Portfolio | Scenic Views

Meet 9 artists who paint the landscape

This story was featured in the February 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  February 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Carol Strock Wasson

Carol Strock Wasson, Clouds Over a Prairie, pastel, 24 x 36.

Carol Strock Wasson, Clouds Over a Prairie, pastel, 24 x 36.

Living in rural Indiana may mean having to drive two hours to get to an art museum, but for Carol Strock Wasson, there are far more rewards than drawbacks. “The advantage is I can see lots of fields, how time changes them, how weather changes the cornstalks,” says the plein-air artist. “I’m not driving around looking for a painting anymore. It’s not about finding the perfect spot. It’s about studying the colors, shapes, and values in front of me.”

Wasson, whose influences vary from the colorist Wolf Kahn to abstract expressionist Franz Kline, has been exploring all those elements in a series of impressionistic pastels that portray a willow tree in her backyard. The Art Museum of Greater Lafayette recently purchased one, WILLOW SUNSET, for its permanent collection. Although Wasson prefers pastels over oils for their longevity, vibrancy, and tactility, she has been painting en plein air in both mediums since the works of Claude Monet first ignited her passion nearly 30 years ago. “I try not to let a day go by where I’m not painting, sketching, or doing something with art,” she says. “I never want to be satisfied.”

See Wasson’s work at Gordy Fine Art, Muncie, IN; Editions Limited Gallery of Fine Art, Indianapolis, IN; and www.carolstrockwasson.com. —Kim Agricola

Mike Bagdonas

Mike Bagdonas, Seasonal Change, oil, 24 x 30.

Mike Bagdonas, Seasonal Change, oil, 24 x 30.

California painter Mike Bagdonas’ thickly textured, impressionistic landscapes and historical western scenes illuminate his love for nature. “The California Coast is my favorite subject matter. I have a strong feeling for the environment, and I like to paint things that are rugged,” Bagdonas says. But it’s not a sedate seascape he’s after; instead, his intention is to capture those rocky, craggy cliffs that are constantly changing. “It’s the same with the mountains,” he says. “They are always changing, and that is where I find what turns me on as an artist.” Living just a couple of hours from the coast, in an old gold-mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, his subject matter sits within easy reach.

Inspired by Edgar Payne, Bagdonas says his painting technique and approach have evolved over the years. “A long time ago I was working in acrylic, but I had trouble getting the luminosity I was looking for,” he explains. Two other crucial changes to his work have involved color and his choice of tools. Whereas his work with a paintbrush felt tight, today he works almost exclusively with a palette knife for looser and more textural results. “I think it makes a rocky coastal scene feel more real,” he adds. The artist also uses a lot more color now than he used to. “Instead of a limited palette of the primaries, I now paint with three different palettes of complementary colors,” he says—a cue he took from Payne. Bagdonas’ work can be found at New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA, and www.mikebagdonas.com. —Laura Rintala

Victoria Brooks

Victoria Brooks, Beyond the Blue, oil, 20 x 24.

Victoria Brooks, Beyond the Blue, oil, 20 x 24.

Victoria Brooks grew up with the “art bug,” and her mother would provide her and her siblings with art supplies during rainy Oregon days to keep them busy. As an adult, while she longed to paint, Brooks pursued a career in graphic design for 14 years before returning to oil painting. Today she describes her style of painting as “impressionism with soul and heart.” Her main focus over the last few years has been beach and coastal scenes that feature figures telling a nostalgic story, the artist says. “By having a landscape and then adding the human element, that brings out the emotion of the moment,” Brooks says. She works with several models for her paintings and meticulously plans for the location and time of day for a certain piece. “I think artists are always painting light and how it reflects from an object,” Brooks says. “When I’m painting, I’m painting the light that comes from within the people.” See Brooks’ work at Auburn Old Town Gallery, Auburn, CA; Fairweather House and Gallery, Seaside, OR; Lawrence Gallery, McMinnville, OR; Patris Studio and Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA; Sharon Amber Gallery, Cannon Beach, OR; and www.vbrooks.com. —Mackenzie McCreary

Eileen Eder

Eileen Eder, Bauer Farm, oil, 10 x 20.

