Meet a dozen painters exploring the artistic opportunities in the landscape
This story was featured in the February 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Landscape painter Lee MacLeod had a successful career in illustration for nearly 30 years. Working with such prestigious companies as 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros., the Suzuki Corporation, and Nintendo, MacLeod honed his artistic abilities through a variety of deadline-driven assignments. But in the early 1990s, with the emergence of computer-aided illustration, the field changed, leading the artist to focus on his own art.
Moving to Santa Fe, NM, in 1993, MacLeod developed a renewed fascination with fine art. “I’d always enjoyed fine art, especially representational painting,” he says. “And once I got here, I fell in love with plein-air landscape painting.” After working from others’ designs and ideas for decades, MacLeod found release in his own art, fueled by the colors and landscape of the Land of Enchantment. The artist does a significant amount of studio work as well, but it’s working outdoors that truly inspires him. “One of the things I really like about plein-air painting,” he says, “is that you can see color when you’re out there in a way that you could never see it in a studio.”
MacLeod’s oil landscapes are representational yet strive for a relaxed feel in technique. “I would say my style is somewhat impressionistic. I think I fall into the category of a realist but in a very loose way,” he says. “I’m trying to make the painting interesting with the paint as well as the scene itself.” MacLeod is represented by Silver Sun, Santa Fe, NM, and Purple Sage Galeria, Albuquerque, NM. —Joe Kovack
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a person sparked by adventure and wild places,” says Darcie Peet. That spark has been evident throughout the artist’s life, from the frequent family hikes of her childhood in Illinois and Pennsylvania, to her grown-up explorations of the wilderness surrounding her seasonal homes in Arizona and Colorado, to her more recent expeditions deep into the heart of places like Montana’s Glacier National Park, Utah’s Monument Valley, the Canadian Rockies, and Alaska. “Nature and the landscape have always been a part of me,” Peet says, explaining that her appreciation for the natural world goes far beyond its superficial beauty. “It’s a deep and humbling reverence for the vast and powerful country” that is both rugged and delicate, threatening and comforting, chaotic and peaceful.
Peet’s profound connection to the landscape, combined with solid technical training and dedication to her craft, results in captivating works that speak directly to the soul of the viewer. It’s this rare connection between the artist, painting, and viewer that Peet strives to achieve in every piece. “Through the energy of the paint, I want to grab viewers by the hand and take them on a journey [to the place depicted] in the painting, and hopefully tell the story of my experiences along the way,” she says.
Peet is a signature member of the Oil Painters of America whose work can be found at Big Horn Gallery, Tubac, AZ; Cogswell Gallery, Vail, CO; and Dick Idol Signature Gallery, Whitefish, MT. —Lindsay Mitchell
Betty Anglin Smith
Betty Anglin Smith lives on the edge of the ACE Basin, a large, undeveloped estuary created by the convergence of three rivers about an hour south of Charleston, SC. A lush landscape of meandering creeks, sand dunes, moss-covered oaks, and maritime forests are part of the landscape painter’s daily visual diet. Not far from her front door, Smith can step out onto a dock and watch the tides roll in and out and the sun rise and fall over the water. “Being this close to nature makes such an impression on me and keeps me motivated in my work,” she says.
For the first 15 years of her career, Smith painted watercolors. But on a fateful trip to Santa Fe, she experienced an artistic epiphany. At the time the galleries were showing landscape works with vast, colorful skies painted in oils. She came home to South Carolina, switched to oils, and changed her palette. “I never looked back,” she adds.
Today the artist is known for her brightly colored, expressive depictions of the many natural wonders of South Carolina’s scenic coastline. But she is also on a mission of sorts. Through her work she hopes to convey how precious the natural landscape is, how important it is to preserve it, and what joy it brings to people. “When you are out in nature, you find peace that is hard to [find] anywhere else,” Smith says. The artist is represented by Parker Gallery, St. Simons Island, GA; Anglin Smith Fine Art, Charleston, SC; and Anne Irwin Fine Art, Atlanta, GA. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
During her nearly 40 years as a professional painter, Lynn Gertenbach has traveled extensively all over the globe. Yet she often finds her greatest inspiration closer to home in the diverse, breathtaking landscapes and seascapes of California. “There’s so much beauty here,” says Gertenbach, who’s lived in Calabasas in Los Angeles County for 20 years. While she began studying portraiture at age 13, it wasn’t until she moved to California in her 20s that she discovered the joy of landscape painting. “Once my friends in Laguna Beach introduced me to plein-air painting, I was hooked,” she says.
Today Gertenbach’s paintings are always created with a combination of plein-air and studio work—an approach that comes from her belief that artists are “supposed to be composers, not transposers. In my teaching I always stress the need to think about composition, encouraging students to be creative and imaginative, otherwise the process becomes too formulaic,” she says. And her passion for painting is as evident in her own work as it is in her instruction of others. “I’ll never retire from being a painter,” she says, adding happily yet matter-of-factly, “What else would I do?”
