I believe art is successful when it can access at least one of our most prominent emotions. Art has the power to evoke joy, pleasure, a sense of infinite peace, or even a disturbance or sadness. When we gaze upon a particular piece of art, our brain tends to make subconscious connections to a memory, experience, or something else we can't quite put our finger on. All we can typically grasp is the emotion.
While I was staying in a small Pacific village in Guatemala in January 2018, I was lucky enough to meet this rad, world-traveled, experience-junkie triathlete from Arizona. She just so happened to be in search of the perfect painting, to capture what it was like to be at the top of a slope, in brisk solitude, overlooking the quickly descending sunset and radiating snow for as far as the eye could see. This place would be based loosely on her experiences in both Tibet and Colorado, but I had the creative freedom to run with it as I pleased, and I had all year to construct it.
I wanted this piece to grasp at a certain nostalgia, a memory shrouded in peace, serenity, and freedom. I've personally had experiences similar to this in my own travels. But I was creating a nostalgia for a place I had never been. I was creating a place that technically doesn't exist, except as a collaboration of her verbal memories, and my personal intangible ones.
I researched heavily, searching for reference images and creating many palette knife sketches to familiarize myself with this new subject. I had done landscapes, I had painted oceans, but not glaciers and snow. Secretly, this was a world I'd been searching for the excuse to dive into anyway. Living in beautiful coastal South Carolina, my world is flat marsh, wetlands and beach. (My dream home will one day be tucked away in mountains, where I can run all the trails I want. But then again, we always want what we don't have.)
First, I had a custom 66x66" canvas built beautifully at a local framing shop called Artizom. While I was mulling away at how I might attack this thing, I propped it up on two gallon buckets and primed the raw canvas with 2+ coats of gesso.
After a few weeks of staring at the blank canvas, letting it consume my ego, I did what I do best: I started slathering on the layers, allowing my subconscious to take the reigns and begin working out the composition for me.
Once I got that central glacial peak in there, I did a spastic happy dance, all alone in my 10x12' studio. I had one of those rare something magic just happened moments -which I know every painter knows what I'm talking about.
I work primarily with palette knives, because they create a quality unmatched by brushes. You can see each bold hit of paint, so vividly, that you can trace the journey, the parts that make up the whole, a thousand mini paintings, and when you stand back, your eyes mix the colors for you.
With the confidence from that magical moment, I powered on, layer by layer, working out the colors, letting the layers work upon eachother, warm and cool, until they started appeasing the subconscious decision-maker in my brain. The canvas was getting heavier and heavier with all the acrylics and medium, and was beginning to take on the sculptural quality of most of my work.
I listened to a lot of Tash Sultana, Fleet Foxes, and Congratulations podcasts during this stage. In a single studio day, I can go from Q-Tip, to classical Bach, to interview podcasts with Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, to Eminem impressions by Chris D'Elia. (I bet my studio neighbors think I'm insane, hearing just scratching palette knives and then random laughing, for hours on end.)
My main squeeze comes and hangs out at the studio a lot.
He also reminds me to take dog park breaks.
I could begin to feel the depth, the solitude, the cold air. I knew I was getting close.
I wasn't too pumped about the pants, though. They needed to be warmer, balance out all the heat from the sky. At this stage, I stared at it for days before touching it again.
Eventually, I made the final alterations, and set it outside in the Redux hallway for other eyeballs to finally observe. I also was eager for different lighting and perspective. I had loads of positive feedback, particularly from my fellow artists, which is always really nice. Artists always act like we're too cool to care, but we are actually quite pathetic and need lots of positive reinforcement.
I was later told that a patron of Redux was wandering around looking at all the artists' work one afternoon - Redux is a collective community space for 20+ working artists in Charleston - saw this piece, found a chair and parked himself directly across from it for a humorously long time. (while the staff watched close by from the security camera, making sure that's all he was going to do).
I obviously kept touching it, adding, obsessing for about a week, before deciding it was time to draw the line, and put at least two coats of the high gloss protective varnish on, and arrange with local artist & art delivery specialist Stephen Elliott Webb to get this beauty on the road to her new home out in Arizona.
A painting, this large, this involved, that took THIS long to complete (about 7 months in total), it is a very bittersweet day when it finally leaves your hands. Satisfaction, relief even, but also a pang of loss. You're also a ball of nerves until you learn that the piece has arrived safely at its destination, which it certainly did, one week later, thanks to Stephen and his art shipping services.
After the gratifying closure of this stunning image sent to me by the new collector, I have to figure out what course I will take next. Mountains may be on hold, but only for now. I still have much to do in the world of figurative painting. I aim for 2019 to be a year of gallery exhibitions, including my first solo show at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in Charleston. But I hope to secure more opportunities to paint large-scale nostalgic places, just like this, for beautiful homes and collectors in the future.