Eileen Eder, Bauer Farm, oil, 10 x 20.

Eileen Eder’s paintings, created completely en plein air, seem to mimic the changing conditions the artist experiences while creating them. Eder, who began painting at age 48, says that she returns to the same scene at the same time over several sessions to complete one painting. She says she enjoys the energy of working on location. “When you’re outside, you’re at the mercy of all kinds of characters and weather and changing conditions,” Eder says. The artist finishes a painting in the field at least 95 percent of the time. “I believe in what I call slow looking,” Eder adds. “I walk around an area for a good long period of time with a viewfinder to narrow down my subject.” She then completes a series of sketches until she finds the right composition. Eder says people are always surprised by the early versions of her paintings, which start out loose and slowly tighten up during the painting process. In colder months, Eder paints still lifes, but says she is always “chomping at the bit” to get back outside. See Eder’s work at Susan Powell Fine Art, Madison, CT, and www.eileeneder.com.  —Mackenzie McCreary

Michelle Courier

Michelle Courier, The Merced, acrylic, 48 x 72.

Michelle Courier, The Merced, acrylic, 48 x 72.

Growing up in a house overflowing with artists, Michelle Courier’s creative destiny was set the moment her father made room for her in his Michigan studio. “As a kid, I watched him paint—he always looked so happy,” Courier says. “I was honored he shared his space with me when I was 16.”

With a dad who paints, a mom who weaves, and a younger brother who’s pursuing art in New York City, Courier’s entire existence is consumed by art. She attended the University of Michigan to earn a bachelor’s degree in painting and had her first solo show at 20 years old. “I learned the discipline quickly once I had to fill an entire gallery,” Courier remembers. Once she hit the western market, she spent summers photographing and camping in her van and winters painting in her studio.

Courier’s mastery of color is what sets her apart; she spent two straight years practicing color mixing, a skill evidenced today in her vibrant, contemporary impressionistic landscape paintings. “I’m there to convey the feeling I have when I’m in a place, not necessarily how it looks,” Courier says
of her large-scale acrylic works.

As a newly minted Coloradan, Courier wasted no time opening her own gallery in Denver, called Westward Gallery. Also see her work at Art Obsessions, Truckee, CA; Pacific Crest Gallery, South Lake Tahoe, CA; Freed Gallery, Lincoln City, OR; C2C Gallery, Grand Haven, MI; Northwood Gallery, Midland, MI; Michigan Artists Gallery, Traverse City, MI; DCF Gallery, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI; and www.michelletcourier.com. —Katie Askew

Valerie Collymore

Valerie Collymore, Calanques de Cassis, oil, 18 x 24.

Valerie Collymore, Calanques de Cassis, oil, 18 x 24.

Impressionist oil painter Valerie Colly-more’s works bear a striking resemblance to those of the original French Impressionists in both style and subject matter. That’s because Collymore grew up in the same venues. After Collymore’s father passed away suddenly, the family moved to France, where she studied painting en plein air alongside her mother, also an artist. But when Collymore returned to the U.S. for college, she decided to pursue medicine instead and worked as a physician for 30 years. After raising a family and retiring, she began studying with top painters across the country and honed her classical style, which involves a parallel-stroke technique. “It allows me to do subtle color changes and conveys a certain sense of movement unique to that French landscape,” Collymore says. “It also allows me to give an unusual texture and a certain richness to the piece.” The artist says she dwells in realism but wants her work to convey the authentic emotions of France. “These are the places where I grew up and walked with my mother,” she says. “So this allows me to relive those moments and places and share them with other people.” See Collymore’s work at Fountainhead Gallery, Seattle, WA, and www.valeriecollymore.com. —Mackenzie McCreary

Nancy Silvia

Nancy Silvia, Passing Clouds at Ghost Ranch, pastel, 22 x 30.

Nancy Silvia, Passing Clouds at Ghost Ranch, pastel, 22 x 30.

