Painter David Mensing expresses the
landscape as the work of the divine
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the February 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
“Skill and passion are the indispensable attributes of a great artist,” says Idaho painter David Mensing. “You have to love art. You have to really love art.” Mensing sets his sights high but believes the journey is worth it. During the 19th century, portrayals of the American landscape by painters from the Hudson River School tradition emphasized the spiritual qualities of the natural world. Today, Mensing is among those living artists who feel God has called him to his craft. “I don’t paint to express myself,” he says. I paint to express God.”
Mensing’s deep faith inspires him daily. “Every aspect of a painting, even the selection of a title, can be a statement about the spiritual experience of creation,” he says. For example, he captures a divine sense of wonderment in the painting I WILL. Its title is inspired by Exodus 4:14-16, a passage in which God assures Moses that he will be with him and speak through him when he goes before the Pharaoh.
Representative of the artist’s signature style, I WILL was inspired by a scene not far from his home during a routine drive with his children. His placement, very low on the canvas, of the shadowy, horizontal silhouette of the land emphasizes the grandeur of a roiling sky. Winds aloft churn bold cloud formations, while filtered sunlight creates glowing color and pinpoints of illumination on the earth below. Mensing’s skillful use of his palette knife to produce texture and motion bring this scene to life, as does his careful handling of value and hue. As Tim Taylor, owner of Whistle Pik Galleries in Fredericksburg, TX, said recently, “David’s bold strokes and brilliant palette capture the hearts of both new and seasoned collectors and lend a contemporary style to traditional landscapes.”
Even as a boy, Mensing was impressed with the natural world’s grandeur. Living in Iowa, where a vast sky dominates the relatively flat landscape, he spent long hours gazing upward, noting the ever-changing shapes and colors of cloud formations—and watching for tornados. Meanwhile, he absorbed what he calls the “culture of the Midwest,” an ethos that embraces “humility, family, and hard work.” He recalls, among Iowans, an awareness of the land and its sustenance that he’s never forgotten. Growing up surrounded by strong role models and with a faith that underlined the importance of family and character gave him a solid roadmap for his adult life.
As a youngster, Mensing’s love of wild places was reinforced by regular family camping, backpacking, and bicycling trips—all of which he still enjoys—that introduced him to the Rocky Mountain West. In the mid-70s, his father cycled across Iowa as part of the second annual RAGBRAI (the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), which covers just under 500 miles and today is so popular that participation is limited to 8,500 riders. Participating in that event with his father at the age of 12 was a highlight of Mensing’s childhood. In 2012, the two of them rode across Iowa again in celebration of that earlier trip.
Mensing moved to the West to attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, graduating with a degree in architecture in 1987. When he later became a full-time fine-art painter, his architectural training benefited him, reinforcing his understanding of design and the interplay between shapes.
After working as an architect in California for three years, Mensing felt pulled toward serving God more directly in his career. Thinking the answer might lie in becoming a pastor or a missionary, he enrolled at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. But his journey took a detour with life-changing effects. A friend recommended he apply for a summer job at Camp Perkins, a youth camp near Alturas Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. He became a camp director and loved working with the kids. When a full-time position opened up, he was hired on and stayed for five more years. At Camp Perkins he met both his wife, Tina, and his mentor, Robert Moore.
Through the years, Mensing has taken numerous workshops and attended the Scottsdale Artists School, but Moore’s mentorship has been more significant than anything else. “The greatest instruction I have received came during my six-year apprenticeship with Moore,” he says. “He is absolutely selfless in sharing with his students, and he gave me a deep understanding of the principles of color and composition.”
In addition to Moore, Mensing has been inspired by Claude Monet, Richard Schmid, Scott Christensen, Laura Robb, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Interestingly, he also feels that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson have done a lot to shape his artistic character and outlook. As a child, his parents took him to see a museum exhibition that featured Schulz’s work, and he realized for the first time where art could take you, how expressive and revealing a few simple lines could be.
Mensing considers himself to be the first of the “Perceptionists.” He explains, “When something beautiful impacts our senses, the experience is always enhanced by our perceptions. Innumerable factors beyond mere physical description affect the way we understand a scene. Sleet in a storm can become vertical lines crashing down; color may be seen as particularly intense. As a painter, I strive to share my perceptions of such moments. If I can do that, I am more accurately sharing the experience itself.”
Mensing’s landscapes go beyond mere visual description. They depict a feeling, an experience, and contain an element of sincerity and reverence. As Dudley Dana, who represents Mensing at Dana Gallery in Missoula, MT, remarks, “Dave constantly evolves. His latest paintings are chunky and juicy in a new way. How he balances color and applies paint brings a certain calmness and peace to his works, which explains the emotional resonance I feel when I view them. In the future, I believe Dave will be included among the big names of western landscape painters.”
The passion and intensity Mensing brings to his art shines through in OF THE THOUSANDS, a scene portraying the glow that late-fall sunlight brought to a cluster of aspens he came across while out walking in Utah’s Wasatch Range. The dark bushes behind the trees sharpen the glittering brilliance of the foreground aspens. And the slender young limb branching off from the central tree draws the viewer’s eye skyward, where Mensing employs a reductive technique to reveal its upper twigs. Here and in various places on the aspens, cutting through his thick impasto to his underpainting lends the painting a unique three-dimensional quality.
The title OF THE THOUSANDS comes from Exodus 20:5-6, in which God promises to bless the descendants of his followers to a thousand generations (something like 20,000 years). “I believe that I enjoy God’s blessing from men and women of God years ago,” Mensing says. “Afternoons like the one I depict here reinforce that. I am humbled and awed by the crisp air, the glowing colors, the silence of the surroundings, and the opportunity to express my experience in a painting.”
Recognition of Mensing’s talent is growing, and he’s received several invitations to prestigious museum shows, including, in 2013, Small Works, Great Wonders at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and the About 6 x 6 invitational exhibition at the Brinton Museum in Big Horn, WY. The artist also has been featured in solo and group shows, winning awards throughout the West.
Mensing is surprised at how often the art market rides on an artist’s personality or popularity. He feels that most of the value of a painting should derive from the work itself. “Great art is timeless,” he says, “appealing to the human spirit regardless of time or trend. It must touch upon our common human experience.”
Dana Gallery, Missoula, MT; Whistle Pik Galleries, Fredericksburg, TX; Canyon Road Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM; Clearwater Galleries, Sisters, OR; Chasen Galleries, Richmond, VA; www.davidmensingfineart.com.
Featured in the February 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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