Meet 7 artists who capture scenic beauty
This story was featured in the June 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
John D. Cogan
John D. Cogan will insist that he knows nothing about painting, but his dramatically lit landscapes indicate otherwise. The grand, scenic vistas he sculpts with brush and acrylic paint conjure the Hudson River painters, who have been a great influence on his work.
The capability to make a scene appear three-dimensional on a two-dimensional surface is what initially drew Cogan to painting. He remembers attending an art gallery show as a child with his father and being blown away by a series of still lifes painted with a trompe l’oeil effect. “That has always been an attribute of the greatest artists, that ability to fool the eye,” he says.
Cogan left his career in physics to pursue art—reading, studying works by living and deceased artists, and watching those artists he admired—always painting and drawing in his free time. He has now been a full-time artist for 33 years. But, he says, he has learned more in the past 15 years than he did in the first part of his art career. “Early on, I was pretty sure I knew all there was to know about painting,” he says. “Now my constant desire is to learn more and improve.” Participating in events such as the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art and Zion National Park’s Plein Air Art Invitational help to advance that goal.
Cogan’s paintings can be seen at Mainview Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Cimarron Sky Gallery, Charlotte, NC; Marigold Arts, Santa Fe, NM; Turpin Gallery, Jackson, WY; and www.johncogan.com. —Jessica Canterbury
Growing up in northern New Jersey in the late 1960s and 1970s, Leigh Gusterson always loved the outdoors. “Getting into the wild, I felt at home, free, and alive,” she recalls. Her first serious art training came from a high-school instructor who painted in the style of the 19th-century Hudson River School, known for romanticized yet tightly rendered scenes of the Northeast’s lush green landscapes. So Gusterson was surprised by the effect Taos had on her and her paintings when she moved there in 1990. “New Mexico, with its bright, saturated palette, brought out the color in me,” she laughs, adding that it also loosened up a personal style she now describes as “bold, vibrant, gestural, dynamic, and full of life.”
Gusterson still, however, hews closely to one key practice of her artistic forebears. “I paint outdoors, on location,” she says. “That’s really the juice for me.” Indeed, she creates many of her acrylics from start to finish in the open air, whether near her home in the village of Llano San Juan or in some secluded woodland in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. “When I’m standing outside and the canvas is on the easel and the paints are in place, I feel filled with gratitude,” she says. She’s also thankful to share her exuberant art through her own recently opened gallery in a vintage-1890 adobe two miles from her home. Gusterson’s paintings are on display at Light Mountain Gallery, Peñasco, NM, and www.leighgusterson.com. —Norman Kolpas
Inger Jirby remembers the advice of her late teacher, the famed, reclusive abstract artist Agnes Martin: “She used to tell me, ‘Live by inspiration only.’” Jirby has taken that to heart, creating distinctive landscapes that express her feelings about each scene. “Agnes Martin used to say, ‘If a painting doesn’t have feeling, it’s not a work of art.’ If a work of art has inspiration and feeling, it starts to lead its own life. That’s the magic of art. The painting talks to you!” Jirby says.
Painting in watercolor, oil, and acrylic, the artist moves between mediums as the work dictates. And although she does paint in her studio, Jirby prefers to paint en plein air. “On site I paint faster. Because I move beyond the rational brain, I get in touch with my intuitive knowledge,” she says. “That’s very powerful.”
Originally from Lapland, Jirby has traveled and painted all over the world. But she also finds tremendous inspiration in her adopted hometown of Taos and the surrounding landscape. “New Mexico is one of the most ideal places for a landscape painter,” Jirby says. There is great variety in the vegetation and geography, and then there is the architecture. “The old architecture, especially,” Jirby adds, “is very organic and fits into the landscape.” Jirby’s work can be found at Inger Jirby Gallery, Taos, NM; Wiford Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; and
www.jirby.com. —Laura Rintala
“I was born in Long Beach and have spent my entire life along the coast,” says Rich Brimer. But until he moved to Carmel, CA, three years ago, he did not envision himself as a seascape painter. During his 20-year tenure as a graphic designer doing all of his artwork digitally, he took an assignment to create a catalog for an art school. The assignment changed the course of his life.
Inspired by the people and the workshops he watched and photographed for the catalog, Brimer made a conscious effort “to go analog” and pursue fine art. He spent some time doing figurative work that he says “was more about storytelling.” Then, about six years ago, he completed his first significant painting of the ocean. “The ocean is so deeply ingrained in my personal history that it is a part of my being,” he says. Inspired by early watercolors depicting water by Anders Zorn, as well as by painters Len Chmiel, William Wray, and Richard Diebenkorn, Brimer refocused on the seashore.
