Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Posts tagged “paintings in vintage boxes

Multiple Panel Paintings and the Grid

The Grid.

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.)

Agnes Martin, Trumpet, 1967.

Agnes Martin, Trumpet, 1967.

Agnes

Agnes Martin, Untitled, litho, 1998.

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.

Louise Nevelson, Untitled, 1968.

Louise Nevelson, Untitled, 1968.

Louise Nevelson, Ancient Secrets, 1964.

Louise Nevelson, Ancient Secrets, 1964.

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.

Mark Rothko, 1960

Mark Rothko, No. 7, 1960.

  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.

Triptych in Reds

“Triptych in Reds”, 3 panels of 24″x24″/ea., 2013, an example of one image spread over 3 panels with each framed individually.

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.

One of my handful of favorite paintings ever. The divided frame serves to remind that  this is a painting, so that you can be both in the moment of the wave and enjoying the abstraction of the piece..

“Exuberant Wave”, panels are 30″x30″/ea., 2010, framed in one frame with dividers. (Private Collection.)

“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.

River in 5, 5 panels of 10"x10"/ea.

River in 5, 5 panels of 10″x10″/ea. (Private Collection.)

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.

"Rainy Road/Fireflies", 3 panels of 12"x12"/ea. (sold)

“Rainy Road/Fireflies”, 3 panels of 12″x12″/ea.,2008. (Private Collection.)

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.

Sampler #4, 16 5" panels on black pastel paper,

Sampler #4, 16 5″ panels on black pastel paper, the last Sampler completed. (Privaye Collection.)

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.

Colorcode, 3 panels of 3"x5", vertical arrangement of 3 images united by color.

Colorcode #2,  3 panels of 3″x5″, vertical arrangement of 3 images united by color and composition. (Private collection.)

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.

Cyclone Sampler

Cyclone Sampler, 21.5″x10.5″. (Museum Collection.)

“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.

"Trove", 30"X48" overall.

“Trove”, 35 3″x5″ paintings, 30″X48″ overall. (Private Collection.)

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.

Trove #2: From the Road, 16 panels of 3"x5"/ea.

Trove #2: From the Road, 16 panels of 3″x5″/ea, 2010.. (Private Collection.)

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.

Final Trove in progress.

Final Trove in progress a few weeks ago in my studio.

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/).

Winter in 6,

Winter in 6, 2013. (Private Collection.)

"Smoke in Four",  a distressed, compartmentalized box that was a lucky find. (Sold by ANG)

“Smoke in Four”, 2007. (Private Collection.)

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.

Commissioned piece in two trays, 2014.

Commissioned piece in two trays, 2014.

 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.

Affinity/Duo/Palms, 2 paintings of 16"x8"/ea.

Affinity/Duo/Palms, 2 paintings of 16″x8″/ea.

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
“comfort art”.


Staying Fresh

How do we do it?

I have been working exclusively with landscape imagery since 1990, and painting full time since about 2004. I like nothing better than to be in my studio working, and since I have multiple galleries that all need work, that means a good number of landscape paintings over the course of the years.

So how do I keep it fresh, avoid being bored (which would surely show up in the work), not fall into painting the same painting over and over again?

This is a big question for artists who have a market for their work. Some do just that—paint the same thing, essentially, for decades on end, though realists and plein air painters often have a great love for minute changes in subject matter and locale and keep themselves happy and entertained with these shifts. No judgement here from me–the happy or engrossed artist is the key to good work.

We have all seen artists in the blue chip realm who disappoint with a new body of work (will Susan Rothenberg ever be able to delight me as much as she did with the early horse series?) And yet, the custom of many decades now is for an artist to work serially, ideally moving gracefully and yet compelingly from one body of work to another, maybe over the course of a few years (and often marked by the solo at their major gallery, when it is assumed that that work will leave their studio and never come back, making it easy to start a fresh series). Preferably, from the market standpoint, there is some stylistic or thematic continuity from one series to the next.

