Glenn Renell | Painting With Air

Rancho con Arboles, oil, 36 x 58
Rancho con Arboles, oil, 36 x 58


By Virginia Campbell

Most people go through their entire lifetimes without once asking themselves, “What does air look like?” But not a day goes by that Arizona-based landscape painter Glenn Renell doesn’t ask himself that very question. And on many days he asks it more than once. “When you’re painting the landscape,” says Renell, “you’re not painting things, you’re painting air.”

For landscape painters, the atmosphere affects color, texture, depth, and everything that light falls upon. To Renell, air is key to his distinctive style and aesthetic. In his painting sulphur springs track, for example, a low mountain sits at the horizon and a field fills two-thirds of the image. In truth, there’s not a lot in this painting but air. Yet, as the painting shows, the essential beauty of a landscape often lies not in topographical detail but in the atmosphere. The subtle gradations of color within this vast stretch of empty land and sky make a palpably emotional statement.
Sulphur Springs Track, oil, 9 3/4 x 11
Sulphur Springs Track, oil, 9 3/4 x 11

Renell finds the scenery near his home in Pearce, AZ, east of Tucson, ideal for his style of painting. He and his wife, Gail, moved to the Southwest from New England six years ago. “At first I didn’t see anything that was really grist for painting,” says the artist. “Then I started to see things differently. I found less dramatic things more engaging. As I painted, I started to make the subtle colors more important by narrowing contrast and seeking equilibrium between harmonies and contrasts.” This narrowed contrast, which Renell calls a “complexion,” gives his work both a modernist look and a vintage, tinted feel.

“I spend two or three days on a painting,” he explains. “On the first day, I spend about 40 minutes just looking at the landscape and mixing colors, using a palette knife to keep the colors fresh. Then I block in the distribution of the notes of color. On the second day, the forms become clearer. I need to achieve precisions of color, so I can’t fix a painting too much or it gets muddy. I end up rejecting a lot of the paintings I start. I operate on a 30 percent success rate.”

Renell unusually paints small oils of the same scene in different light and weather conditions…

Featured in June 2007


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