By Anna Horsnell
In exclusive conversations with the artists from The Prow Gallery, Breaking the Surface delves deeper into the personalities and passion behind the artistry. Our sincere thanks go out to each artist for graciously sharing from the heart.
What makes a great landscape?
For me landscapes are about how the environment takes form to create places of power. I think of it as geomancy, how rock and earth and plants and water all form around each other, combined with the sky, to spark a magical transformation. I know that I have come across one of these places when I am driving by and nearly roll into a ditch. Also, how humans affect the environment and how it reacts to that influence to create its own presence. Old farms are an excellent example of this.
Please describe a great day of plein air (outdoor) painting.
I've always felt that plein air is like going to the casino. You can feel great and lucky and feel like you have found the perfect spot with ideal weather conditions, and you didn't forget your best brush at home. No mosquitos, everything is perfect. And then, by the end of the day, the paintings you worked on all suck. One of the best plein air experiences I had was at the Parrsboro competition. The wind was blowing; it was cold and raining. I had to paint out of the back seat of my hatchback. The painting I ended up with was probably the best plein air I've ever done in hindsight, but at the time I couldn't see past the miserable weather. I didn't even turn it in for the competition. I now remember that day fondly.
Would you share your most memorable time while working in the field?
Apart from my adventure in stormy Parrsboro, a unique experience was when I was painting in a cove at Prospect Head. It was a quiet morning, with fog just starting to burn off, when a Blue heron flew in and landed about 20 feet away and started fishing. As I was staring at him, a deer walked down beside me about 10 feet away and crossed in front of me slowly grazing. I could not take a picture. I could only look at them. It was like I was not even there.
How has your own relationship with the natural world changed through your work? What has nature taught you?
To bring rain gear and lots of Deet. And sun block. All kidding aside, I still feel like I'm at the beginning of that path. My painting is a lens I use to bring aspects of nature into focus. But as for a greater understanding of my relationship to nature, I am still just gathering information.
You’ve stated the small size of your paintings encourages the viewer to look closer, pulling them into the heart of the landscape. What are the other benefits and challenges of painting small?
I have always regarded my small works as studies in my own mind, as a way to avoid getting too precious with them, worrying out the details too much. Historically if you look at miniature art, it is mostly about the tiny little details combining to form a piece that carries as much gravitas as a similarly larger work. I try to find the balance between important details and larger gestural strokes that reflect movement and energy in the landscape. From farther away, the viewer sees the energy and movement, and then is drawn in to see the details that give meaning and place. The challenge is always to keep the work loose and fresh on such a small scale, like a study. The benefit is that on larger works it is easier to get lost on the big canvas and lose focus on what you are trying to capture in the landscape.
In the past you have also worked in sculpture, photography, and graphic design. How does this influence your painting? What drew you back to painting?
I started painting again primarily for practical reasons. I loved doing sculpture, but I did not have the space to work on the scale I required. I was also starting from square one after so many years of not doing my own work. Add to this, my current view of reality was so different from the younger version of myself that I needed to find an artistic handle to grab hold of again, something basic that I could wrap my thoughts around. That turned out to be oil painting. As for how my other disciplines have influenced me, I would say sculpture has had the greatest effect on my painting. I always consider the implications of the materials I paint on, and how they will be seen and presented.
You studied with artist Eleanor Kish. What is the best advice you ever received from either her or someone else as your art and career have progressed?
Elie Kish taught me the fundamentals of oil painting and how to see the subject. She helped me to settle down my mind. I had some great profs in art school, David Bobier and Tom Henderson to name a few. David opened my mind to possibilities by describing my work in ways I could not previously imagine. Tom was always to the point. He would look at a sculpture I was working on and say, "too pretty" and then walk away. Those two words have always governed every piece of art I have ever worked on since.
What have you learned about yourself, living the life of an artist?
That being an artist is about embracing the good and the bad and seeing through the veil that separates the two. It is about a particular type of honesty that requires an artist to always be examining themselves and their process.
If you weren't an artist, what would you do?
I would probably be a vagrant. ;) There is nothing I could do that my creative side would not want to influence or change in some way. That said, my dream as a child was to be a marine biologist.
What surprises you about the response to your work?
I cannot say I am surprised by people's reaction to my work, except for maybe the positive feedback. Often being an artist is a solitary experience. I often get so involved with these intimate little worlds that when I put them out there, I am never sure how people will react. I have noticed that often people have commented that my landscapes are emotionally familiar to them. They may have never been to the place, but there is something that connects to them on that level. I am still trying to figure that one out.