Artists’ Studios | George Carlson

Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Joel Riner

Describe your studio. My studio is a comfortable space that was built as a Presbyterian church and then used as a Masonic Temple. When the Masons took over the building, they changed it to fit their needs. When I bought the building from the Masons in 1995, there weren’t any remnants of the church. I do, however, have a full wall of crucifixes and retablos as well as a bronze Buddha. The outside has retained the original look of the church. The main floor is very spacious with a large skylight that sits up about 25 feet. The balcony works well as a library and was something we added. The bell tower makes for a good office space.

Describe the landscape surrounding the studio. The studio is located along the shores of beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene, which is about 40 miles long. The topography of the area consists of mountains with an abundance of rivers, streams, and lakes. The old railroad beds are now used as bike trails, and there are miles and miles of these trails. From the house, I can either bike or boat to the studio in the summer. There is an abundance of wildlife. Moose have been on my loading dock at the studio, and I’ve seen mountain lion tracks alongside the rose trellis lining the driveway. There are elk herds, and some can be seen in our orchard by the house. There are also deer, an occasional bear, geese, swans, and other waterfowl. Quail, grouse, and wild turkeys are everywhere. An osprey nests on our home property by the lake. Fishing is abundant in this area.

How do your surroundings influence your work? Most of the landscape paintings I have been doing are in the area, and some of the more distant areas in the paintings are only a two- or three-hour drive away. When you live in nature, you are present to witness the subtle changes of light and weather conditions, and you experience a spiritual connection with the earth that’s difficult to put into words.

What kinds of things do you keep in the studio? Everything from skeletons, rocks, artifacts, and retablos to artworks by others.

What artists’ works do you have in your studio? I have works by painter friends like Len Chmiel, Dan Pinkham, Thomas Aquinas Daly, Peter Cox, Clyde Aspevig, David Leffel, Sherrie McGraw, Scott Burdick, Buffalo Kaplinski, Jon Zahourek, Mark Daily, Paul Mullally, and Tim Prutzer, among many others, and also sculpture by Floyd DeWitt.

Why are you drawn to the landscape as subject matter in your paintings? I have always tried to do subjects that interested me. The landscapes I am doing presently are because of my current interest in geology. An unusual happening occurred here during the ice ages—glaciers damned up the Clark Fork River and flooded the valleys, which became Ancient Missoula Lake and contained 150 cubic miles of water and ice. When the ice dam broke, a wall of water—800 to 1,000 feet high—swept into Idaho and central Washington and, in some areas, with cataclysmic results that created amazing basalt rock formations.

What subject matter are you drawn to in your sculptures? I like the heavy horses for their powerful grace, ballerinas for their delicate grace, Tarahumara Indians for their elemental grace, and nudes … well … for all 
of their grace.

How has your work evolved since you first started out in your career? I have been an artist going on 50 years, so there have been many changes. I started out to be a painter and then became interested in sculpture to understand volume and forms. When I lived in Taos, I became interested in the Pueblo Indian culture, which eventually led to my interest in the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Then draft horses became of interest because of their massiveness. After that I went to work on the delicate frames of ballet dancers—a challenge after the heavy horse. During all of this time, I did a large body of pastels. About four years ago I felt it was “now or never” and that it was time to return to painting.

What is the one place people will never find you? On a beach doing nothing.

Art Spirit Gallery, Coeur d’Alene, ID; West Wind Fine Art, Falmouth, MA; Gallery 1261, Denver, CO; Mongerson Galleries, Chicago, IL; Mitchell Brown Fine Art, Paradise Valley, AZ;

Featured in February 2012.