9171 gallery hours: tuesday-friday 10-5:30 saturday 11-5 http://www.buttersgallery.com
East / West
June 5th – 28th 2014
Opening Reception: Thursday June 5th, 6 – 9 pm
My newest gallery is Edgewater Gallery in Middelbury, VT. This happened the way we artists love it to happen—a phone call offering representation. A beautiful space and locale, I am happy to be on the walls, and look forward to events there, starting with a visit and meet-and-greet in October. I just shipped off this triptych, painted with them in mind. See their website for additional work:
Up next is my duo show (with M.J. Levy Dickenson) at Julie Heller East in Provincetown, July 18-31, with an opening reception on July 19th from 6pm on. That same night we are also hosting a reception through the gallery at the Anchor Inn with larger pieces of mine and the work of Polly Law, 7-9pm. The idea is that viewers can go from East End to West End and see both shows.
Arriving at the Anchor Inn/JHG on June 5th, this new piece.
In August I will be showing with Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard in a show with Louisa herself and Paul Beebe. Dates are August 7-27. with opening reception August 9th, 5-7pm. I am new to this beautiful gallery in Vineyard Haven, though I have been showing on the island since 1998, beginning with Carol Craven Gallery and most recently with Dragonfly (thank-you, Carol, Don, and Susan!). The show will include several large-formeat pieces of Vineyard locales.
Here are a few pieces hanging now in her Memorial Day show, including several new ones recently delivered.
Tucked in among all of these shows with my galleries is a very sweet happening, a show called “Three Generations” at Cano (Community Arts Network of Oneonta) in Oneonta, NY. This show will feature my mother, Gerri Scheele, with the ceramics that she was so well known for and the landscapes that followed; myself; and my daughter and son Tessa and Tony Scheele Morelli. This will be a special family affair staged at the Wilbur mansion, where I did my first oil painting at age 11 and where my mother showed extensively for many years.
Heading next week to Gold Gallery in Boston, this newly repainted piece. I am looking forward to my second solo show there in March of 2015.
Some spring sales:
ALL of my galleries have work of mine at all times, so wherever you are or travel to among these locales, check them out!
Workshops are upcoming at the Woodstock School of Art June 23-25 and Provinctown Artists Association and Museum, September 15-18.
Abstraction and Narrative in the Landscape
Working in Oil or Pastel
Using photograhic reference, we will investigate how the elements in a landscape painting serve the whole, accessing the formal qualities of color, shape, edge, and composition to create compelling imagery. The first day we will explore these tools and how they impact the implied narrative of the painting through exercises in oil or pastel on paper. In these studies we will add, subtract, move elements around and change color using our painterly hand. Instead of painting over changes, each study will remain intact while we start a new one so that all variations can be rigorously critiqued and compared before being used as a springboard for a larger painting.
Days 2-4 will include a demo of color-mixing from primaries; more compositional studies, and pursuing fully realized landscape paintings on canvas or larger pastels. Instruction will emphasize the reduction of detail to create a strong, clean composition, along with discussion of both the abstract and the narrative qualities brought out in individual paintings.
This topic, a favorite of mine, resurfaced recently in a discussion of Andrew Wyeth with my son. He had stumbled across and was admiring some of the more minimalist drawings and prints, not being familiar with the more famous work (Wyeth is not taught in most BFA program art history classes). In contrast, I had never taken a really close look at the more abstract work, finding it masterful—especially in terms of composition– upon scrutiny.
All artwork that uses recognizable imagery carries some kind of a story, from the merest hint of one created by our own associations with an object or objects depicted to artwork that focuses on documenting something very specific about the world around us. Where an artist chooses to fall along this spectrum is of course a major piece of our stylistic puzzle.
Wyeth’s work is a good vehicle for the discussion of high narrative vs. open abstraction, as is my own, since we both wander back and forth between greater openness and more specificity in different pieces.
“Christina’s World” is the obvious choice for a high-narrative Wyeth. I have never liked this piece so I originally wasn’t going to include it, but the reasons for my dislike pertain to this discussion, so I will begin with it.
