Gregory Stocks paints expressive, richly hued landscapes
By Rosemary Carstens
“Gregory Stocks paints the quiet, dreamlike landscapes we’d all like to find on a quiet hike,” says Jay Magidson, director of Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, CO. “His paintings are a breath of fresh air in a restless world.” These are the qualities that draw people to this artist’s work—lush colors, emotionally expressive moments in nature that cause us a tingle of recognition, a déjà vu feeling that we have been there before or dreamed we were. As a man and as an artist, Stocks seeks tranquility and positive energy in all that he does.
When Stocks begins a new painting, he often starts with several black-and-white pencil studies to work out the composition. He decides whether it will be a distant vista or a more intimate view and what the perspective will be. A lot depends, he says, on his own mood, how he is feeling that particular day. The final choices are derived from photo references, personal memories, and the active application of his very vivid imagination. “I start by blocking in the large areas in color on the canvas,” he explains, “establishing major relationships, moving things around until I have the sensibility I want. Then I just hold onto the brush and see where it takes me!”
At his home in Salt Lake City, Stocks works in a separate studio behind his house. There he plies his craftsmanship to create paintings that evoke the warmth and atmosphere of nature as he interprets it. His compositions are drawn from the kaleidoscope of images gathered on his many road trips around the West—sweeping vistas and individual landscape features, light and shadows, myriad elements that have caught his eye—all reassembled to read from his own unique perspective.
In his studio stand three easels, of his own construction, holding paintings in various stages of completion. He works surrounded by many of his favorite things: bicycles hang from the ceiling, and a display of classical, acoustic, and electric guitars hang on a wall, with here and there a few of his own paintings and artworks by friends. In a corner his well-loved drum set calls to him, providing constant distraction from his work at the easel.
Given this array of musical instruments, it’s no surprise when Stocks says he’d probably be playing drums in a band somewhere if he hadn’t become a professional artist. Moved by the blast and energy of rock and roll, his heart first belonged to music and, in addition to drums, he plays both electric and acoustic guitar, plus “a little piano.” In his early years he supported himself playing drums in small bars all around the West.
At a very young age, Stocks lost his father—a highly decorated Air Force fighter pilot who flew in Europe, Korea, and Vietnam—when the F-111 he was test-piloting crashed and killed both him and his co-pilot. Stocks has great admiration for how his mother took up the breadwinning reins and single-handedly raised him and his three siblings, working in interior design, real estate, and buying, remodeling, and reselling homes. His parents set a high bar with their work ethics and inspire him deeply.
Although Stocks took art classes in high school, music was his first love. But once he took a basic design class at the University of Utah and his professor encouraged him to go further, a course was set. He signed up for the art program the following year; then, focusing on illustration, he finished his major at Utah State University in 1986.
The legendary illustrators of the 20th century—the Leyendecker brothers, N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Brad Holland, Robert Heindel, and Mark English—fascinated Stocks. “They opened my eyes,” he remembers, “to the vast possibilities of what art can be, both technically and stylistically.” Later he would also be influenced by the works of Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Egon Schiele, and others—all of whom broke molds and pushed boundaries, extending Stocks’ understanding of art’s significance in the world. “I’ve always been inspired by those who’ve chosen paths they find personally fulfilling,” he continues, “often in spite of a lack of understanding, encouragement, or support from those around them.”
When asked how he would define himself as an artist, Stocks responds by paraphrasing a quote from renowned artist Wayne Thiebaud: “I refer to myself as a painter. Whether I’m an artist or not is for others to decide.” His modesty is refreshing, but his work speaks for itself. His preference these days is for painting landscapes, although over the years he’s also focused on still-life, figurative, and abstract work.
Stocks is known for his remarkable combination of classical representation and contemporary execution. His bold, flat-edged brush strokes hint at the wind at play and capture shapes and relationships rather than detail. His landscapes are at times moody, mysterious, and impressionistic, and they are almost always filled with a heightened color sensibility. Rich hues create an aura of romantic interpretation in the artist’s paintings: “I love color,” he emphasizes, “especially when two colors react to each other to create a visual vibration in a painting.” As he works, he often finds sudden and unexpected synergistic moments when a portion of the canvas lights up, taking on “a life of its own.”
The painting entitled 8 P.M. exemplifies the artist’s style and his belief that “trees are heroic.” In this piece, the artist has pushed natural color to enhance its emotional impact, giving the scene the golden warmth of classic landscape paintings. Measuring 4 feet by 4 feet, the work is only moderately large in comparison to CLOSER STILL at 5 feet by 7 feet. These works present technical challenges, says Stocks. “Working large is a very physical process, but one I enjoy. It requires me to stand back more to stay in touch with the overall feel of the work.”
Stocks mentions that he likes the drama of the last light of day as it comes through a cluster of trees and showcases each one’s unique character. He composed 8 P.M. to reflect that quality and to express the surrounding sense of atmosphere and depth, a sense of “breathing room” around the trees at its center. In this painting “it was the lighting that presented the greatest technical challenge,” he says, “requiring skillful control of color and value to create the feeling of luminous calm.”
Decades of western outdoor experiences inform this Texas-born artist’s sensibilities. His compositions are often based on memories and impressions of the Snake River Valley in Idaho, where he grew up, and the Utah landscape, where he lives now. But the California landscape has also made a strong impression. “In 1999, when we first met Gregory Stocks,” says Patricia Terwilliger of Jones & Terwilliger Galleries in Carmel, “we were very excited about representing him. His style was fresh and contemporary with an emotional impact that our clientele immediately responded to. We feel he has a long future in the fine-art market, and we are excited to be a part of that.”
Over the past decade, Stocks has gained growing recognition as his craftsmanship has increased in sophistication and skill. His artwork has been exhibited in galleries throughout the West and Southwest, as well as at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. He’s won numerous awards and competitions, and his paintings are included in corporate and private collections throughout the United States and abroad.
Gregory Stocks is an artist who brings a great deal of joy to his work. His creative process is personal and emotional, and no one is more delighted than he is when a painting extends beyond his hopes and expectations to reach that special, indefinable level that allows viewers to connect deeply with an artwork. Each scene is drawn from an amalgamation of references, memories, and personal history. His intention is to relate “not so much a geographical place as a place in one’s heart. Not so much places I’ve seen as places I’d like to see.”
A Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT; Ann Korologos Gallery, Basalt, CO; Gail Severn Gallery, Ketchum, ID; Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Jones & Terwilliger Galleries, Carmel and Palm Desert, CA; Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, WY; www.gregorystocks.com.
Group show, Ann Korologos Gallery, September 10-October 8.
Group show, Jones & Terwilliger Galleries, Carmel, CA, September 24-October 22.
Featured in September 2011.