Ruby’s Crowned Waters (pastel, 9½x13)
For more than 30 years, Frederick Somers has noted those small sections of flowers and grasses sequestering pools of water in the Minnesota farmlands. In winter, as the days grow shorter and darker and the sun sits lower in the sky, the longer wavelengths of light create vibrant purples and reds, like those in Ruby’s Crowned Waters. The painting originated from a reference photo he’d snapped impulsively from his truck window. “Near the peripheral edges of my sight, I saw colors of the most brilliant light blues, reds and greens,” says Somers. “When I turned my head, they were gone. I believe the colors were some kind of prismatic effect.”
Somers began by painting shapes and values, then added details and final color notes. He used the flat side of his pastel and a “dry wash” applied with Viva towels—a frequently used tool for both adding and removing color. By this means he achieves the perfect balance of hard and soft edges and bright or dull color.
Influenced by the Hudson River Valley painters and Georgia O’Keeffe, Somers also admires the work of northern European artists John Fabian Carlson and Carl Larsson (both Swedish), with whom he feels an affinity. “My Swedish ancestors thought of water as a metaphor for eternity,” he explains. When painting grass and water, he finds that “amazing place where water, land and the reflection of heaven meet.”
Having earned his bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and his master”s degree in drawing and painting at the University of Iowa, Somers remembers being struck one day by the abstract quality of nature. “There are places and experiences,” he says, “that cannot be expressed with realism—moments of light revealing form that cannot be expressed in any other way than by pressing into the mystery of abstraction.”
J. Austin Jennings
Worldsong (collage, 16×12)
Not long after being introduced to collage during an advanced drawing class, Jennifer Austin Jennings started a family. The disarray inherent in collage simply didn’t lend itself to a bustling household, so for the next several years, she pursued a tidier medium—acrylic. “Worldsong was a reincarnation of the collage process I’d wandered into so many years earlier. Only now, I’m able to add to it all the experience I’ve gained as an acrylic painter,” she says.
Jennings feels the subject of this piece took on its own meaning. The blue jay’s eye (represented by a child’s eye) seemed to signify innocence, and the human features fell naturally into place as she added trees. “It seemed as if the bird, a peaceful expression of nature, carried a hopeful message through a chaotic forest of humanity.”
The artist begins a collage with a basic painting on canvas. She then chooses visual components, piece by piece, searching out fragments of varying colors, textures and values from stacks of magazines. “Shards of images lie everywhere,” she says. The images “reassemble themselves to form a new whole” through a labor-intensive, transformative process she compares to alchemy.
Often using bold, complementary color schemes, Jennings plays with metaphors she finds in nature. Her photographer husband adds inspiration—and healthy competition—sparring with her on ideas for subject matter and titles as well as strategies for promoting their works.
The Kettering, Ohio, resident cites the late artist/instructor Annamary Bierly, who introduced her to collage, as an immense influence, as well as William Morris and Georgia O’Keeffe. Jennings has had some formal training at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and at the Dayton Art Institute, where she now teaches, but she’s primarily self-taught. From her home studio, she teaches art to children in her community. “I get as much fulfillment from helping others express themselves artistically as I do from expressing myself through my own art. It’s a dual calling.”
Chromatic Interference (acrylic, 36×36)
Pat Stanley’s Chromatic Interference explores what might happen if humanity vanished from the Earth, an idea inspired by the History Channel’s documentary Life After People. Always conscious of environmental issues, Stanley created this painting as part of a series exploring environmental degradation of urban and rural structures. She shoots all her own reference photos as she roams city streets or crawls into abandoned buildings.
Using her computer, she manipulates a photo and switches to gray scale to heighten the contrast. (For Chromatic Interference, the artist elaborated on a photo of an old farm building, making it appear to be imploding from a chemical reaction.) The printed image becomes her reference point for painting, which she does with a limited palette of mixed primary colors—most often nickel azo gold, anthraquinone blue and quinacridone red. After pouring paint onto a stretched, gessoed canvas, she uses rubbing alcohol and water to lift wet areas of color with a paper towel. Once this abstract layer dries, she paints elements of the structure seen in her photographic image, using opaque gray paint, as well as transparent gray glazes.
Stanley is never sure what the resulting painting will look like. “I’ve limited control over the underpainting and the main image. Each decision is based on how the previous gray shape affected the overall design.”
The 61-year-old Ontario artist has studied fine art at Concordia University in Montreal, although her career had been in computers and she’s only been painting seriously for five years. After trying her hand at realistic watercolor landscapes, abstract acrylic landscapes and nonobjective painting in fluid acrylics, Stanley now works strictly in acrylics.
“My overall goal,” she says, “is to draw an emotional response—to move someone by the disturbing combination of beauty and terror encompassed in our evolving relationship with nature.”
Early Morning Blues II (pastel, 18×24)
Jennifer Gardner had painted the same view of San Francisco several times. For Early Morning Blues II, however, she used exaggerated line work and simple block shapes. “The work emerged clearly as a city scene, but with more abstract elements than I’d previously achieved,” she says.
The London-born artist came to America in 1999, leaving behind a career in law. Discovering soft pastel in 2001 through an instructor at the Manchester Artists Association in New Hampshire, this mainly self-taught artist developed her technique through trial and error—and attention to what sells.
While digital photos from Gardner’s travels provide inspiration, her land-, sea- and cityscapes typically bear little resemblance to those photos. The artist often completes a piece in a day, and if she feels a painting isn’t working, she isn’t afraid to trash it. A full-time artist since 2002, she says, “I create pastels for a living—one not quite as lucrative as the law, but certainly a lot more fun!”
Don’t Trip (oil, 30×40)
A contemporary realist painter, Rachel Gillen works in oil with an exacting hand. Don’t Trip depicts a reflection in a puddle in front of one of the Academy of Art University buildings in San Francisco, from which she graduated in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree.
“I walked through this puddle almost every day during winter. I liked how the graphic elements of the fence and the number painted in the parking space contrasted with the organic qualities of the ground and water.” The reflection lent the artist the feeling of the city and its people while letting her experiment with the incorporation of abstract elements into her work.
Finding inspiration from fellow artists and instructors, such as Kevin Moore and John Wentz, Gillen works with a wide range of subject matter—from landscape and still life to portraiture. Almost always, though, she blurs the line between realism and abstraction. She currently gives private painting and drawing lessons and is represented by Hespe Gallery in San Francisco.
Aaron Morgan Brown
Reception No. 1 (oil, 48×48)
If there were such a label, Aaron Morgan Brown’s painting style might be called “magic realism.” Interpreting reference photos liberally, he focuses on the transient qualities of natural light and blurs the lines between landscape, wildlife, still life and figure.
A native of Kansas, Brown earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Kansas and his master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University in New York. “I’m all too aware of the stigma surrounding the use of photography and the arguments concerning the human eye versus the camera eye,” he says. Due to the “baggage surrounding issues of technique and content,” Brown finds himself increasingly dissatisfied with traditional realism, preferring to emphasize composition rather than meticulous detail.
Brown’s work was featured in the April 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, although Reception No. 1 initiates a new style.
Lisa Wurster is a freelance writer living in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mt. Pleasant SC
Estill Springs TN
Gold Canyon AZ
Aaron Morgan Brown
Falls Church VA
George M. Clark
Washington Boro PA
St. Petersburg FL
David Michael Conner
Highlands Ranch CO
North Venice FL
Annette Ragone Hall
Fort Lauderdale FL
William A. Schneider
Village of Lakewood IL