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