This is a piece that is melodramatic, and photographically so. I find the poignancy of the narrative so cloying that I can’t appreciate the composition, and the rendering so exact that I take no pleasure in the surface of the painting. The story is sown up to the point that there seems to be no room for the viewer.
Public Sale”, in contrast, is a gorgeous piece in its tonalist color and sweeping angles that manages to combine a strong narrative with equally strong painterly devices.
Wyeths compositions are stunning in their use of interlocking diagonal shapes and edges to create movement. In “Public Sale”, the tilt of the hill serves the story, clearly the destabilizing event of a home lost to the bank. We are kept from a sense of sliding off the left side of the piece by the dominant color of the driveway angling back toward center right and by the lovely soft stands of trees on upper left that travel off the edge of the piece with the slightest upward angle.
The ample use of gritty black and near-black for the human-interest details of figures, car, buildings, and so on also help convey a theme of human unkindness and grief in the midst of an idyllic (though also man-made) landscape. The genius of this painting is that it has in equal measure the open feel that the sweep of the landscape provides and the tautness of a clear story line.
I suspect that for these major oil paintings Wyeth started with the story and mood that he wanted to convey, and organized the painting to express these.
In the watercolor below there is a major shift toward the abstract with dynamic angles delighting the eye as the lines and shapes lead it back and forth across the painting. Even the signs of human activity have more presence as shapes than as descriptive objects. Much as I am impressed by “Public Sale”, I actually want to look longer at the watercolor. There is no story arc…just endless possibilities as shapes lead into others and tones and lines divide the picture plane.
The following two watercolors are quirky and abstract, playing with forced perspectives, odd linkings of shapes, and fabulous textures. The documentary nature of many of Wyeth’s figurative paintings and figures in a landscape is not present in any of these watercolors, creating an open feel that invites the viewer to enter.
This discussion of content and abstraction is of enduring interest to me as I explore the compelling terrain that contains them both. My roots lie more in the abstract (I call it my “comfort art”, the work I was studying in my teenage years: Rothko; Agnes Martin; Kandinsky—the abstract expressionist work; Frankenthaler; Gotleib; de Koonig.) That I long ago chose to work with landscape imagery doesn’t lesson my ongoing love affair with the formal elements of painting, though it is exactly the intrigue with the push and pull of these two aspects of representational art that generated that choice, as I try to have it all.
The following pieces of my own compare to the Wyeths as examples of paintings with either more or less narrative.
In the first, “Bridge Crossing with Violets”, there is an openness of the dawn sky seen through the fog that counterbalances in mood the grittiness of the truck traffic. We are clearly in a particular moment in time, but there is no story arc.
Sandflats with Cloudbank, in contrast, is almost a pure color-field painting. The whole piece sits right up at the front of the picture plane, the horizon line implying depth but not really describing it (abstract artists always say that the minute you put a horizontal line on a canvas you have a landscape whether you want one or not). The clouds have a bit of volume, anchoring the flatness of the sandflats and stripe of a tidal pool. The shapes of the scene actually looked like this—I might not have had the courage to paint that stripe if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Still, this is a piece that is more about painting than place.
“Diagonal Cloudbank” falls somewhere in between–still a minimum of detail, but creating an experience that takes you there, and perhaps is equally about painting and the moment in time.
My approach to a painting is to carefully work out the formal elements of color, shape, edge, and surface and let the implied narrative and mood follow organically, sometimes surprising even myself. With the below piece, for example, I didn’t expect it to convey such a taut mood, since it is an ethereal subject matter.
Someone once said that all good art allows for the viewer to project their own feelings into the piece. That turf is vitally important to me—I want every single painting of mine to provide that opportunity, at least to the right viewer. In my experience, if the narrative is too specific, it does not leave this chance for open, nonverbal interpretation.
At the height of this most lovely summer, things are going beautifully both inside and outside of the studio. I am currently busy replenishing my galleries, with recent deliveries to Chace-Randall in Andes and Albert Shahinian in Rhinebeck, and plans for another one to Gold Gallery in Boston.
