These six artists focus on realism in their artwork
This story was featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story
When Dan McGrath retired from the computer business in 2001, he turned his attention to painting, signing up for lessons and workshops with artists Yvonne Todd, Mary Seymour Neely, and Jay Moore, among others. Always a lover of the great outdoors, it seemed natural for McGrath to settle on landscape painting as his genre of choice. His goal: to work amid locales that attracted his painterly eye—the roads, farms, barns, and waterways of his home state, Kentucky, as well as scenes in surrounding states, such as North Carolina and South Carolina. McGrath, who is the founder and president of Plein Air Painters of the Bluegrass, is most fortunate to have Lower Howard’s Creek Nature & Heritage Preserve not far from his front door. For him the 228-acre preserve is a continuing source of inspiration, offering up lush shades of green from April through the beginning of November.
These days McGrath’s artistic concern is focused on portraying late fall and winter scenes. “They offer the challenges of handling grays and subtle colors and values, and at the same time, offering the challenge of capturing the eye and interest of the viewer with good composition and an appreciation of light,” McGrath says. “I’m trying to convey a sense of place, peace, and quiet.” McGrath is represented by Artists’ Attic, Lexington, KY; Greenwich House Gallery of Fine Art, Cincinnati, OH; Main Cross Gallery, Lexington, KY; and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, KY. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Pamela Carroll found art at an early age, using it to express herself and earn positive attention during difficult times. The encouragement she received from teachers and others gave her the confidence to pursue art. “From a young age I really liked copying things and making them look real,” she says. Working first in photorealism, the self-taught artist painted collages of fruits and vegetables in the 1970s until married life and motherhood caused her to set aside her art. But Carroll would often work with her son and his friends creating arts and crafts. In the early 2000s, when her son was grown, she returned to her fine art, this time focusing on still lifes. Inspired by both the Dutch masters and contemporary realists, her style melds the two. She has benefited over the years from encouragement and help from mentors and friends Daniel Sprick and Allen Magee.
Carroll now focuses on telling a story through her compositions that incorporate new and antique objects, including many tin toys she has collected from Cannery Row Antique Mall in Monterey, CA. “When I started painting still lifes, I thought it would be fun to weave a story around the objects,” she says. “My paintings are sentimental, and I want the viewer to feel comfortable and to harken back to a memory or something that’s tangible to them.” Carroll’s work can be seen at her solo show this month at the Carmel Art Association, Carmel, CA, and at Winfield Gallery, Carmel, CA. —Joe Kovack
Reviewing Caroline Huff’s body of work, it doesn’t take long to realize that water is her favorite subject matter. Many of Huff’s scenes capture the picturesque seaside town she calls home, Rehoboth Beach, DE. The artist says that living in the beach town provides her with constant opportunities to study the ocean, lakes, ponds, and wetlands in the area.
The former chairperson of the art department at Prince George’s Community College, Huff is also a consummate traveler who has journeyed to watery destinations in Italy, Portugal, and Spain. But her artistic soul rests in the Greek Islands, which she has visited almost every year for 30 years.
The endless variety that water offers as subject matter is what keeps Huff intrigued. “Water is constantly changing, takes so many forms, and has so many moods,” she says. “It can be so peaceful and still have energetic reflections. And it can be wild and passionate with active waves and motion throughout.”
Huff considers light the primary unifying element in her work, in part because illumination has the greatest impact on water’s appearance and mood. But whether she is painting water, figures, or flowers, the artist keeps one idea in the forefront of her mind: “The eye loves something new,” Huff says. “I always try to find fresh moments or to capture a figure in an interesting pose.” Huff is represented by Gallery 50 Contemporary Art & Frame Shop, Rehoboth Beach, DE. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
When Teri Starkweather was a senior in high school, she took an oil-painting class in which the students painted still lifes from direct observation, sparking her love of art. She then took a design class at a local junior college and a life-drawing class for high-school students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. “I just wanted to do something creative,” she says. “I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.”
Starkweather went on to attend the Art Center College of Design and later graduated from the Atlanta College of Art. She then earned her teaching credentials and taught high-school art for nearly six years, until she could no longer ignore the desire to create her own art. Working in oils initially, she developed an allergy to toxic chemicals, forcing the artist to convalesce for a couple of years. During her recovery she discovered her love of watercolors, which she uses today. Her still lifes showcase her distinct love of light and realism. “I’ve always gravitated toward realism,” she says. “I find it really beautiful, more solid, and I find that I can make a more dramatic painting, which gives me more satisfaction.” Starkweather’s works can be seen at Cove Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; LuminArte Gallery, Dallas, TX; and www.teristarkweather.com. —Joe Kovack
Artist Sally Painter had no aspirations of becoming an artist when she was growing up on a Southern California farm. What Painter knew was that she loved flowers, and after marrying her husband, she put her business administration degree to work in building a nursery business. “I was a very driven businessperson,” she says. “To build a successful nursery was my ambition and motivation.”
But 10 years ago, Painter’s life changed. Keeping the nursery in Northern California but going into semi-retirement, Painter and her husband made Florida their primary home. “I had played around a little bit with painting and drawing before but, with work and kids, never afforded myself the time to explore it,” Painter says. Having time to herself at last, Painter started taking classes. “The more I practiced, the more I loved it,” she adds. The energy she once focused on her business, she now devoted to her new passion while staying true to her first love: flowers. “From the day I was born I have lived on and worked in a nursery. I have studied flowers, sold them, and loved them all along,” she says.
Today Painter and her husband split their time between Florida in the winter and Jackson, WY, in the summer. When she’s in Florida she paints the botanical subjects that so intrigue her. But her subject matter shifts during her Wyoming summers. “My husband and son are both cowboys,” she says, and they inspire her rodeo-themed paintings. Painter’s work is available at www.sallypainterart.com. —Laura Rintala
Colorado painter Gary Michael calls himself “a born-again impressionist,” and he refers to the tradition of American Impressionism, in which good drawing is honored, he believes. A former university professor, Michael paints a wide variety of subject matter, from landscapes and still lifes to portraits and figurative works.
While figurative work appeals to him for its human element and the collaboration of model and artist working together, he enjoys landscapes and still lifes for their compositional challenges. Regardless of the subject depicted, though, for Michael each painting is a process of problem-solving. “You start with a big problem—how do I present on this panel what I see—and you keep chipping away at it until you don’t notice those things that bother you,” he says. When it feels like you’ve gotten the proverbial stone out of your shoe, he says, “then you are done.”
Coming full circle to his time in academia, Michael finds that one of the most important and satisfying parts of being an artist is teaching. “I have had the privilege of being around some excellent artists whose tips have lodged on my hard drive,” he says, including David Leffel and Ned Jacob as well as the late Conrad Schwiering and Sergei Bongart. Distilling that information through the act of creating art himself, he then passes on those ideas to his students. “What I try to do is help people with their strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “I take delight in helping people get the most out of themselves.” Michael’s art can be found at www.gary-theartist.com. —Laura Rintala
Featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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