No, not Spanish or Italian or French. An artist needs to be fluent in the languages of realism and abstraction. By realism I mean the formal aspects of art–the painting techniques and drawing skills we develop over time through experience. Abstraction is the other side of the coin, the visual language that frees us to paint and draw what is going on inside our heads. It means that I may be looking at a tree, but I want to paint power, life, majesty, and wisdom. The tree becomes a vessel for my message, not the message itself.
The work of Stuart Shils exemplifies the delicate balancing act between abstraction and realism. His work is attuned to the physicality of the real world, often referencing landscape, time of day, locale, and architecture. But his works manifest far more. “I sit in front of nature and make a response that isn’t determined by stylization,” he says. “No worrying about what it is going to look like–just painting.”
The results are paintings where a cityscape vista is abstracted into a striated grid and loosely colored geometric forms. Or the intense heat of a summer day translates into a vision of hot pink and orange. Shils attempts to capture a sensory moment, not document every detail his eyes take in. “It isn’t a compulsory or mandatory inventory of what’s in front of you,” he says. “The point is to learn how to edit and make choices.”
For Shils, being fluent in realism and abstraction means getting in front of nature on a regular basis, and being ready to do something more. “Look and respond,” Shils says. “Hard looking doesn’t kill anything. It nurtures your capacity to see and the quality of your vision. You can look out there and copy nature, but how about looking at your painting as well? Ask yourself hard questions about what is going on in your work.”
Does that ring true for you? It certainly does for me and my work. Art isn’t about painting only one way or being a slave to your subject. It is about seeing and interpreting, feeling and reacting. So allow yourself to focus on just that! With Quick Solutions to Better Painting (also available as a digital collection) you can hone your hand-eye coordination, learn ways to manipulate light and color, and see landscapes and figures in a “big picture” way. The result is that works of art become powerful and emotive, and you express yourself the way you see fit. Enjoy!