Wednesday, July 23, 2008

August Artists: Local Perspectives

One of the great pleasures of viewing art is seeing something familiar in a new light.

We’ve all likely been acquainted with quintessential Wisconsin scenes, its city landmarks as well as the rolling hills and farmsteads in its outlying areas.

But paintings in a new show at Fanny Garver Gallery refresh these images. Wisconsin Landscapes, running August 1 through September 3, features work by Kate Mueller, Georgene Pomplun and Tom Murphy.

Their subjects range from State Street and Olbrich Botanical Gardens to farmland and forests. Inherent in the landscapes is a distinct sense of place that should resonate with Madisonians, yet through the paintings the artists offer their own perspectives on life here.

Since the paintings allow viewers to see Madison as the artists do, what better way to learn more about their art than through their own words?

Kate Mueller

Preferred medium and style: After experimenting with many different media as a young artist I finally worked up the courage to try oils. I’ve loved painting in oils ever since. The richness and depth of color and the feel of the paint when working keep me going. It is an endlessly challenging and rewarding medium. I paint in a realistic fashion with a strong foundation of draftsmanship, yet I hope to avoid too much detail or tightness in my paintings. It’s a fine line to walk … Realism that isn’t too real!

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: Well, most simply put, I live here! I see so much beauty every day I sometimes feel I will never get to painting it all. Having lived elsewhere in the country I appreciate even more the amazing richness of our local landscape, the variety that our state encompasses, and the ease with which we can be a part of it.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: I am currently enjoying painting both Olbrich Gardens and the interior of the Capitol building. Olbrich Gardens has such wonderful shadows and shapes that play on the beautifully tended paths and plantings. I think an artist could spend all the seasons finding new moods and compositions to paint. The interior of the Capitol is also truly beautiful to me because its light and shadow are both delicate and bold with big shapes and fascinating details, the tale of history and the hope of the future. Since it is so large it is a challenge to capture the grandness of the space as well as the intimacy of the experience. Madison, like so many other parts of Wisconsin, has infinite settings worthy of a painting!

Biggest challenge or surprise: I live rather near the shore of Lake Michigan and personally love the water. I have been drawn to that grand lakeshore as subject matter; to the water, the stretches of sand, the windswept trees, and to the many boats and ships there. I have been surprised at how much I enjoy painting the boats in the harbors and have found that I love the shapes of boats. Many of them seem to be living, to be moving, even when they are far from the water or from their life of usefulness. Trying to capture that energy and feeling is a great challenge, one that I love!

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: Well firstly, I think that one of the occupational hazards of being an artist is seeing the beauty in everything! So no matter where I am I almost always think, “Oooh, I’d like to paint that” or, “That would be a great painting!” That being said, I can use England to explain what I think makes Wisconsin special. If you have been to England (or even have a pretty good mental picture of it) you may understand what I mean when I say the landscape is “intimate.” Vistas may be broad but they are not too grand, there is a sense that you can reach out to what you see, that it is accessible.

I think that is the main thing that makes Wisconsin truly unique as a place to paint. We have so many different landscapes here: sweeping dunes, lush forests, rich farmland, cityscapes, rivers, lakeshores, cliffs, marshes, and more. Not many states that I know of contain such a variety of views, all within easy reach. And when we look at our state we have that wonderful sense of “intimacy,” that we can see the next rolling hill and make out its farms or towns, or forests … that we can go there, and look from there to the next … hidden glades and broad panoramas … close enough to be comforting but vast and rich enough to inspire. If I painted in Wisconsin every day for the rest of my life I'd never capture all that it has to offer!

Georgene Pomplun

Preferred medium and style: I work in oils and am primarily a landscape painter, although I paint a variety of subjects. I’m particularly fond of horses and cows and love to paint flowers. For a show last year at the Fanny Garver Gallery I did historically important buildings and structures in and around Madison. Lots of research. Lots of fun.

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: I live out in the country in an old farmhouse with my husband Tom and our dog. Paintings abound at every turn. The Wisconsin landscape has a serenity and a solidity that is timeless. I moved to Wisconsin almost fifteen years ago and love living here. I have come to appreciate the change of seasons and the small things close to earth that I did not see when I lived and worked in downtown Chicago. I’m drawn to the wonderful old barns in Dane County, and love painting them. In a way it is my stake in preserving their legacy, because often I will return to the same place a year or two later only to find the barn gone.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: I’ll take the question at face value and concentrate on Madison proper. Hands down, it is the farmers’ market on the Capitol Square. I have made many paintings of this ever-changing phenomenon. I love to paint the Capitol as a building, though, as well.

Biggest challenge or surprise: Hmmmm, tough one as there are always challenges and surprises with every effort! The hardest part of painting outdoors, or en plein air, is to capture the subject before the light changes. It is really tough. Generally four hours is the outside length of time before the shadows and light source change so much that it is impossible to continue. In an ideal world an artist can revisit the same place at the same time of day to finish a large canvas. I do not have that luxury so my plein air paintings are out of necessity fairly small.

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: In the absence of a single defining natural phenomenon like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, the Wisconsin landscape is, to me, much more of a statement about the harmony of many elements. The lakes, trees, rivers and prairie land combine to make a splendid array, which changes constantly at different times of the day and during different seasons. I love the topography of the rolling hills and occasional bluffs. I especially love to see plowed fields following the contours of the land.

Tom Murphy

Preferred medium and style: I prefer working in oils because I’ve found them to be the most controllable medium. Oils dry slowly and I paint slowly, so I can get in to make changes or wipe out a misjudgement; time enough to bring a work to the best I can.

Why I paint scenes of Wisconsin: Well, I could say, “because it is there” with all of its variety of greens, its hills and lakes and rivers. Of course, when Jack Garver invited us to do this exhibit on “Wisconsin Landscapes” we were deep in that long, long winter. So, to get started on any scene, I had to rely on photos from friends or memories from my childhood in Eau Claire. It was fun to take things from those “visual suggestions” and work with them—perhaps romanticize them a little—to see what I could come up with.

Favorite Madison subject to paint: The University campus and particularly the Union Terrace are always popular, and in second place is State Street itself. It’s fun to be working on something I feel people will particularly enjoy.

Biggest challenge or surprise: I think that any time a painter tackles something here in town the trick is to come up with a reasonably fresh and different view, so for me that’s the challenge that is both difficult and the most fun. I don't always succeed of course, but the failures never see the light of day.

What makes Wisconsin landscapes special: We’re loaded with terrific iconic buildings and views—both ends of State Street and everything in between; the Union Terrace, the Square.

Photos top to bottom are Big Sky Wisconsin and Olbrich Gardens by Kate Mueller, Early Summer Morning by Georgene Pomplun and Winter Moon by Tom Murphy.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The August issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• Our Rating the Suburbs feature with some artsy places to check out.
• An Overtones profile on Dasha Kelly, a Milwaukee poet heading up the National Poetry Slam in Madison in August.
• The monthly Overtones events calendar with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in August.

No comments: