Meet eleven painters who focus on the landscape
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!
For Roger Williams, art and philosophy are ways of life. For over 30 years, Williams has infused his beliefs and practices into a fine-art career that has earned him recognition as one of the premier fine-art oil painters of the Southwest. “It’s like Emerson said, in order to find the beautiful, you have to carry it with you,” Williams says. “Painting is more of an exchange of energy, so the inherent idea of painting, for me, is to be able to commune with the world around me.”
Born in southern Colorado, Williams moved to Santa Fe in 1986 after receiving his master’s degree in fine art. With a love of language and culture, he began his career traveling around the globe: to Latin America to paint the dying indigenous cultures and to Europe to capture majestic landscapes steeped in history. His future sights are set on Asia, with Santa Fe continuing to be his home base.
Williams’ style has been described as a modern approach to impressionism with a painterly flair. Trained in realism and influenced by impressionism, he looks to aggregate the two in both his plein-air and studio works. “I believe as a landscape painter you can’t have one without the other if you’re a representational artist,” Williams says. “You can’t be a decent artist without going and smelling the trees, the water, and interacting in nature. Because there’s more to it than just observation—it’s also a feeling.” —Joe Kovack
Joe Wade Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Grapevine Gallery, Oklahoma City, OK; LongCoat Fine Art, Ruidoso, NM; Copper Moon Gallery, Taos, NM; Galerie Kornye West, Fort Worth, TX; rogerwilliamsart.com.
When Grace Schlesier was looking back over her landscape paintings recently, she was a bit surprised to discover how many scenes featured water, even the ones created on location in the mountains. On the other hand, Schlesier says it makes sense because she grew up in Long Island, NY, where as a youngster she visited the Atlantic Ocean frequently. Today she calls the San Diego area home and lives close to the Pacific Ocean.
Schlesier, who has studied painting in workshops with Scott Christensen and David Leffel, is a strong believer in painting on location. Part of her creative process is continually scouting out new locations, whether it’s in nearby La Jolla or far-flung, exotic locales such as Tahiti. In style, she is closely aligned with the early California Impressionists, such as William Wendt and Edgar Payne, carrying their legacy forward to the 21st century. And over the years, Schlesier has been a regular participant in plein-air events throughout the Golden State.
As an artist whose work straddles the fence between realism and impressionism, she is not interested in rendering every blade of grass or leaf on a tree in great detail but is far more concerned with suggesting a mood or an emotion to the viewer. “I am trying to transport viewers to a world of beauty and peace,” Schlesier says. “I want to take them out of their day-to-day experience and let them lose themselves in a painting.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Cosmopolitan Fine Arts, La Jolla, CA; Judith Hale Gallery, Solvang, CA; Rich Timmons Studio & Gallery, Doylestown, PA; Segil Fine Art Source, Monrovia, CA; Village Frame & Gallery, Montecito, CA; www.graceschlesier.com.
Michelle T. Courier
Growing up in an artistic family in Michigan—her father was a painter and her mother a weaver—Michelle Courier knew from an early age that she was destined for a life in fine art. As a child she spent her summers traveling across the United States with her family to visit her father’s art galleries, falling in love with that life and following in her father’s footsteps to become a professional painter.
Courier focused on portraiture in her early career and made a living selling portraits after college until a fluke painting of a forest catapulted her into landscape painting. “I just saw the light one day and thought, wow that’s pretty, and then I painted it,” Courier says. “I’m just intrigued with the structure and the play of light. And I really started noticing the land and how every tree is like a person; they’re so individual.”
It was trees that inspired her career in landscapes, but her evolution has led her to explore other aspects of the California coastline, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe. “I’d been doing the tree series, then the skyscapes sort of eased in, and now I’m really focusing on water, rocks, and mountains,” Courier says. “I’m still kind of known as the painter of the trees, and they are my comfort level. But the mountains and the water are my challenges, and I have to challenge myself all the time.” —Joe Kovack
Art Obsessions Gallery, Truckee, CA; Freed Gallery, Lincoln City, OR; Xanadu Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Susan Fredman Design Group, Chicago, IL; Michigan Artists Gallery, Suttons Bay, MI; DCF Gallery, Grosse Pointe, MI; Art Leaders Gallery, West Bloomfield, MI; Freshwater Art Gallery, Boyne City, MI; C2C Gallery, Grand Haven, MI; Northwood Gallery, Midland, MI; michelletcourier.com.
In 1980 William Jameson was living in Manhattan and working in the art movements of the moment: minimalism and constructivism. For a change of pace, he decided to accompany a landscape painter he knew on a foray to South Carolina. On the spur of the moment, once there, Jameson decided to also go out and paint on location with the artist. These decisions turned out to be life-changing for Jameson, who had grown up in South Carolina. Once back on his home turf, he came to some important conclusions. “I realized what I had been missing,” he says. “I really needed to and wanted to paint the southern landscape. I appreciated this landscape in a new and different way.”