Pastel artist Nancy Silvia is a born-and-bred painter. After attending art school, Silvia dedicated herself to painting and worked as an abstract painter in New York. But when she began living in rural places, she says, “I became so enchanted by the landscape that I felt it had to be my subject.” The artist began painting coastal scenes along the East Coast until she moved to Santa Fe, NM, where she currently resides. “The seacoast is where my heart lies, but I’m also drawn to the landscape in New Mexico and particularly the light, which is so different from the gloomy eastern light,” Silvia says. “Variety is important. I’m never going to run out of inspiration because I enjoy it all.” The artist says she omits figures in her work to preserve a natural, spiritual connection with the land. Silvia works both en plein air and in her studio, and she describes her style as “straightforward representational,” but also as inspired by impressionism. “I’m not just trying to abstract the landscape and make it groovier,” the artist says. “I’m looking at the pictorial strength of whatever I’m representing and really trying to create a romantic and respectful version of what I’m seeing.” See Silvia’s work at www.nancysilvia.com. —Mackenzie McCreary

Caroline Ratliff

Caroline Ratliff, Evening Glow, pastel, 12 x 18.

Caroline Ratliff, Evening Glow, pastel, 12 x 18.

Caroline Ratliff knew she wanted to start creating art again when she found herself “painting” inside her head while teaching reading to middle-school students. So, after she retired from teaching in 1998, Ratliff took lessons from internationally acclaimed art teacher Albert Handell and discovered a passion for pastels. “I’m young at heart,” Ratliff says. “I just love painting, and I think it keeps you young.”

Painting has always been in Ratliff’s life; she graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in painting but claims to not have learned much while studying there. Instead, she credits the success of her work to everything she relearned after retiring, calling herself an ambassador for pastel.

Indeed, she is the founder and former president of the Pastel Society of Southeast Texas and teaches art to seniors out of her Houston studio once a week. She also spends her time photographing rocks, water, and other elements of nature, attempting to capture the essence of what she feels and sees in the moment to later paint in her studio.

Ratliff has consistently excelled in landscapes, and lately she is inspired by the dynamics of water and energy in colors. But her contemporary impressionistic style is also inspired by her travels: She has painted across the United States and China. “Being a full-time artist is just the most perfect life I can imagine,” Ratliff says. “Painting is my passion, filling an inner need to produce something of beauty.” See her work at DesignWorks, Galveston, TX, and www.carolineratliff.com. —Katie Askew

Lorraine Alexander

Lorraine Alexander, Taos Sunset, oil, 24 x 30.

Lorraine Alexander, Taos Sunset, oil, 24 x 30.

When Lorraine Alexander first visited New Mexico, she didn’t want to leave. Now the artist has a 360-degree view of its beauty from her home in Taos, and the landscapes are hers to explore en plein air in colors that seem to mingle, dance, burst, and fade across her canvases. “When I’m out there in nature, I take in the scene,” she says, “and there might be just one color that triggers a color exploration.”

Alexander’s style has changed significantly since she moved to New Mexico six years ago from Macon, GA, where she worked as an acclaimed portrait artist for 25 years. Today the classically trained artist works not with a brush but a palette knife, quickly mixing and then laying paint down on canvas. “I’m not as literal or tight as you have to be with portraits,” she says. “I try to capture as much as I can in the least number of strokes.”

It’s been a meaningful metamorphosis for the artist, who battles persistent pain from a severe spinal cord injury caused by a botched surgery three years ago. Alexander has found a restorative escape through her art. “With painting, you go into another dimension. It’s so consuming that my mind doesn’t think of anything else,” she says. Often working alongside her partner and fellow painter Ken Daggett, Alexander portrays nature’s stunning tapestries. “I have a new self coming forth,” she says. “There’s a powerful ‘me’ coming out.”

See Alexander’s work at The Adobe Fine Art, Ruidoso, NM; Casweck Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; and Act I Gallery, Taos, NM. —Kim Agricola

This story was featured in the February 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  February 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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