Gertenbach is a signature member of the Oil Painters of America, the California Art Club, and Plein Air Painters of America. Her work can be found at Gallerie Amsterdam, Carmel, CA; Northwest Gallery, Spokane, WA; Segil Fine Art, Monrovia, CA; and Lu Martin Galleries, Laguna Beach, CA. —Lindsay Mitchell
For inspiration, Valerie Collymore returns often to the terrain of her youth—southern France. Picturesque Mediterranean locales, such as Arles and Cap Ferrat, dot the area and have long attracted visitors and artists. The region is also where Collymore discovered art and began to paint and draw. Her mother, a widow at 36, wanted to live in western Europe to offer her children exposure to the art and music of many cultures. The family ended up staying in France for nine years.
Today Collymore is based in Seattle and is a former physician who started painting in oils in 2009. A year later she decided to trade in her stethoscope for paintbrushes and pursue a career in fine art. Collymore’s first goal was to embark on an intense, two-year study program. Not only did she log miles of canvas, but she also enrolled in workshops with master artists including C.W. Mundy and Daniel Gerhartz.
In many ways Collymore carries on the legacy of French Impressionists, such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who shared her love of southern France. In her work, she always strives to achieve a “painterly, impressionist” style, and she devotes much effort toward selecting strong compositions, unusual lighting effects, and harmonious neutral colors to which she often adds a high- chroma “kick.” When asked what she hopes to convey in her work, the artist replies, “Healing and optimism, simplicity, and the beauty and glory of the landscape that surrounds us.”
Rachel Harvey was determined to be the perfect mother. But after leaving her career as a CPA with a Big Six accounting firm, she realized that wasn’t enough to satisfy her Type A personality. “I stumbled into an oil-painting class, and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she says.
With no art background to inform her in the basics of composition and color theory, she says that at first she really “shot from the hip, painting by instinct. Today, I am far more deliberate.” But her instincts served her well. Attracted to the geometric lines, patterns, and negative spaces of the landscape, Harvey intuitively brought composition and perspective to her work, which most often portrays wide-open fields and valleys complementing even bigger, deeper skies.
“The place is less important to me than the space,” she says. Although she was born in the Northwest and lives there today, the artist spent a good portion of her childhood in the Midwest, where broad horizons with 360-degree views give a person—particularly a child—the feeling of being at the center of the world. “I feel like there is such a dichotomy of being so small in the vast expanse of the landscape—in essence, it’s solitude,” Harvey says. “Our lives really take place inside of our heads, and no one else can be in our heads with us. The vast landscape is a reminder of that solitary existence, but it’s not scary,” she stresses. “It’s a place of refuge.”
We often begin to discover our passions during our teens. For Timothy Mulligan, it was his middle-school art teacher who noticed his natural talent and encouraged a life with art. “As a tall, geeky, and invisible eighth grader, I was amazed that art was something I could do really well,” Mulligan remembers. “Being an artist has become part of my identity and is something I’ve always been proud of.”
Mulligan followed his artistic passions and received a fine-art degree from California State University in Sacramento, where he learned to challenge himself and push his medium. After college, he worked as a printmaker and for the state of California. He then set aside his art to teach his children at home, using art as a tool to teach multiple subjects and impart a well-rounded education. Twelve years later, with the kids off to college, Mulligan returned to his art, ready to follow the source of his inspiration—the 19th-century Impressionists.
Today, Mulligan’s expressive acrylic landscapes and seascapes use bold brush strokes and varying textures to create an organic feel. “I like to peel back the skin of what I see to expose a raw and reimagined world of heightened colors and simplified shapes and textures,” he says. “This style of painting feels more exciting and alive to me, and it allows me to put more of myself into the painting.” Mulligan is represented by Alex Bult Gallery, Sacramento, CA, where he is having his first solo show this month. —Joe Kovack
Growing up in a small village in Australia, Robert Hagan was first exposed to art while in school and was awestruck by the amazing detail he saw in paintings of historical events. Although he was a natural at drawing, he didn’t begin to experiment with art until studying economics and education at university.
After graduating, Hagan taught at high schools and was a subject master at St Pius X College in New South Wales. But by the time he turned 28, his passion for painting proved too great to ignore. He began to teach himself to paint, often focusing on depicting the beach. “I lived a large part of my early life by the beach,” he says. “The wide golden beaches with crystal blue-green waters, tumbling white waves, and imposing headlands left powerful impressions.”
Today, living and painting in Australia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Hagan creates landscapes that often include a figure or animal as well. “My style’s a brand of impressionist realism,” he says. “I work light and color to tell my story but never to tell it all. I try to enter the atmosphere with my style of painting in a relaxed way.” Hagan is represented by Aspen Grove Fine Arts, Aspen, CO; C. Anthony Gallery, Beaver Creek, CO; New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA; Masters Gallery, Denver, CO; and Mountain Trails Gallery, Park City, UT. —Joe Kovack
When Harold Nelson chooses a subject to paint, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either a certain experience has touched him emotionally, or he is trying to accomplish a specific artistic goal, such as exploring how light trickles down through the trees in a forest. Observers have described his works as luminous. And as one collector noted re-cently, “Painting either in acrylic or oil, his colors are pure and dance as if glowing in natural sunlight.”
