Article for Acadia National Park Newsletter- Summer 2014
While pursuing my MFA at the University of Pennsylvania in the late nineties, there was an emphasis on abandoning representational imagery in favor of exploring the more philosophical roots that served as the basis for my desire to create. Though the abstractions I created clearly referenced the landscape, the approach was much more visceral and allowed for the imagery to surface in a more subconscious way. During the summer months, my treks across the country, exploring diverse national parks, were inspirational and influential once I returned to the studio. The landscape work I created on these trips served more as a personal diary of my traveling experiences, and for the most part was rarely shared with my studio critics.
Jake Berthot, a visiting critic at Penn, had recently moved to the Catskills in upstate New York and rediscovered the joy of the landscape after a lengthy career as a notable abstract painter. While perusing the secret cache of travel sketches and paintings, Jake enthusiastically lauded the analytical wonders of creatively exploring the natural world. We agreed that the complexities of the landscape offered an equally compelling experience that could be embraced as an extension of the abstract spatial constructions created in the confines of the studio.
For over ten years, my studio painting evolved as nature-based abstraction existing in a more psychological space, but there was always the continued desire to experience the natural world and record my observations. In 2010, after years of exclusively exhibiting my abstract paintings, I decided to also include newly created landscape work in a large scale solo exhibition. I included the following statement to explain the relativity of the two:
“In the process of recording direct observations in nature, there is a heightened experience created through the intensive visual exploration of the space. The artist becomes keenly aware in this communion and the sketch or painting, in turn, becomes a visual diary of a very personal experience. While the products of my studio work forego the necessity of the observed subject, the connection remains the same. It is the desire to experience a unique visual voyage of discovery.”
Over the past five years I have gravitated toward smaller backpack-sized travel sketches using ink and water-soluble graphite to facilitate my hiking explorations with a more limited yet accessible medium. These sketches range in duration from an hour or two to multiple day sittings, and are always completed on site. The experience of recording these observations, visually surveying every detail and nuance of my surroundings, results in a product that documents the full experience in a way that a simple memory or camera snapshot could never replicate. When I revisit each of my completed sketches, I am instantly transported back to a specific place and time and can recount every sensory facet of the experience.
More recently, I have been exploring more economic water color studies that aim to simplify the complexities of the landscape with the gestural immediacy that remains the foundation of my studio work. These paintings represent a departure from the more detailed analysis of the travel sketches, and in many ways are more daunting in their delicate balance. I look forward to the challenges awaiting me as I immerse myself into the magnificent scenery and stoic solitude of Acadia.
This summer, for the first time in my career as a university art professor, I will be abandoning the classroom to pursue my personal work. My solitary focus is to produce an inspired and expansive collection of paintings and drawings, allowing my passion to flourish without interruption, and I am thankful for this residency to explore, reflect, and document the rustic and stimulating offerings of Acadia National Park.