The natural world, both on a sublime level and as it reacts to the laws of physics, is constant inspiration for me. I am also inspired by great works of art created by artists of the past who were not only great thinkers but also great draftsmen, technicians, and interpreters of our world through the painted image. I am motivated by my love of making images: a trait all true artists are born with, and there is deep satisfaction in drawing from life with beauty and accuracy. Because of this, I did not follow the prevailing trend at art school and, therefore, remained a realist.
As a realist, I am working in a sphere which must function on several different levels simultaneously. The most obvious is the subjective. I have been drawn to landscape painting because I feel a deep and personal connection with this subject. My interest in the sublime and in physics has further led me towards exploring the natural world and interpreting, through paint, light as it modulates the landscape.
In addition to being truthful to a visual appearance, I am trying to infuse my pictures with a higher sense of reality. I am striving to paint a living tree that will die in the autumn and bloom again in the spring: water which has motion, weight, depth, reflection, and transparency: a sky that is void of color except that which the sun and atmosphere bring to it. In the quest for this higher reality, I never use photographic reference. All of my paintings are conceived from sketches done on location, from my memory, and from my imagination. I don't want a mechanical image interfering with the direct, organic connection I am attempting to form with my subject. As an artist interested in luminism, my subject is light, and there is a vast difference between painting true light which is composed of photons versus matching pigments from a photograph which has no inherent light. Due to my interest in the spiritual implications of light and the nature of light's reality on a physical level, for me, painting light from a photograph would be similar to idolatry.
On an abstract level, these paintings are also about the study of light, form, space, and color interpreted through paint. The landscape is the realm where I can explore this topic most deeply. It is also important for the paint to exist as an interesting surface in its own right. In order to achieve this, several techniques such as glazing, impasto, and scrafitto are employed.
If the art of a society reflects and also helps define its values, then landscape painting is, as it should be, among the foremost artistic movements in this country at this time. This renewed interest in landscape painting is a reflection of how valued our environment has become and also the concern we have for the ecological issues we are now facing. Contemporary artists are once again returning to the landscape but are now portraying our world as more intimate and fragile and in need of protection. I hope that through my work, I can convey to the viewer the beauty I find in the natural world, express the sensations I felt as I interpreted the scene before me, and contribute in some way towards this renewed reverence for the environment we are entrusted with.
OBSERVATION, MEMORY, AND IMAGINATION
As artists, I believe that we are all somewhat egotistical. We obviously are convinced that the methods we are employing are the best ways to create our own art. We would be foolish if we thought there were better ways to achieve our goals, and we were not utilizing them. I also believe that it is right that artists disagree with one another. Otherwise, all art would look homogenous, and the art world would be quite boring. One of these disagreements artists have is whether or not to include the use of photography in their art making. Most contemporary realist painters utilize photography to varying degrees in their artwork. This is fine for them as their goals are different from mine. I have made the decision to not include the use of photography in my art and to rely upon only my observation, memory, and imagination. There are several reasons for this, but one of them can relate to the excerpt below which was written by Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti. He too has found his own course, and his devotion to traditional climbing methods is in many ways similar to my quest to refrain from using photography. We both are attempting the impossible with traditional, limited technical methods, but are convinced we arrive at a greater truth by the simplicity and purity of our methods. Recreating reality in paint is impossible, but I am attempting to come as close to this reality as I can. I look at the camera as an interference which will give me a superficial connection at the expense of a spiritual one. I am able to render the elements of the landscape well enough that photos would not add to my depiction. They would only offer an image that the human eye and mind cannot discern but a mechanical device can. This would introduce a foreign element into my art and degrade the deep, personal connection I am trying to forge with the landscape, which is a most difficult but by far the only thing that ultimately matters in landscape painting. As you read the following paragraphs, replace the words alpinism for painting and spits (a type of piton drilled in where there is no natural crack in the rock) for photography, you will see what I too am striving for.
"However, with regard to "super" climbing methods, I would like to add something that has always been perfectly clear to me and is deeply rooted in my own views on the subject.
Let us go back to those days in the fifties when spits first appeared in mountaineering circles, and people started to use them more frequently. I believe it was then that the great technical degradation of alpinism began.
Using this type of piton (which demands a preliminary drill hole in the rock and is characteristic of the whole business) is to employ a tool that, unlike a normal piton, cancels the impossible. And it therefore also cancels adventure. One might say it is tantamount to cheating in a game one has chosen to play voluntarily. By acting in this way, one no longer conquers the impossible but eliminates it. The motivation to confront the impossible and test one's mettle against it is destroyed. Insight is no longer required, nor is judgment.