I found my true niche with my minimalist mode of landscape painting back in 1990, and a few years later felt a need for opening up my explorations. I addressed it then by expanding the range of my subject matter and palette. Initially, I had avoided anything overtly dramatic, keeping to tonalist color and flat light, and the first shift brought me into a complex sky, or a brighter, blue-sky day.

(The photos in this post may be more current examples, since I have not even begun to get all of my pre-digital slides and photos scanned.)

"Rare Summer Silence", 20"x30".

“Rare Summer Silence”, 20″x30″, (courtesy Gold Gallery), an example of the sort of palette and light that has drawn me from the beginning.

Sky in Motion, 24"X20", $2,800. (GG)

“Sky in Motion”, 24″X20″ (sold by Gold Gallery), which shows the kind of complex sky that beckoned a little later on.

 As the years passed and I felt ever more firmly in the saddle of my approach, I dared take on subject matter that borders on the cliche for a landscape painter—sunsets, a beach path, fluffy white clouds, even a sailboat at rest. I enjoyed the challenge of painting these subjects while avoiding the melodramatic or sentimental, at first by aided by instinct and later with a clearer understanding—which I now teach—of how this can be achieved.

Sunset Sea in Red/Gold, 20"x60", $6,500.

“Sunset Sea in Red/Gold”, 20″x60″, (private collection).

I also played with format. The first time I did a vertical landscape I had never actually seen it done, and I found it quite daring. Later, I explored extreme verticals, as well as horizontals.

Cranberry Bog in Reds, 48"x24", 2013.

“Cranberry Bog in Reds”, 48″x24″ (courtesy Gold Gallery).

The next time I felt restless, I still thought of subject matter, now manmade elements.  I started with phone poles, and moved on to urban images, road imagery, and then grittier industrial imagery. In 2003 I had a show at Albert Shahinian Fine Art, then in Poughkeepsie, called “Manmade”.

ExhuberantStorm

“Exuberant Storm, 30″x36” (sold by Chace-Randall Gallery).

"Conviction of Beauty", 12"x

“Conviction of Beauty”, 14″x40″ (courtesy Albert Shahinian Fine Art).

Bridge Crossing in Violets

“Bridge Crossing in Violets”, 12″x12″ (courtesy Butters Gallery).

A few years later, I pondered how to get my love for the grid into my work (bearing in mind that my background is in contemporary, not traditional, art).  On first glance, it seemed that there were only a few ways to incorpoarate this with landscape imagery. But I decided to just get started doing these first ideas, and eventually it became clear that there were many ways to bring the landscape and the grid together.

River in 5, 5 panels of 10"x10"/ea.

“River in 5”, 5 panels of 10″x10″/ea., (sold by Albert Shahinian Fine Art), one image stretched over a number of panels.

"Trove",

“Trove”, 35 3″x5″ oil-on-panel paintings (private collection). In order to make these separate images hang together and not be too busy, I used at least some reds in each piece, and toward the end I painted six or seven very minimalist black-and-red images to create a sort of matrix for the brighter, more complex pieces. Also, some of the images had already been explored in larger pieces, usually in a different format, and revisiting them was a pleasure.

"Rainy Road/Fireflies", 3 panels of 12"x12"/ea. (sold)

“Rainy Road/Fireflies”, 3 panels of 12″x12″/ea. (sold by Gold Gallery), three versions of the same stretch of road and close to the same moment in time, with implied movement and a non-linear nod to film.

Somewhere around 2002, once again contemplating my next move, I began to use vintage boxes and other distressed objects as my support, selecting imagery and palette to mesh with the elements already present in the object.

Approach, oil on vintage blackboard, 11"x13.5"

“Approach”, oil on vintage blackboard, 11″x13.5″ (courtesy Chace-Randall Gallery). Elements and color in the image reflect grain, texture and color present in the frame of the blackboard.

This series sometimes requires applied problem-solving in to addition visual/aesthetic decision making, and I  enjoy the stretch of the brain.

Many of these pieces have been set in lovely old compartmentalized boxes, trays, or pans, which means that they also explore multiple-panel imagery.

