I often enjoy walking meditations in the areas around my home. These walks have helped me learn to embrace the world just as it is and appreciate the ever-changing landscape and quality of life around me. While walking, certain arresting views and textures will cause me to stop and take a photograph or draw a quick black and white sketch. I carry these images of the landscapes back to the studio for painting references.
Once the paintings begin on canvas, I work to combine the realism of landscape with abstract improvisation until the two ideas coexist harmoniously. I build the paintings up in layers, using acrylic paint and ceramic stucco medium. As I work, I continually look for connections between the external landscape and my intuitive abstraction. This is a push-pull process filled with continual changes until the colors, shapes, and rhythms of the painting begin to “sing.” Sometimes this takes many layers of paint; other times, it happens more quickly, but it always feels like a leap of faith into the unknown. Painting in this manner has made me more comfortable with uncertainty and more connected with the process of creating balanced compositions.
These paintings express my conviction that all things are connected and that the earth must be honored and treated well. While we walk in nature, we must try to leave slight or no footprints so that future generations will survive and flourish on this planet.
For the past twenty-five years living on the coast of Maine, painting the seasons has been central to my practice. While I consider myself part of the long line of artists who have found great inspiration in focusing on the seasons, I am not a plein air painter. I paint in my studio and not from photographs or sketches—my work results from hours of careful observation and absorption in the environment around me. My interest is in composing a synthesis of the visual sensations which have impressed themselves on my memory. I try to make paintings that are an encapsulation of the unique and specific energy of each season.
These four paintings were made in the season which is perhaps, more than any other, the most dramatic and spectacular, certainly with regard to color: autumn. Making paintings during this time of year is particularly exhilarating and liberating for me as a colorist.
Landscape painting appeals to me because I love the feel of air on my skin. I love the vastness against the up-close. I am fascinated with how color changes as it moves through space, in specific light, and how these shifts create structure in a painting. Landscape provides this endlessly! I love the relationship of sky—what the hell is sky?—with the plane of ground, water, or architecture below. A landscape motif changes with the whims of weather and time—while I’m working! I enjoy that. It forces decisions of what the painting is really going to address. I like finding new places to look at, see, and respond to in paint. Mostly, however, I return to the same handful of places, as there is always more. Observational painting is like a big love story: there’s so much at once, and then, there’s depth.
This winter, I took a self-funded four-week painting residency in a Central Mexican mountain city. Talk about color changing in light and shadow! I tried to get down everything that intrigued me. Two of these images are from that trip. The two Maine sink paintings exemplify an often revisited location. Eighty percent of Light in Sink is landscape, but the focus is the fractured light in the sink. Icons illuminates a Duccio poster (faded and forgotten by its owners) and link it with the Maine seascape.
“Thing” and “what” are misleading because they keep us in the language of nameable objects. I’m drawn to the overall light, the color complexion that unites and emanates: a shadow-changing hue depending on what it crosses; the degree of intensity where an illuminated surface butts against a shadow; the step into distant atmosphere; these intrigue me. The sensation is as if I, too, will dissipate into particles of color, regardless of wood, water, mineral, and flesh.
Then, there’s the job of responding in paint. What color, how much of it, where? Mix paint, apply it. Small piece, big stroke, transparent, opaque, wet, dry? Schlepp large canvas? Watercolors in backpack? Studio? The process of painting is an infuriating, sometimes enlightening, mix of intuition, experience, and technicalities. It doesn’t have much to do with the poetic words that describe landscapes. Painting is a physical action that has to be done if you are afflicted with it as a way to respond to, deal with, and live in this world. It keeps me from being bamboozled. I hope that the final product awakens some feeling, delight, intrigue, or comfort in the viewer.
I feel incredibly privileged to paint the landscape. I wish I could paint something that would melt assault weapons and convert lynchers. I wish I could paint something that would end my complicity with fossil fuels. I wish my paintings could have made my ancestors learn from and honor the Indigenous people living here rather than take their land and make them sick. I wish I could paint certain people right out of their power. I think of all these things also while I paint and weep for Tops shoppers, schoolchildren, and sick 18–20-year-old boys/men. Painting the landscape means I get to be alive and in love.
Image at top: June Kellogg, Being in Nature Can Be Restorative, acrylic and ceramic stucco on canvas, 36 x 30 in., 2021.