Friday, February 27, 2015

The Painter’s Emotional Lens

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

We often think of landscape paintings as representational art. But, in fact, many artists are so inspired by the landscape they are experiencing, they prefer to convey these scenes through the lens of their emotions.

I recently attended a lecture by a docent from the Phoenix Art Museum about the Hudson River School. These American painters of the 19th century hiked in uncharted territory of upstate New York, in awe of the wilderness around them. They sketched and wrote their memories on site; then created paintings in their studios that we would call realistic, but which conveyed their fascination with and love of nature.

Dawn Mountain Glow
Fran Larsen
Today, some contemporary painters express their reactions to a landscape in a different way. They choose to ignore local color and instead, use hues that convey their emotions rather than describe what they see. Others prefer to express themselves with more stylized, abstract versions of physical realities. To explore these different concepts of landscape painting, I called two artists from Wilde Meyer whose work I admire.

When she moved to Santa Fe, Fran Larsen was thrilled by the wonderful light there, the amazing landscape and the interesting cultures of its residents. Fran says that her paintings are metaphors of her reaction to these unique New Mexican characteristics.

“I’m inspired by the way the environment here makes me feel,” she says. “Because of the intense light, I see color in entirely different ways. Once color becomes arbitrary – rather than local – shapes can be arbitrary as well.”

Hidden in the Mountains
Fran Larsen
Inspiration for her painting entitled “Dawn Mountain Glow” came as Fran was looking out her window at the canyon below her house. She painted the arroyo that runs through the canyon – a technique she often employs. “Roads and rivers are entry points that take us into things, and I believe that each painting is an exploration for me and the viewer,” she says. As you can see, Fran’s choice of colors is personal, and doesn’t reference the local scene. I sense that her emotional lens was a joyful one – the vivid colors in the canyon and the sky make the painting energetic and pleasing.

Fran departs from realism in other ways. In her painting entitled “Hidden in the Mountains,” she makes no attempt to portray a three-dimensional depth of field. “This painting is about a landscape, but my interest here is design and the use of flat space – a more cubist approach,” she says. Fran explains that she contrasts light and dark areas, using hues that vary in intensity, to give the painting a “feeling of push and pull.” She uses small dots to enliven the shapes and add texture.

There is another unique element in Fran’s paintings – the frames themselves. She designs, constructs and paints each frame to complement the painting. “The frame reasserts that the painting is an object, as opposed to a representation,” she says.


Sunlit Canyon
Sushe Felix
Sushe Felix lives in Colorado. Her southwest landscapes have a distinctive style, which she claims is derived from her interest in American abstract painters from the 1930’s and 40s, as well as the modernist movement. “In particular, I’ve been influenced by Raymond Jonson, who led the Transcendental Painting Group in Santa Fe,” Sushe explained.

Late Night Reflection
Sushe Felix
I looked up the group on Google, and found that the aim of the Transcendental Painting Group was "to defend, validate and promote abstract art. They sought to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new expressions of space, color, light and design."

Thomas Hart Benton, who was at the forefront of the Regionalist movement, also influenced Sushe, as did the southwest regionalist painters, who took the local landscape and abstracted it. Sushe does that in her own way, with a strong focus on forms, shapes and color. You can see her unique style in two of her paintings, entitled “Sunlit Canyon” and “Late Night Reflection.” She likes to define the shapes of the mountains and sky with sharp edges, but contrasts that with soft shapes inside the borders. When I asked her how she created the delicate areas of clouds, mountains and trees, she said that she uses old brushes to scrub acrylic paint on her canvas to create a pastel-like effect. “I studied pastel in college, so I know how to blend very well,” she says.

Sushe often includes depictions of wildlife in her paintings. Here, her love of animals lead her to create endearing “critters” with round eyes – as you can see in two beautiful paintings entitled “Nest of Blooms.” and “Full Brood.”


Full Brood
Sushe Felix
Nest of Blooms
Sushe Felix


Many people want a point of reference when they look at a painting. But more importantly, a painting should reflect the artist’s vision – seen through his or her emotional lens.

View more art by Fran Larsen and Sushe Felix at Wilde Meyer Gallery.


Monday, February 9, 2015

The Power of Simplification

by Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see an exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs, a collection of the work he created in the final decade of his life. When he was forced to give up painting in his later years, Matisse began to work with painted paper and scissors, arranging the shapes into lively compositions, creating what he called gouache cut-outs.

Henri Matisse, "The Snail," 1953  source
Matisse called his new method drawing in color.  He stated, “For me it is a question of simplification. Instead of drawing the outline and establishing color within it, I draw directly in the color…this simplification guarantees precision as I reconcile two means now become one.”

Matisse’s cut-outs actually introduced a new medium in art: his compositions of colored paper were not like other artists’ collages of various materials. They were an intentional method of creating art. He also used his cut-outs as a way to create a composition, moving them around until he achieved what he wanted. Matisse was always thinking about relationships, harmonies and contrasts. Jodi Hauptman, senior curator for MOMA, called his cut-outs “a carefully orchestrated riot of colors.”

For me, the outstanding impression of this amazing exhibit was how Matisse simplified his shapes and used them to celebrate his love of form and color. For this blog, I started thinking about some artists at Wilde Meyer who use simplified shapes and strong hues in their visual language.

Shadowland, 48 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Blaze, 48 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Jaime Ellsworth uses a limited palette and images distilled down to their basic shapes to create contemporary depictions of animals she loves. I really like the power of “Shadowland,” where the partial image of the horses and their shadows connect in interesting geometric patterns. Here, simplicity is conveyed in such an elegant way. Jaime continues this theme in “Blaze,” again using partial shapes and limited colors. In this painting, both the positive and the negative space are of interest.

Dog Days II, 24 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Things get more colorful in “Dog Days II.” But shapes are still very simple, and Jaime has painted the scene at the dogs’ eye level, which makes it so much more fun and appealing.

Trevor Mikula uses a palette knife to create his amusing paintings. He keeps things simple, too, with large blocks of color and a focus on one particular image. In “Like Your Hair,” he’s distilled the plant down to its basics: some curvy leaves and a red pot. That’s probably because Trevor sees things in his own humorous way! He also likes to transform mundane objects into a work of art – such as the old phone in “Ringer.” Here, the powerful hues and beautiful shapes of the background provide the art platform for the old black telephone.

Like Your Hair, 24 x 24 inches
Trevor Mikula
Ringer, 24 x 24 inches
Trevor Mikula
In Robert Burt’s paintings, strong color compositions portray the landscapes and architecture around him. Like Matisse, Robert distills his scenes down to their most elemental and powerful components, giving his paintings a very contemporary, stylized look. In “Colorful Morning,” he uses basic shapes to convey the mountains, trees, a house and a winding road with 3 cars – a seemingly simple endeavor that took considerable skill – especially his choice of colors that burst with energy to convey bright sunrise.

Colorful Morning, 30 x 30 inches
Robert Burt
We see this technique again in “Autumn.” Here, the fire red of the tree and its oversize shape get our immediate attention, but the muted trees in the background and the negative shapes of the sky, and the foreground with its shadow are still worth inspection.
Autumn, 44" x 44" inches
Robert Burt
Maybe this is kind of obvious, but I think that in this world of over-stimulation, it’s nice to look at art that celebrates simplicity! It’s such a powerful form of expression.

PS. Here’s a quote by the musician Frederic Chopin that recently appeared in a blog I read: "Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

View more art by Jaime Ellsworth, Robert Burt and Trevor Mikula at Wilde Meyer Gallery.