The artist is fascinated with the ocean’s vastness and the solitude he finds in its presence, but it has even deeper significance, too. His paintings reflect his thoughts about the ocean as a threshold between the beings living above its surface and the life teeming below, and about how the ocean supports and sustains life beyond itself. In sum, it’s a metaphor for his views about the penetrable boundary between the seen and unseen. Brimer’s work is available through his gallery, Carmel Visual Arts, Carmel, CA, and www.richbrimer.com. —Laura Rintala
From his home in the southern Oklahoma town of Roff, Paul Walsh focuses on the subtlety of the landscape, which he portrays in mostly small-scale acrylic paintings. “Generally, we’re a flat country with a few hills but not a lot of broad vistas,” Walsh explains. “So I’m more drawn to little personal niches in the landscape—compositions defined by the shadows of trees or the interplay of triangular shapes caused by the way farmers here cut their fields.”
Walsh’s close affinity with rural scenes grew from regular cross-country family car trips in the late 1940s and 1950s, before the advent of the interstate highways. “I became very aware of the landscape and its diversity, how it seems to change every 50 miles,” he says. An elementary school teacher so encouraged his love of art that he decided early on to teach it himself, working in public schools for 37 years. “When you’re trying to communicate art to others, it strengthens your own knowledge and technique. You become very sensitive to what is beautiful on a page or canvas.”
His own quietly beautiful works, many portraying the “little oasis” of the nearby Chickasaw National Recreation Area, “vacillate somewhere between impressionism and realism,” he notes. “I like to be traditional in subject matter but more contemporary in my brushwork. Art is a process, and I like that process to show in the painting.” See Walsh’s works at SOFA Art Gallery, McAlester, OK; Rusty Gables Guest Lodge & Gallery, Oklahoma City, OK; Our Favorite Place, Eufaula, OK; and www.blueriverart.com. —Norman Kolpas
The first time Kathryn Weisberg took her painting outdoors, her work was forever changed. Although she had completed intensive studies at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, she hadn’t before experienced the delight and fear of working en plein air.
“I thought I knew a little bit about painting until I was standing in front of nature in all her complexity, fast-changing light, and infinite color. It was humbling, indeed!” she says. “I was reminded of my art-school professor’s comment, ‘You must learn to fail your way to success.’” It would take her, she says, about two more years and 150 canvases before the process clicked.
Now the artist lives in northern Idaho, where she paints “the grandeur of the landscape” both in her studio and en plein air on a daily basis, typically gravitating toward scenes featuring water. Her proximity to the Cabinet and Selkirk mountain ranges provides abundant painting material. “If I’m emotionally struck by a scene, I know it will translate well into a painting,” she says. “It can be the way the light falls across the landscape, creating contrasting light and dark masses, or I may be moved by the pure design potential, like an unruly garden bursting from its confines.”
Weisberg also painted wildlife for many years, carrying on her childhood love of sketching scenes on her parents’ cattle ranch in California, and she remains a signature member of Artists for Conservation, an international nonprofit organization of nature artists supporting wildlife and habitat conservation. Her works can be seen at www.kathrynweisberg.com. —Jessica Canterbury
In 1994, Duke Windsor was struggling to find his voice as an artist. One day, as he strolled through an alley in San Diego, he says, “I saw the light pass through the buildings; it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen.” Windsor photographed the dance of light and contrasts, and he made a series of small watercolor sketches. Referring to the poem by Robert Frost, he says, “I realized this was my ‘road less traveled.’ I hadn’t painted anything like this yet.”
Several years later he came back to those paintings. “The same things that hit me initially—the beauty, starkness, mystery, and the depth in that scene—kept drawing me back,” he says. So he embarked on a series of alley paintings that juxtapose the man-made and the natural world, presenting the intrigue and beauty he found in these overlooked places.
Later, Windsor says, he was struck by the patterns in the cracks and the textures of the pavement. “It was an abstract painting right there,” he says. That led him into a period of discovery in abstraction. Today, he applies the looseness and expressive techniques he developed during that time to his alley scenes. They feature a single vanishing point to which the viewer is drawn, but the rest of the canvas is a reminder of the beauty to be found along the way to that destination. Windsor’s work is available at Sparks Gallery, San Diego, CA, and www.dukewindsorart.com. —Laura Rintala
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