Paintings from the Oregon Outback
Wide Open is a more contemporary take on the traditional landscape, and represents the blending of land forms and atmosphere when seen at great distance. To me, this is symbolic of the interconnectedness of man and nature, where we are our environment through the way we process our unique perceptions.
I have been thinking about doing a painting called Walmart at Sunrise.
Sitting in my car, watching the sun rise while waiting for my shift to begin at a neighboring big box store, I keep seeing this painting unfold. The sky turns from violets to pinks, the clouds drifting across the sky. The bare branches of the trees are counterpoint to the staggered verticals of the light posts. In a glittering abstract of sunlight reflecting off metal, light dances across the parked cars of the night crew. There is anticipation in the moment. Like watching the sun rise across a distant lake, when everything is soft and quiet and mystical. Like standing at Stonehenge watching the rising sun on the mid winter solstice.
In an hour it will look like an urban parking lot, over burdened with cars and discarded plastic bags and lopsided shopping carts.
But for those few moments, it is beautiful.
In a world where our lives are interconnected with technology, where we think in 140 characters, cannot function without smart phones or GPS or using an App to discover what is around us - as humans, we will always have a hunger for something real.
And if there is anything meaningful in painting, then I think the work has to be in response to some human feeling or pathos or empathy. For this, the artist has to make himself venerable. He has to develop a point of view. And even if that point of view is ignored by the majority, it is the thing that will make the work relevant to the few.
Perhaps this is the only important question the artist needs to ask when examining his own work.
I was recently asked by another artist about theme: He said, " I'm really wondering if your theme was more intuitive, or did you consciously choose to focus on something in particular?”
As an organizing principle, theme is a catalyst that fuels imagination, but I did not fully understand this until I began to study this idea more intensively by attending a workshop led by David Leffel, by reading his two excellent books (I highly recommend An Artist Teaches), and through the Bright Light Artist Guild. Theme was always a surface concern: a point of view, a series, a way of approaching subject matter.
How I now interpret concept, or theme, is as a determining factor that affects every decision the artist makes. In the case of Northwest Coast, my concept followed a classic Leffel approach: light. Using this principle, the areas that most clearly express the quality of light can be seen on the rock in the foreground, and the foam in the receding wave. The cast shadow from the rock gives you the direction of the light, and the brightness of the lit areas express the quality of the sunlight. Other areas of the painting are less important, so I suggested detail and kept values similar. I wanted to communicate the rugged coastline, the constant churning of the surf, and that moment when the sun breaks through before the next storm.
A re-emerging theme in my work is water, in part because it is ever changing, yet there is power, energy, and peace in its movement. With each surge something new holds possibility. With each withdrawal there is reflection. And the cycle begins again.
Like life. Like art.
Tea Brewer and Ginger Gar, 16 x 20, oil
While wandering through a local antique store, I happened to notice this brass Tea Brewer sitting in a back corner. The winter light flooding through the window behind the display was further hampered by the layer of dust on the glass - but sitting next to the brewer was the lovely little ginger jar. The soft lighting and the two different surfaces suggested the beginning idea for the painting Tea Brewer and Ginger Jar.
The next painting challenge was to see if I could create a visual space where the warm colors of the cloth and the brass brewer would stay in the background, while the cooler light that grows in intensity on the ginger jar would remain in the foreground. My concept was light, lost, soft and warm in the background, flowing out, increasing in intensity on the ginger jar, then moving back to the cloth and back wall. It is a story of how this magical property of light can take us from our comfortable existence and reveal a moment of beauty, or a fleeting glimpse of God’s gift, and then softly let us go.