During summer, I leave my studio door open and listen to the sound of the creek behind it, using my yard as an extended studio. I wish we could start all over again at the beginning of June…but plan on fully savoring what remains.
I recently published a blog post on creating an abstract painting, using three exhibitions that I attended in May-June as the basis for my discussion. I sent this out to my list of artists, but not to my whole list, so be sure and take a look if you think you would be interested. Collectors and friends have sometimes commented on how much they would like some sort of art historical/art appreciation primer. This discussion would serve that purpose in regard to the formal elements of constructing a painting (any painting, not just an abstract one).
The Shandaken Art Studio Tour was busy again this year, with the added bonus for me of my two 21-year-olds participating. We had nearly 100 people coming through, with good conversation, sales, and follow-up, as well. Below, “Rainy Road/Metal Box”, one of the last pieces that I finished before the Tour, was acquired by a friend.
Rainy Road/Metal Box,4.5″x9″, sold at the Shandaken Art Studio Tour.
These two pastels sold at the Tour to the same couple. Buying pastels unframed is a really nice way to go, since then the collectors can pick frame and mat that look good both on the piece and in their chosen spot. I accompanied them the weekend after the Tour to my fabulous framer, Geoffrey Rogers (since 1990!) to assist in picking out just the right presentation.
Since this is the season when many of my galleries are in full swing, there have been a nice number of sales, each with their own story. As I started putting this post together, there emerged a series of short vignettes about these acquisitions, so I am running with that. Below, a handful of pieces sold recently and some accompanying stories. (This is one of the reasons that I like to stay in close touch with my galleries—to collect all of this information on what goes on and to impart to them observations of my own. It can also be helpful to share current news from one venue to the next, since they are too busy in their galleries to get much chance to exchange notes.)
A fellow fell in love with the below piece in Andes, promising to bring his wife the next weekend.
Fortunately, he also liked other work of mine in the gallery, including “Evening Headlights”, since his wife was smitten with it, and they decided that this piece was the one.
Couples work this out in differing ways. Sometimes they feel they need to agree 100% on each acquisition. Other times they take turns selecting the particular piece, but do need to agree on the artist.
I finally managed to get one of my larger Affinities to my Boston gallery and it was the very next thing that they sold. This piece was admired last summer in my studio by another artist as “the darkest landscape I have ever laid eyes on”. (And it WAS meant as a complement!)
“Still Waters”, below, was finished last week and sold within a few days. I had a lovely time painting it, feeling mesmerized by the fog. It is going to a collector who has long wanted a large piece of mine.
Both this triptych and the even larger one sold by Gold Gallery last fall from my solo show there went to first-time buyers. That is quite a leap!
“Crossing at Dusk” was recently purchased by clients of my Andes, NY gallery. Interested at first in the above “Mists off the River”, as they weighed their options they discovered a piece on my Boston gallery’s website, and this ended up being their final choice. They knew to work through the original gallery, though, and the sale was a co-broke between the two venues.
A couple visited my studio looking for an over-the-couch sized piece with subtle color. After checking out some possibilities here, they headed over to Albert Shahinan Fine Art to look at a particular piece there. While perusing their ample holdings of my work, they fell in love with this smaller piece, below. So, following their heart (instead of sticking to a strict purpose) they left with “When Autumn Glows Softly”, leaving the larger spot to be worked out in the near future, most likely with a commissioned piece.
They were no sooner home than they had it up and sent me a jpeg of the piece installed. So nice!
Two workshops are coming up, at the Provincetown Artists Association and Museum September 16-19, and the Woodstock School of Art October 18-20th I am planning a different sort of workshop for next year that dials in on issues of composition and color with a series of exercises on primed paper. This should be great with beginners, and also a big help for experienced painters in better understanding decision-making about the formal elements of painting.
I will be scheduling a 1-day intake seminar for mentoring for career support in September or October—see link below for more info. Let me know if you are interested!