Jameson returned to New York, but a year later he packed up and moved back to his home state. Today he lives about 30 miles east of Asheville, NC, in the small town of Saluda, and for inspiration he frequently visits the nearby Appalachian Mountains. Jameson works from sketches and photographs as reference material. And he prefers to define his paintings as “explorations” as opposed to labeling one of his works “a scene.” His artistic mission is to delve deep, past the surface magnificence of the individual elements in the landscape to reveal the mystery and power of nature. “I try to develop a lot of texture in my paintings and convey information through this texture,” Jameson says. “People ask me if I run out of things to paint. The truth is I fall further and further behind all the things I want to paint. I can never catch up.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
The world outside Neal Philpott’s front door offers an endless array of subject matter. The Oregon landscape painter lives in Oregon City, which is perched on the edge of the Mount Hood National Forest. Thus Philpott has easy access to an extensive system of hiking trails that lead him to spectacular waterfalls as well as his favorite subject matter: deep, wooded forests.
Although the forests offer magnificent scenery, Philpott’s intent is to create landscape paintings that go beyond pretty pictures. He would rather paint the natural wonders he sees as more of a historical record. “I am not taking out ugly things or adding pretty colors just to make a scene that looks pretty,” Philpott says. “I am of the mind that we have precious resources and that we may lose our planet. In the long run, I’m just trying to record the landscape for the future.”
Early in his career, while working on his bachelor’s degree at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI, he explored figurative and still-life painting. But he gradually drifted away from those genres and chose to cast his eye on the landscape. He is a self-described “life-long lover of the outdoors,” so it seems a natural choice. Philpott hopes his landscape works provide viewers with the chance to push the pause button in their hectic lives. “Capturing a momentary scene in paint saves that moment for subsequent reflection,” he says. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Keely Corona Smith
Raised on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, Keely Corona Smith developed a deep appreciation for nature and a spiritual connection to the land. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of jumping on her horse with her sketchbook, riding off into the pasture, and sitting by the creek to draw. “When I drew, I felt that it somehow connected me to the earth, to people, and to God, in a way that nothing else could,” she says.
Although Smith continued to tap into her artistic side, a career in fine art didn’t seem plausible. After college, she launched a successful decorative-painting company in Fredericksburg, TX. It wasn’t until 10 years later that Smith, encouraged by a friend, began to seriously pursue her passion for fine art. “I started taking classes and painting like crazy,” she says. A year later Smith had her first solo show, and she’s been selling her work ever since.
The natural splendor of the Hill Country continues to inspire the artist. “I often find myself driving down the road and seeing something that makes me think, ‘I have to paint that right now!’” she says. It is precisely these fleeting moments of beauty that Smith aims to capture in her work. “We all get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to stop and look at what’s right in front of us,” she says. Her hope is that her paintings will remind us to slow down and pay attention to the beauty all around us. —Lindsay Mitchell
Texas Treasures, Boerne, TX; Keely Smith Fine Art Studio and Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX.
As a youngster growing up in Canada, Jim Pescott was always painting and drawing. “I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was three years old, but it didn’t actually happen until I was 50,” he says. As is often the case, “life got in the way” of Pescott’s art as he ventured into university studies, family life, and a successful corporate career. But by the time he was in his mid-40s, he began to realize that he was not on the right path in life. “I wasn’t happy,” he says. Then one day he walked into a bookstore that sold art supplies, and before he knew it, he was out the door with painting tools in hand. He started “painting with dots” right away, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Today, almost 20 years later, the completely self-taught artist continues to paint acrylic landscapes in a style he refers to as contemporary pointillism. “I paint with dots because everything on the earth is connected— nothing is solitary—and the dots let me explore that connectivity,” he says. Pescott’s personal connection with the earth is also why he chose to focus on the landscape as his subject matter. “I could paint anything, but landscapes are what I love, because landscapes are life—they touch everyone,” he says. Most of the scenes he depicts are inspired by the stunning wilderness landscape that surrounds his home and studio in Calgary, Canada. “I see paintings everywhere all the time,” he says. “I don’t have to go very far to be inspired.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Legacy Fine Art Gallery, Hot Springs, AR; LuminArté, Dallas, TX; Ward-Nasse Gallery, New York, NY; Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Mermaid’s Kiss Gallery, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada; galerie mp tresart, Durham-Sud, Quebec, Canada; www.jimpescott.com.
Jay Moore’s landscape paintings of Colorado derive, first and foremost, from his intimate relationship with the subjects he paints. “I grew up in Evergreen,” he says. “Our house was in the mountains, and I was always outdoors, ice skating, camping, fly fishing.” So when he first started plein-air painting, Moore “would drive down the road and throw a sleeping bag down on the ground. The camping background was very natural to me.” After several years of painting exclusively outdoors, he says, “You can tell when it’s going to rain, how old the snow is, or whether the ice is safe to walk on.” All that time spent getting to know the natural world is what he draws on for his fine-art landscapes today.
