New Mexico artist Clive R. Tyler paints luminous pastel landscapes
By Mark Mussari
Ah, Facebook. It did it for Betty White, and now it has done it for Clive R. Tyler. Last year the social networking site held its first Annual Autumn Art Challenge, and Tyler entered three paintings in the competition. To his great delight, thousands of people voted for Tyler’s ASPEN GLORY in the worldwide event, and it won first place in pastels. “Within 30 days it turned into something huge,” comments the artist.
His win comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with his shimmering landscapes, deftly rendered in brilliant pastels, each canvas a painterly paean to the mountains and trees he knows and loves. In fact, Tyler says that his first artistic memory involves “drawing a lot of trees.” When he was growing up in Twinsburg, OH, his family moved to an older house on property that abutted hundreds of acres of woods. “My sister and I were always playing in the woods,” he adds.
Tyler’s family was full of creative talent on both sides. “My mother’s side had a lot of architects and builders,” he explains, “and there were a number of musicians on my father’s side.” Professionally, Tyler’s father drew elaborate blueprints to make blocks for dyes. “He had a highly technical side as well,” he notes. His mother, recognizing her son’s artistic talents, enrolled him in an adult art class. “The teacher was resistant at first because I was so young,” says Tyler, “but then she saw my work.” He went on to take art classes in high school, but when the time came to choose a college major, he was dissuaded from pursuing fine arts. “Everyone told me not to do it,” he remembers, “so instead I took graphic design.”
Tyler attended Kent State University in the 1970s, and his timing as a graphic design major could not have been better. “I totally lucked out,” he says, “and Kent State had one of the best graphic design programs in the country.” Subliminally, though, fine art continued to call to him: “I took every single art class that was available,” he remembers. “I even took life drawing repeatedly, just because I enjoyed it.” Years later, he discovered that he had actually graduated with two majors and had never known it—one in graphic design and another in illustration.
At one point in his college career, Tyler spent a summer in Switzerland studying with some top designers. “We were focusing on the foundations of design,” he explains, “balance, line, shape, color. I’ve always been really good with color and the impact of it.” After graduation he moved to Colorado and spent a number of years working as both a freelancer and a creative director in the design field. By the late 1990s, however, he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied. “One day I felt that I just had to be creative again,” he points out. “With art I knew that I could draw anything and enjoy it.”
Tyler also had an epiphany about the direction of his art. “I realized that most artists have a niche,” he says. “I asked myself, What is my niche? What do I really love?” His youthful affection for the outdoors resurfaced. “Being outside, hiking by myself—that was my answer. When I stand in an aspen grove and hear the screech of a hawk, it just blows me away.”
To revive his fine art talents, Tyler began to attend art classes in 1999. “At that time, someone gave me a set of pastels,” he remembers, and he took immediately to the medium. He studied under landscape painters Lorenzo Chavez and Patti Andre, and he also received some important advice from respected plein-air painter and teacher Skip Whitcomb. “I told him that I felt as if I had reached a plateau,” Tyler says, “and he told me not to look at my contemporaries but to go way back.” To that end, Tyler began to study the works of Constable, Corot, the American and European Impressionists, and the Hudson River School. In retrospect, he views these predecessors in many ways as his true mentors.
He also discovered that his experience in design—which he had worried would be a detriment—turned out to be a blessing. “It gave me a strong narrative sense,” he recalls. “It’s storytelling. As a designer, that’s what you do.” Turning full time to landscape painting, Tyler recognized that all the threads of his life had merged at last.
Today, Tyler defines himself as an impressionist. “In impressionism, you can say so much more by saying less,” he avers. His canvases reveal deft yet loose strokes, a strong sense of composition, and a tendency to depict atmosphere as an essential element. Whether capturing a valley of aspens, a wintry river scene, or moose hiding among the willows, the very air seems tangible in all of his landscapes. How does he create this effect? “I usually employ two or three foregrounds,” explains the artist, “six or seven middle grounds, and three or four backgrounds. It’s the challenge of taking the three-dimensional world and transferring it to the two-dimensional plane.” These carefully aligned spaces draw viewers into each canvas, conveying a strong sense of both place and presence.
Perhaps even more alluring is Tyler’s bold chromaticism, heavily dependent on bright oranges. “When I under-paint,” he confirms, “I use a lot of orange. The color offers a beautiful sense of warmth—much more so than yellow.” In counterpoint, blues often retreat into the distance, whether in the sky or cool mountainous shapes behind layers of trees. “At this point in my career as a painter,” he adds, “I find complexity of color and form to be most fascinating, challenging, and stimulating.”
Tyler’s painterly process usually begins outdoors. “I don’t paint somewhere I haven’t been,” he insists. “I go to a location and observe it, hike it, sit in it. Then I do some plein-air sketches and take photographs to inspire and remind me.” Back in the studio, Tyler renders a whole new drawing: “I create a design, balance, concept, and story—I draw it out first and then go into the painting process.” He notes that he enjoys “the drawing part” of using pastels, which he refers to as “oil paint without the oil.” He especially appreciates the tangible element of the medium: “You can put your fingers right on the paper, fill in, scribble, move sideways, and get into detail. And you can layer it, one color on top of the other.”
For additional texture, Tyler uses sanded paper, but the true source of his paintings’ luminosity is his preference for Sennelier soft pastels. “If you look at this material under a microscope, it’s faceted,” he observes. “It reflects light in five directions.” The result is a shimmering glow emanating from each canvas. THROUGH THE ASPENS offers a prime example. Loosely rendered dark shadows define spaces as tree trunks reveal a medley of bright oranges, whites, and lavenders. A warm hillside of soft oranges establishes a middle ground, while a cool blue sky in the background imparts its own subtle brilliance. “I am trying to capture presence and dimension through pastel color,” he explains. “I take each painting to a whole new level—from impressionism to abstraction.”
Tyler sometimes enjoys painting on a smaller scale, with some of his canvases measuring only 6 by 8 inches. “I find it interesting that these images can convey so much emotion in such a small space,” he points out.
His piece ELK MINI, depicting an elk standing in profile, illustrates this effect. “The face of the elk is no larger than half an inch,” he says, “and painted not with a brush but with a chunk of pastel. It has to be painted with confidence and emotion, not skilled technique.”
Two years ago, Tyler moved from southern Colorado to Taos, where he maintains a studio in a separate casita on his property (although he has his eye on another 800-square-foot structure on his land that he wants to equip as a new studio). “It’s a culturally diverse area,” he says of the region. “Where the mountains stop, the desert starts.” He paints every day, but he begins each day by taking care of all the marketing involved in producing and selling his highly popular art. “After that I hit the gym,” he adds, “and then I come back to my studio and paint, but only under natural light.”
In recent years, more and more western art collectors have become interested in his work, and he has been invited to participate in a number of respected shows. Tyler is justifiably proud of this accomplishment. “There are only a handful of us pastel painters in these shows,” he comments. “I’m showing pastels in a new light—as part of American western art.” A brilliant part, rendered with loving care by an artist with a deep affection for landscape and color.
Saks Galleries, Denver, CO; Mary Williams Fine Art, Boulder, CO; Elk Horn Art Gallery, Winter Park, CO; Adelante Gallery, Oklahoma City, OK, and Ashland, OR; www.clivetyler.com.
The Russell, Great Falls, MT, March 17-18.
Solo Show, Adelante! Gallery, Ashland, OR, July 8-9.
Group show, Evergreen Fine Art, August 26-27.
Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale, Cody, WY, September 2011.
Featured in March 2011.