Meet 6 artists who create vibrant still-life paintings
This story was featured in the April 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
Growing up, Karen Yee was always interested in the arts, but she never felt that she was enough of an artist to make what she considered a large investment in the pursuit. That changed when she was diagnosed with cancer, though. “I had always wanted to try it, so I said, I am going to do it now.”
In 2003 Yee began painting in oils, but after a few years she changed to acrylics. “I paint in layers, and I was impatient for the layers to dry,” she says. And though she appreciates the luminosity of oils, she says, “Oils have a tendency to spread out. Acrylic stays right where I put it.”
Yee’s traditional still-life works revolve around cultural themes of places she has visited or lived. “My still lifes start out with one or two personal pieces that have meaning to me, and I build a composition around them,” she says. Having inherited a love of travel from her Air Force father, she’s collected objects around the globe that take center stage in her still-life canvases. In essence, Yee’s still lifes are cultural portraits, and the portrait, of both humans and inanimate objects, is Yee’s favorite thing to paint. Her work can be found at www.karenyeefineart.com. —Laura Rintala
Like actors on a stage, the subjects of Sangita Phadke’s still lifes pose in a startling halo of light that accents their deceptively simple features. Beneath this spotlight sit fruits and vegetables—pears, coconuts, onions, cherries—that are so lifelike, luminous, and tantalizing, one feels tempted to pluck them off the surface. Take a closer look, and you might perceive the many layers of soft pastel the artist has employed—10 or more in a given area. “I love the process of layering colors,” Phadke says. “I build up the color almost like I’m sculpting.”
In approaching her subjects, the artist says, “I’m not trying to just replicate what I see but to capture something more—the real essence. I just feel like they have so much life. I want my work to be still life but with the life emphasized with the whole experience you get when you eat or taste something.”
No matter where she goes—a local market, one of the many New England orchards near her New Jersey home, or some farther-flung locale, Phadke keeps her eyes peeled for things that could become players in her pastel dramas. Lately the artist has been choosing more exotic fruits and vegetables and more colorful backgrounds, as well as other subject matter entirely: seashells and stones plucked from beaches along the Jersey shore. Phadke’s work can be found at Waxlander Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. —Laura Rintala
Elizabeth Barlow didn’t set out to be an artist, but she can pinpoint the moment she knew it was in her future. She was sitting on a park bench in San Francisco one afternoon, looking up at the clouds, when a voice in her head said, “I’m going to start painting now.” She studied for a year at the Art Students League of New York and earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in visual arts from the University of California at Berkeley.
Today the Pebble Beach, CA, artist paints still lifes in a contemporary realist style. In her recent Portraits in Absentia series, she paints people she knows or imagines by depicting their belongings—often their shoes—rather than their faces. “Shoes can reveal so much character,” she says. “And jeans and white shirts are so ubiquitous, iconic, and gender-neutral. I thought, I could tell a story in how I arrange the fabric. These pieces can also be portraits of our contemporary culture.”
Barlow enjoys the process of painting these works, specifically the luxury of being able to look for a long time at something. “Those white shirts—there’s a whole world inside those folds and in the edging, buttons, and shadows,” she says. “It’s a landscape of fabric.”
Her art journey was nearly inevitable, given that her childhood was full of visual stimuli. Her father, artist Philip Barlow, also paints still lifes—and still paints every day at 82 years old. Barlow’s paintings can be seen in More Than Your Selfie, on view through May 15 at the New Museum Los Gatos, CA; Gallerie Citi, Burlingame, CA; and www.elizabethbarlowart.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Color comes naturally to Russian-born, Ontario-based artist Julia Klimova. Arranging a still life is the more challenging part of the process for her. “It takes a lot of time to arrange a good composition,” she says. “When you start arranging, everything looks beautiful, but it won’t necessarily work in the confined space of the canvas.”
Klimova first sets up a display using fresh flowers—her favorites are peonies, roses, and tulips. Once she arrives at a scene that conveys a sense of celebration and joy, she takes a photo and manipulates that image digitally to play with color variations. Then she begins painting, focusing on bold color and texture. “I’m a texture explorer,” says Klimova. “I build up multiple layers of color so that the base layers peek through, giving the sense of depth, texture, and color variation, and making everything work together.”
The artist initially pursued a career in interior design. She earned her diploma at the Kamensk Art School for Children and her master’s degree at Rostov State Pedagogical University, both in Russia. “I know how to make a traditional painting. I use it as a basis for my work,” she says.
Klimova’s paintings can be seen at Rich Timmons Fine Art Gallery, Doylestown, PA; Allison Sprock Fine Art, Charlotte, NC; Good Art Company, Fredericksburg, TX; Lagerquist Gallery, Atlanta, GA; Mirada Fine Art Gallery, Indian Hills, CO; Peaks and Rafters, Toronto, Ontario; Crescent Hill Gallery, Mississauga, Ontario; Towne Square Gallery, Oakville, Ontario; and www.juliaklimova.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Claudio Seymour paints in a traditional realist style, but her still lifes have taken a more contemporary direction over the past two years. “I call them my Crowd paintings because they’re so chock full,” says the New Canaan, CT, artist.
This approach started with a pastel she did of an assortment of vintage toys. “You always talk about wanting air and a place for the viewer’s eye to rest in a painting,” she says. “Well, there was no space in that piece—and I loved it. I then did an oil, which was a little bigger and a little more crowded, and that has won several prizes. It’s nice to have something that’s a little bit different from what someone else is doing.”
Seymour credits the Silvermine Arts Center, the Art Students League of New York, and artists Wendy Shalen, Richard Pionk, and Eleanor Moore with her growth as a fine artist. Pionk is responsible for her joining the Salmagundi Club, where she served as president after his death from 2007 to 2013.
“Being president was a huge boon,” she says. “All I really did was think about art for those six years, and I spent a great deal of time with all kinds of artists, which has done a lot to inform how I look at paintings. Painting changed my life, and Salmagundi changed my life and my painting.”
Seymour’s work is represented by J.M. Stringer Gallery of Fine Art, Bernardsville, NJ, and Vero Beach, FL; Susan Powell Fine Art, Madison, CT; Handwright Gallery, New Canaan, CT; Gladwell & Patterson, London, England; and www.claudiaseymour.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Although many people become full-time fine artists gradually or via roundabout routes, Maine painter Dennis Perrin took a direct path. “I began painting when I was around 30,” he says. “I had no interest in art up to that point.” Although his wife was an artist, he had been drawn to other means of expressing himself. But one day, he says, he picked up a pencil and started drawing, and that led him to do “some study.” After two years at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, Perrin committed himself to learning to paint in his own way. “I spent a lot of time in museums copying paintings and exploring how a painting was made,” he says. Since that time, he has made his living as an artist.
“For probably 20 years I have been primarily a figure and flower painter. But in the last five to seven years,” he says, “flowers have gravitated to the top of my list.” Even his figurative works often include a still life within them.
Working exclusively in oils—water-soluble oils that eliminate the need for solvents for cleanup—Perrin explores his subject matter in painterly realism, using juicy, thick paint contrasting with areas of thin applications or washes. And he treats every painting as a portrait. “I am absolutely passionate about the process of painting,” he says. Reflecting on his success and one of the most important things he teaches his art students, he says, “If someone is in love with painting and they have a strong desire [to paint], then there is no stopping them.” The artist’s work can be found at Dennis Perrin Fine Art Gallery, York, ME. —Laura Rintala
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