The use of spits destroys the commitment and the emotional response of traditional alpinism. With expansion bolts the intelligent search for a logical route is bypassed and one loses the critical assessment of difficulty. The terms "paragon" and "standard" become invalid. What emerges is a degenerated, sterile ascent, little more than an athletic feat. As such, it is a convenient and easy way to achieve success-but, judged from a traditional standpoint, obtained by a hoax. What follows is self-deception and a confidence trick played on the good faith of those who follow our exploits and derive meaning from them, but do not know the facts.
I think everyone should confront a mountain in a particular and precise way, obeying natural impulses, and be driven by precise, personal motives. Right from the start my own motivation has been mostly of a thoughtful, introspective nature, ending in an assertion to myself about myself. But for such an affirmation to have any value to me, I must adopt precise reference points. Therefore, I did not adopt the "super" methods so I could conquer the "impossible" at all costs. Instead, I opted for the classic concept of mountaineering that developed in the thirties, and accepted its traditional and rather limited technical methods. I chose those limited technical methods quite deliberately.
It was the ethos of the classical alpinism of the thirties that inspired me. It was a choice perfectly suited to my temperament and needs. I always sought, and still do seek, to carry the tradition further without distorting it, respecting the rules of a game that has real meaning precisely because it will accept no subterfuge. These rules do not include winning at all costs. My climbs assume the value of affirming a principle that is opposed to growing degradation."
REALIST ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY
There would not be nearly as many artists out there without photography. Most contemporary landscape, figure, and still life painters use photography in their art to varying degrees. Is this good or bad? It has in some ways helped the realist movement by giving it more critical mass which results in more galleries, magazines, art stores, etc., but this also has damaged the movement because the use of photography is creating confusion as to just what realism is. Now that this movement has come to the artistic forefront, the issue of photography and art must be acknowledged and addressed. Realists who don't use photos (myself included) are deeply concerned with this issue because of the "lumping together" with artists who have a much different philosophy on their use. For us, the reliance upon only nature and ourselves is a critical aspect of our art making. We should not require a qualifier in our title: "realists who don't use photos." For reasons I will discuss below, it should be assumed that realists don't use photos.
The relationship between art and photos is something of a truth in advertising issue. It is important for collectors, historians, critics, and enthusiasts to understand how and why a work of art was created. I believe there is a necessity now to step forward and more correctly define the different forms of "contemporary realism" for those of us who are looking for a higher level of connoisseurship. To refer to a wine analogy, we should define the different vintages and why they are different. Below is an example of some of my thoughts as to where the conversation regarding photos and art may lead.
A painting in which the artist does not use photos for his depiction of reality has as much relation to a photo as it did in the 18th century…none. So the closest thing this painting can relate to is the reality the artist sees, remembers, or imagines. This makes the artist a realist. But we still must agree that the art, in truth, bears little relation to true reality with three dimensions and all our other senses activated. Still, within the limited parameters of paint, reality is its closest "cousin."
A painting in which the artist uses a photo of the scene in his attempt to depict reality, even in a minor way, has a much closer connection to the photo than to reality because as mentioned above, reality and art are far apart. In fact, the painting is infinitely closer to the photo than to reality since the photo has now been placed in the space between the painting and reality. The photo, not reality, is this painting's closest "cousin". This is why it is inaccurate to skip over the photo and to call the artist who uses a photo a "realist." He is more accurately a photo-realist.
I believe realism and photo-realism have been mislabeled by the art historians. There are three main categories which reflect the relationship between painting, photography, and reality.
1. Artists we presently call photo-realists are not painting reality at all. Their goal is to emulate a photo. These types of painters should be called "photoists" rather than photo-realists because the realist part of their title has nothing to do with their artistic intentions. There is actually an intentional un-real quality to their images.
2. Artists who use a photo to work from, for whatever reason, alongside direct observation, should be called "photo-realists." Though they are concerned with depicting reality, they are using a photo to aid them in this depiction of reality, and as stated previously, the photo is the closest "cousin" of this painting; its use cannot be ignored.
3. Artists who only use observation, memory and / or imagination but not photography to depict reality should be called "realists" since real-world experiences are all they are relying upon to depict reality.
So it should progress in relation to the connection between photography and reality: photoism, photo-realism, realism. Possibly someone can come up with better "isms." There are also many other ways in which contemporary realism can be defined. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is necessary if we want to bring a greater understanding about the relationship between the art and its source to the art enthusiast.