The pleasures of late spring and early summer as they affect my studio experience and the tasks related to showing and selling my work are too many to list. Must-mentions: painting with windows and door open to the yard and the stream behind my studio; drying my paintings in the sun in my yard so that I can resume work on a second layer within just a day; doing my daily work on the computer sitting on my screened-in back porch with the sound of the stream as accompaniment; and driving my work around for deliveries surrounded by the visual joy of many-colored lilacs, poppies creating a splash of brilliant orange next to purple dame’s rocket, and amazing, shifting, spring-soft greens.
Ellsworth Kelly at Thompson Giroux Gallery
I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition and 90th birthday party for Ellsworth Kelly on May 31st, the day of his actual birthday, at my gallery in Chatham, NY, Thompson Giroux. Chatham is familiar turf for Ellsworth– the dinner was thrown in the same space that he rented for his first upstate studio back in the early ’70s, and is of course the source for the title of his “Chatham Series”.
It was lovely to see again the botanical prints that we studied and admired back when I was in art school as iconic line drawings from life—spare, fluid, and subtly quirky.
I was most interested to read that Ellsworth based his abstract paintings on “observed reality”, a departure from the ethic of the day. Comparing this with the work of the abstract artists that I am closest to, Jenny Nelson, Melinda Stickney-Gibson and Marie Vickerilla,, whose imagery evolves from within the process of developing each canvas (and whose shows I have also recently seen) has set me thinking. I plan a blog post on this discussion, coming up next.
Then, I may not be able to resist jumping into the issue of prices and how crazy the art market is. Discussing an artist whose work brings some of the highest prices of any living artist in the same breath as three mid-level artists makes it hard to avoid that particular elephant in the room.
What is the realtionship between quality and price in the art market? Why do these four artists have such different price points?
Shandaken Art Studio Tour July 20-21
Save-the-date for the Shandaken Studio Tour, when it is my pleasure to arrange and open up my studio to new folks doing the tour, my collectors, fellow artists, and friends. This is a busy weekend for me, though oddly grouped sometimes (last year about half the people who came by seemed to be there just after 2pm on Sunday!). Here are a few of the pieces that I plan on showing.
Favorite Pieces at my Galleries
Within the past month six of my galleries have either received new work or been delivered the whole grouping that they will show for the season. I have chosen a favorite piece from each location to show you below—I hope you get a chance to visit these wonderful galleries!
An Invitational Show in Newburgh
A Few Recent Sales
Upcoming painting workshops
Landscape and Mood, the Woodstock School of Art, June 24-26. http://woodstockschoolofart.org/
Landscape and Mood, The Provincetown Artists Association and Museum, September 16-19 (this will be on their website soon). http://www.paam.org/mspaam.html
Perhaps it is because of the non-winter of 2012. Maybe it reflects the variety of weather and color that we are experiencing this year. In any case, at the beginning of 2013, I looked around my studio and saw that I had a series of winter images emerging. This is not something I normally do, creating a grouping based on a season, especially one that is so…charged? Controversial?
Since we do not reliably have snow cover in winter anymore, these images vary from a minimalist snowy field with bits of reddish vegetation poking out at the top, to a view of the Walkill with no snow cover at all.
Two of them were inspired by photos posted by friends on Facebook, used, of course, with their permission. This is something that I don’t seek out, having enough reference in my studio to last me about 500 years. But when I see the right thing…hard to resist!
About half were started in 2012, but all have been finished in the month of January.
I have been puzzling over what makes a piece a standout within my body of work. It is not a question of “better”, nor of “favorite”. There is consensus around these pieces, and the five I have selected (more in future posts!) have also withstood the test of time—they date from 1993 to 2008.
A major attribute that makes these paintings stand out is that they all push a particular direction to the furthest point along my spectrum. There are a number of avenues of exploration that have held my interest over the course of years, allowing for many subtle permutations along the way. These five paintings epitomize the categories that they represent—signposts, in their way, whether they came early or later .
My plan for this piece was to do a scene of Castille, complete with red soil and olive trees. (I much later did the image with additional detail as a pastel, which I also consider a marker piece, as discussed below.) This was all before I started working on the dark ground that has long been part of my technique, so I created an underpainting with black oil to create the mass of the the large landform and used a light grey in the sky. I carefully scumbled the top line to embed the tree shapes and hill into the sky.
When I returned to my studio ready to work back into the now dry first layer, I was struck by how powerful the piece was in just black and white, and so decided to find a way to honor that simplicity. Brushing a little thin almost white into the sky created a soft vibration there, and setting the piece on the floor, I added a wash of deep green, leaving the edges of the piece black.
This piece went so far in the direction of a totally abstract, minimalist color field painting that once it was finished, I felt thoroughly satisfied and never again felt the need to take another piece quite so far in that direction. With “Dark Castille”, I managed to wed landscape imagery with the open feel of a Rothko.
“Red Fields”, hewing more closely to the original reference, pushes my palette in exactly the opposite direction as “Dark Castille”. It is not only one of my brightest pieces ever, but also has a larger range than most—quite bright blue in the sky. resounding reds, then into rusts and greens, both olive and sage. The matte surface of pastel on paper is ideal for creating a brighter and more inclusive palette that feels rich rather than jarring. Like the first version above, the treeline at the top of the hillside is the kind of focal point that I find absolutely delicious to paint. The detail and rich color in “Red Fields” makes me profoundly happy.
“Fireflies” is simply the blurriest painting I have done to date. The softness captures the resonant beauty of a rainy summer day in the Catskills, tonalist greens and blues deepened by the low light. Since I have been doing paintings incorporating approaching headlights, I have been astounded at how different the points of light can be, depending on atmospherics. Here, they are oh-so-soft, and yet they buzz around the picture plane with a great deal of energy.
This effect is achieved because this triptych is, rather than one image divided into three panels, actually three different paintings. As I was working on them separately, I repeatedly brought them together to check on how they were interacting, establishing variation in placement of headlights, horizon, roadway, and other elements. The eye is thus invited to travel around laterally between the panels, complimenting the implied movement of the headlights moving toward the viewer..
“Divided Fields” sparks two of my favorite discussions. One is about the summer palette of blue sky and green field or grass, and the other is about minimalism and color field painting.
This piece explores flatness and abstraction in a manner different from “Dark Castille” . The picture plane is divided up into long, horizontal wedges within the hillside, and the sky functions partly as one horizontal shape, and partly as clouds/blue sky. The upward direction of the clouds brings the eye back down to the horizon, while their diagonal directionality creates a rhythm that helps the eye sweep along the expanse of the entire piece, almost like reading—left to right. The flatness is far from absolute, with lots of soft scumbling and hue variation to create vibration within the planes of color.
All of my pieces create mood, though I do not aim to create narrow, specific emotions so much as broad, subtle and complex resonance. Moody, tonalistic paintings are second nature to me, loving as I do weather and dense atmospherics.After some years of that exploration, however, I wanted to be able to also capture the sheer joy of a sunny summer day. The open, abstract nature of “Divided Fields” pairs strong blues and greens with the assertive lines of the field divisions to walk exactly the line that I am after—a duality of delight in time/place/season along with the pure pleasure that planes of composed color can provide.
“Dark Cloud” also has a reductive, color field affect, but departs from the pieces discussed so far in the dynamic of the cloud. There are only three shapes in the whole piece, including the negative space of the sky, and the cloud is the most assertive of them.
Clouds can be, and be painted, in countless ways. In this painting I pushed the cloud into the most dominant position of any piece that I have done, partly by creating just a single cloud, and partly by its size and color. I worked the subtle variations within and at the edges the way I do with any cloud, so that they are embedded in the sky rather than seeming to float on top of it. Yet, this cloud is clearly read as a shape that dialogues aggressively with the wedge of hillside below. The landform holds its own, in turn, by being totally black and having a tree lifting into the sky in such a way that the cloud seems halted by it. With this strong play of elements, “Dark Cloud” contains an edge of tension resulting from both narrative and formal elements.