When I make a painting, I am aware that I am translating a three-dimensional thing in space into a two-dimensional depiction of it. I am interested in portraying what I perceive, not a photographic image.
I go back and forth between thinking about the narrative of what I am painting and seeing it abstractly. In one sense, the still life, landscape or figure has a sense of place, a personality, and a story all its own. But ultimately I try to ignore my preconceptions and see the subject in visual terms only. If I am faithful to my perception of the shapes, colors, and values, the object will appear.
The paint itself plays a vital part in the balancing act between narrative and picture. I spend a long time premixing all the colors that I see, which helps shift me from literal to figurative. Then I am free to let the picture evolve from the physical energy and presence of paint on a canvas, creating the illusion of reality.
I started painting landscape outdoors around 2001, studying with painter Sharon Yates in New Brunswick, Canada. Before that, I had primarily been a still life and figure painter. Plein-air painting has taught me more than I had learned in art school and in all the years since.
The light constantly changes. The wind blows your easel over, the sun burns, the insects bite, the tide rises and falls, the boats come and go, your brushes fall in the water. It's cold, it's hot, it's raining, it's foggy. Landscape painting is the hardest and most rewarding, the most exhausting and the most exhilarating, the scariest and the most fun. Taking into account and reacting to the changing light and conditions makes each painting a fresh and spontaneous event.
I cannot arrange the landscape as I can a still life. I can't control the light or the weather. So what I focus on is the challenge and joy of translating the three-dimensional world onto the two-dimensional picture plane. Choosing the little corner of the world to depict. Trying to interpret light falling on objects through the medium of paint. Figuring out how to mix that color. Using the language of brush stroke. Holding on to whatever first attracted me to that subject, or changing the painting because something more compelling comes up. Trying to show what it felt like to stand in that spot for a time and paint that picture.
What I come away with after working on painting landscapes is a clearer vision of and attention to the world. Wrestling with landscape painting has influenced and informed my work on still life, which in turn has influenced my work on the landscape.