New Works from “Portals” Series Makes Debut at Lisa Harris Gallery

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Two works from one of my newest series made their debut at Lisa Harris Gallery this month in a special exhibition called “Double Dozen: Gallery Artists Select Guests.”

To many viewers, the paintings in this “Portals” series will seem like a departure from my previous work. My landscapes have alway leaned toward the abstract; however, the subject always remained identifiable. In the “Portals” series the paintings become entirely abstract. Although there is no recognizable subject, the paintings still share a common aesthetic with my previous work. This was summed up in an exchange I had with one of my students who attended the opening. “These are different! So what are these paintings about?” she asked. “What do you think they are about? I said. She answered, “Space and light.” That’s exactly what these paintings are about, and in that sense, they are not so different than my more “recognizable” landscapes, which also explore these same aesthetics, albeit attached to traditional landscape forms.

In my book Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice, there is a chapter called Abstracting Nature. I discuss the differences between representational and abstract art. “Every work of art — whether strictly realistic, completely abstracted, or somewhere in between — relies on certain aesthetic devices: value, color, composition, shape, and the texture of the paint itself. In a representational work, these aesthetic devices are firmly attached to the subject, giving it the descriptive structure necessary to be perceived as the actual subject. But as a painting becomes more abstract, and the narrative subject becomes less obvious, the visual experience shifts increasingly toward the aesthetic devices themselves.”

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Mitchell Albala, Portal 2 – The Way<,em> oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.

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Mitchell Albala, Portal 2 – Filament, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.

Joining me in the exhibition were 23 other artists including Peter Malarkey, one of my favorite landscape painters. The Double Dozen exhibit asked 12 gallery artists to select a guest artist who inspired them. My choice was Peter. The 12 artists were asked to write something about why they chose that particular artist: “The painters whose work inspire me most do so not because of what they paint, but how they paint it. Peter Malarkey is what I call a painter’s painter.  On one level his paintings depict ordinary landscape subjects or make statements about the environment (as in his recent Elwha Dam series). But what makes them so meaningful to me is his use of paint and color: his soft semi-broken strokes, the variety of hues he is able to bring together under a unified light, and the colors that fill his shadows. Whenever I look at Peter’s paintings, I want to understand what he understands. There is something for me to learn here.”

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Peter Malarkey, Lower Dam 4, oil on linen, 26 x 40 inches.

Additional Resources

Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice
Chapter 11: Abstracting Nature

Azure and Asphalt Series with Commentary: Ownership of Style and the Meaning of Originality

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About Author

Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). A best-seller with over 35,000 copies in print, it has been called the "new classic of landscape." A respected teaching artist for more than 25 years, Mitchell currently teaches at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Art School, Winslow Art Center, and Arte Umbria in Italy. He has also lectured at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines.

2 Comments

  1. How I wish I could have a conversation. In my mind’s eye, my landscapes are more abstract although still recognizable as landscape, and yet find it so difficult. Especially since I paint out of doors so much, it’s a challenge to move away from the representational. Thank you for your posts; I enjoy them.
    Evelyn

  2. Stan Chraminski on

    I like the limb your are out on here. Reminds me of more glowing Rothkos and do remind me also of your just prior works of the waterfalls, and Alaska scenes. Seems a natural progression to get less and less subject.

    I’m going in the opposite direction as have done about 150 landscapes, mainly small, in the past 10 months, to keep absorbing your lessons, and reread your book every year to pull new insights from it. There is room for us all in the almost too big a tent of art.

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