"Mountain Fall in 6, 5"x18" (courtesy Albert Shahinian Fine Art).“Mountain Fall in 6, 5″x18” (courtesy Albert Shahinian Fine Art). This appears to be an old coin drawer from a cash register. At first I thought of putting small panels within the compartments, but that obscured the lovely curve at the back. Finally, I created flexible pieces of backed linen that follow the curve. I had to take them in and out a number of times while I was painting them, since being set back changed the light and therefore the color substantially.

When I was preparing to do my Cyclone Sampler, I spent a great deal of time just figuring out what I was going to paint on before nestling the tiny panels into the compartments of the box (I settled on bevel-cut 8-ply matboard—bless my framer—that I sealed front and back with multiple coats of matte medium, since I did not want to put glass over this piece). A spontaneous decision at the end, purely aesthetic, was to leave a few compartments empty, avoiding the feel of a catalogue.

Cyclone Sampler

“Cyclone Sampler”,21.5″x10.5″, (collection of the Tyler Museum of Art). Unlike the expansive feel of my single-image landscapes , this piece shows the vast energy of many twisters tightly contained within the grid.

 This series has as many possibilities as the amazing things that I come across that fire my imagination, though I often have to stare at the object for up to a year before I decide what I want to do with it.

Irrigated Fields, (sold by Albert Shahinian Fine Art).

Irrigated Fields, 4″x18″(sold by Albert Shahinian Fine Art).

My most recent addition is the Affinity Series, oil paintings on linen with frayed edges on board overlaid with graphite gridding. I don’t even remember the exact thought process that brought these into being, but it started with the idea of manipulating the support. I was enjoying both selecting and adjusting the subject matter to the individual vintage object that I was using in the pieces in that series, and was interested in creating a more specific support myself, forcing a considered mesh between it and the painted imagery.

Generally the imagery that works best with the frayed edges and gridding in the Affinity Series is either very minimalist or has strong linear elements.

Affinity/Boatyard, 10"x10", 2014, oil on linen with frayed edges on board overlaid with graphite lines.

Affinity/Boatyard, 10″x10″, 2014, oil on linen with frayed edges on board overlaid with graphite lines.

That I ended up with graphite gridding as an overlay was a circle-back to my longstanding interest in the grid, bringing the viewer’s eye to the surface of the piece and creating mixed associations. Some of the latter I hadn’t even thought of, like the historical use of gridding to aid with proportions while transferring a small image, or maquette, into the larger finished piece, an association that other artists have pointed out to me.

Affinity/On the Grid, 36"x48", (courtesy Gold Gallery).

Affinity/On the Grid, 36″x48″, (courtesy Gold Gallery). In this very recent piece I pushed the gridding quite a bit, moving to black instead of graphite and actually spending more time very selectively gridding than on the earlier painting portion.

Many pieces now are some combination of these series. For example, often the frayed linen on board of the Affinity series works well in an old box.

"Factory at Work", 7>5"x3.5" (courtesy Julie Heller Gallery).

“Factory at Work”, 7.5″x3.5″ (courtesy Julie Heller Gallery).

All the while, I have continued to paint my wide-open landscapes on linen. Doing all these other explorations makes a small new slant on a salt marsh or hillside painting feel exciting and fresh, even though I have been painting this imagery for 24 years.

"Blue Light", 20"x60", 2014.

“Blue Light”, 20″x60″, 2014.

I love expanding the repertoire, adding both new versions within a body of work that reflects longstanding interests and, every so often, a whole new series. In my week-to-week, month-to-month, I juggle these series simultaneously, rather than consecutively, keeping myself riveted to what is developing in my studio.

The constant is the landscape.

"White Light/ Red Light", 24"x24", (Courtesy Chace-Randall Gallery).

“White Light/ Red Light”, 24″x24″, (Courtesy Chace-Randall Gallery). Sneak peak at a new piece going into my upcoming solo, opening May 24th!

What is next? (I have several ideas just taking shape, so not sharing yet!)