An artist for more than 30 years, Nelson depicts quintessential Arizona subject matter close to his home, such as the Grand Canyon, saguaro cactuses, and weathered adobe structures. But he also enjoys capturing beaches and boatyards from Maine to Hawaii. Although he considers himself a realist painter, Nelson is not concerned with depicting every blade of grass or rock in the water in great detail. However, he is the first to admit that he seldom removes anything from a scene he is painting. “I paint what’s there, and I don’t make things up,” he says.
Nelson is also a strong believer in painting on location. Only by involving all the senses, he says, can the artist perceive the true emotional content that emanates from a landscape. “I try to bring scenes to folks that have not had the privilege of being there, in hopes that maybe the scenes might stir enough in them to go there,” he says. The artist’s work is available at www.haroldnelsonart.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
After drawing and painting nearly every subject in almost every medium available during his years as an illustrator, Jim Miller now focuses his artistic eye on the landscapes he loves and on one medium: oils. No longer tasked to create someone else’s vision, the artist says, “You paint something because you think it’s the most beautiful scene you’ve ever seen.” But ask the artist to name his favorite subject to paint, and his answer takes a little longer. “To pick a favorite is like picking your favorite kid,” he says, laughing softly, then offers: “I do like water.” Water and its reflections. “It’s one of the hardest subjects to paint.” And if you do it just right, he says, it actually looks wet.
Miller is currently painting, amongst other things, a series of pieces depicting the placid back canals of Venice. Along with the beautiful reflections, he says, “The old buildings, the romance, the history—this is what I am trying to capture. Venice is like eye candy for me.” Whatever the subject matter, Miller wants people to feel like they could walk into the scene. To achieve this, it’s important that he experience a place first. Whether it comes from a smell in the air, or how the breeze hits him on a given day, he says, “How you feel about the subject, and the experiences you had when you were there—it all gets into the painting one way or another.” Miller is represented by Jim Miller Gallery, Carmel, CA. —Laura Rintala
Living in the “middle of nowhere” might be impractical or even frustrating for some, but for painter Lil Leclerc, the remote town of McNeal in southeastern Arizona has provided her with a perfect, idyllic home for almost four decades. An avid outdoorswoman and plein-air painter, Leclerc says that living in an area surrounded by pristine landscapes, diverse wildlife, and “fabulous sunrises and sunsets” provides incredible inspiration and opportunities for painting. “I love to paint in the early mornings during camping and trail-riding excursions, and I go on every group plein-air painting trip possible,” she says.
Despite Leclerc’s lifelong enthusiasm for art, it wasn’t until the late 1990s, when a neighbor invited her on a plein-air outing, that painting became a more prominent focus in her life. Over the years, Leclerc’s works have evolved from a beginner’s preoccupation with detail to a looser, impressionistic approach, a transition she credits largely to the practice of plein-air painting. Today, after devoting more than 40 years to nursing, Leclerc is working toward becoming a full-time artist next year. While her two chosen professions may seem worlds apart, there is a common passion and purpose that unites them: “As a nurse, I’ve always tried to bring calm to patients in the midst of an often hectic and stressful environment,” she says. “I want to do the same with my paintings: to bring moments of peace and beauty into the lives of others.”
The dimensional artworks that Alison Galvan creates are a fusion of sculpture and painting. The artist begins with flat wood panels on which she builds a scene in bas-relief using a gypsum and paper compound. This becomes the canvas upon which she completes her landscapes using acrylic paints. The scenes themselves are a fusion of the artist’s favorite subject matter—the natural places where she finds peace and resolution to life’s most daunting challenges—and her love of color.
Galvan’s circuitous journey into fine art began with a degree in fashion design from Parsons School of Design in New York City. During her foundation year, she was exposed to numerous art techniques and found herself intrigued by sculpture. But she completed her degree in fashion design and then owned a children’s clothing design company. Then marriage and children came along, and it was while Galvan was home-schooling her children that she discovered the gypsum and paper compound. Realizing how versatile it was, she began to experiment with it herself.
The bas-relief paintings that emerged are a conduit through which Galvan invites you into her world. “What I am trying to achieve is the feeling that you’re looking at my work, but you’re almost a part of it,” she says. She is represented by Art Mode Gallery, Chelsea, Quebec; Gallery Upstairs, Milton, Ontario; Eclipse Art Gallery, Huntsville, Ontario; Terre Neuve, Aurora, Ontario; The Shayne Gallery, Mont Royal, Quebec; and www.xanadugallery.com. —Laura Rintala
Featured in the February 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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