(Photo above courtesy of Katherine Taylor)
I was in my first year of teaching high school English in Albuquerque during my twenties and one day, a strange feeling came over me: I knew, without a doubt, that I would one day be an oil painter. I don’t even know why I thought this, as I had just spent four long years studying to be an educator and had just landed my first teaching gig. In fact, I had never even taken an art class before.
I will admit that there was this odd incident when I was 12 years old when I surprised my family as I skillfully recreated a National Geographic fishing scene on a large canvas with acrylics . . . the talent seemed to have come out of me from nowhere, as I had never painted before. But appreciation for beauty was always encouraged by my mother when we were growing up. She was a sensualist who loved arranging flowers, sewing together colorful fabrics, and creating these cool, paper mâchéangels and other crafts out of whatever she could find.
From that moment of revelation in New Mexico, I would teach English by day and study art by night with really accomplished regional oil painters, many of them classically trained. I did this for the next ten years. Art became my way of life, and when there wasn’t someone to teach me, I taught myself. I was completely dedicated and still am. I can still smell that same fragrance of excitement when I head to my studio in Bend to paint as I first did 30 years ago in New Mexico. And I keep a photo of my mother next my easel, since I still consider her my patron saint of beautiful things.
On Her Artistic Process…
My work could be considered Impressionistic realism, although other influences have been introduced along the way from my mentors, both living and dead. I was very enamored of Caravaggio when I visited Italy a few times to study there, and I have never totally shed my preference for chiaroscuro (strong contrasting lights and darks) that his work exemplified. I know it’s almost a cliché to hear artists say they are painting the light, but it’s true, that’s what I feel I am trying to capture, a sense of brilliant luminosity coming out of darker places. That contrast is very satisfying to me and it appeals to my alter ego which loves all things gothic and dramatic.
There was a long period of California pleinaire influences, which really forced me outdoors to observe the play of nature’s color, light, and atmosphere. In addition, pleinaire painting taught me to problem-solve quickly before the light changed. One great teacher, Kim English, had us painting the figure in the landscape during a week-long workshop, but he would only allow 5 minutes to complete each painting! We all came to hate the sound of his kitchen timer by the second day. But boy, did we learn how to inject the essence of movement and spontaneity onto our canvases. That loose but accurate method of painting led me to study the Russian Impressionists whom I highly regard even today for their textured and skillful paint application.
When students come to me to learn oil painting, I teach them how I learned, which is essentially the classical, atelier approach: how to draw with the brush, how to underpaint, how to decipher values, how to create good compositional designs, how to mix colors and see them in relationship to each other, etc. But if a student has mastered these areas already and is ready for something more advanced, I take them to edges and paint application techniques. Richard Schmid, one of my greatest influences, once said, “Paint should resemble reality but clearly not be reality itself. It’s not meant to fool the eye; it’s meant to delight the eye. Always retain the beauty of the paint.” I have this quote up in my studio as it’s a good reminder. Paint application is really where it’s at for me at this point in my career.
On Her Paintings….
My artwork is now changing to reflect that new understanding of what brushwork and palette knife textures can do. I still love painting still life and the figure, in addition to landscapes and portraiture. But how I paint everything is now morphing because the older I get, the more I have new things to say. My current world view very definitely includes a quantum perspective; I am fascinated with how the field of probabilities will manifest into a particle of visible form, based on one’s observation. You could say I am painting that one crystallized event, that brief moment when you can almost anticipate something before it comes fully into view. It’s magic and we’re all experiencing it on some level, conscious or otherwise; it’s just hard to talk about. My challenge is to paint it instead, and I attempt it by inventing a bit of abstraction to add another dimension to “reality.” Inventing can be a little scary for a classically-trained representational artist like myself, but it’s what keeps life interesting for me at the moment.
I once heard someone comment that the best artists are usually over 50 because it takes that long to really observe life and to depict it truthfully on canvas. I do believe good art requires keen observation. However, it’s my understanding that everyone’s truth is different. So naturally, my art is not going to be for everybody. But it does have to be for me, at least during the process of producing it. After that, I don’t own it anymore. The finished canvas is always content just to sit and wait patiently until its new owner comes along, someone who sees it and is startled by how much of their own truth has been seen and depicted in paint. Then they gratefully take the painting home. That’s how it works. Art collecting is all about the resonance.
Meantime, unless I lose my sight or the use of my hands, I will be grasping a brush or palette knife and trying to make marks on a canvas until I am 90 . . . because I suspect there will always be some new and beautiful truth to express. Painting never grows old.