The deep knowledge and understanding of his Colorado home infuses his work with a subtle but scrutable authenticity and sense of place. “For 45 years I have been exploring and learning about the state,” he says. “Not everyone can say that. To be really good at painting anything you have to live there, visit it often.”
One of Moore’s favorite subjects to paint is water. “It was probably all those childhood days swimming and fishing,” he says of his fascination and the skill with which he conveys water. “As a fly fisherman, you study it. And when you do a plein-air painting, you stare at it for hours, and you take in a lot of data.”
Moore has no plans to stop painting his beloved state. Lately he has been working in his new studio space in Parker, south of Denver, a working studio and showroom where the public is welcome to watch him work. —Laura Rintala
Tennessee native Lori Putnam has always been an extremely determined individual. When she decided it was her dream to be a graphic designer, she gave the profession her all, and it wasn’t long before she was running her own graphic-design agency. But in 2005, after 13 years in the field, she was burned out. It was around this time, she says, that she “stumbled into a beginning oil class” at a local art-supply store. “I just loved the way painting felt,” she says. “I was hooked.”
When she decided to become a full-time painter, her drive and tenacity kicked in again. Within the year, she had left the graphic-design business and dedicated herself to her new passion. “I decided to go full time right away because I wanted to learn, and I knew I wouldn’t get very far just painting on Sundays,” she says. While Putnam is primarily self-taught, she has had some great teachers along the way—including Scott Christensen, Quang Ho, and Dawn Whitelaw. “I’ve been very fortunate to have fallen in the right hands on so many occasions,” she says, adding, “It’s been kind of a whirlwind the way it’s all happened.”
An avid traveler and passionate plein-air painter, Putnam finds inspiration everywhere. “It’s not really about the subject,” she says. “What draws me to paint a particular scene has more to do with elements like light, shadow, shapes, and patterns. I feel like I’ve succeeded if nobody cares what the subject is—they just look at the painting and are taken by it.” —Lindsay Mitchell
Brazier Gallery, Richmond, VA; Deselms Fine Art, Cheyenne, WY; Galerie on Broad, Charleston, SC; Illume Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT; LeQuire Gallery, Nashville, TN; Nicole’s Studio & Art Gallery, Raleigh, NC; Richland Fine Art, Nashville, TN; www.loriputnam.com.
Julia Munger Seelos
After spending 40 years sitting behind a drafting table, California plein-air painter Julia Munger Seelos says she just wants to be outdoors. Seelos’ well-rounded art education, which included classical art, industrial design, and design and illustration, provided her with the skills she used in her four decades as a retail designer, developing everything from chocolate molds to a three-story surf shop and traveling extensively around the world.
But seeing an art exhibit called Americans Abroad, which featured the works of Sargent, Whistler, and Prendergast, started her thinking differently. “Most of the works were watercolors, many of the hills of Italy,” she says. At the time Seelos was driving back and forth from Redwood City to San Francisco every day, and she noticed how similar her own landscape was to those Italian hills. “I thought that if it was good enough for Whistler and Sargent, then painting landscapes was good enough for me,” she says, and she began to do just that. Here her classical training really paid off. “Composition and drawing are easy for me,” Seelos says. “The hard part is getting out there with all the gear and then playing with the texture of the paint, the colors, and mixtures.”
Her favorite subject? “Trees,” she says. “I absolutely love trees. I love the way their shadows hit the ground and define the shapes and the contours of the landscape. Kinkade was the painter of light,” she says with a laugh. “I’m the painter of trees.” —Laura Rintala
Finding the balance between family and a career in fine art can be a challenge. But Denver-based landscape artist Sascha Ripps knows that with any challenge, the reward comes from the journey and the gratification of overcoming obstacles along the way. Encouraged in art since she was a child, Ripps received her degree in fine art and taught art full time to support herself early on in her career.
After traveling the world, Ripps and her husband moved to Austin, TX, and started a family, which led her to set aside her art for a few years. Until recently. Moving back to Denver, Ripps has brought her two worlds—art and family—together. Ripps’ early career focused mainly on portraiture, but travels in Australia instilled in her a love of landscapes. “For me it’s not about a particular spot but about a particular moment in time,” Ripps says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s water, rocks, trees, or mountains. They become little places for me to journey, even if it’s just for a moment in time.”
Ripps’ style has been described as contemporary realism. “I know energy is not really an artistic term, but for me that’s one of the most important parts of making art,” Ripps says. “I feel like I’ve made a successful picture when I’ve conveyed the energy and feeling of a place. That’s what I’m out to capture more than anything else.” —Joe Kovack
Featured in the February 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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