Back in April I posted an interview with Clyde Aspevig under the Plein Air section of our old website. I wanted to move the interview over to our new blog area for those who haven't had a chance to read Clyde's responses. Clyde is very generous with his knowledge, has great insight on what makes a painting more than just a pretty picture, and is experienced in all aspects of the fine-art business. So, if you haven't already read this, get ready for some pearls from the landscape legend himself.
Raindrops and Dragonflies
Allison Malafronte: What made you choose landscape painting over other genres?
Clyde Aspevig: I feel that landscape painting gives me a broader range of interpretation. The various weather patterns and changing seasons give constant inspiration. Because the landscape has always been an integral part of my life, I have developed a deep sense of belonging to nature rather than feeling apart from it or above it.
AM: You grew up on a farm in Montana surrounded by mountains and natural beauty. Do you think it’s important for plein air painters to spend periods of time studying and analyzing nature to deepen their understanding of their subject matter?
CA: I spend a great deal of time outside observing and learning about the world we live in, and I feel that this absolutely enhances my abilities to accurately and more profoundly portray nature. Understanding how plants grow, how geology has shaped land, and how light affects the appearance of objects produces a much more thoughtful approach to interpreting the landscape. It’s extremely rewarding to spend a lot of time observing and enjoying nature, and it doesn’t cost a thing. It’s my favorite form of entertainment.
AM: When you begin a landscape painting, what is going through your mind? What are you asking yourself—what is your aim and purpose?
CA: My first concern when beginning a landscape outside is capturing the overall feeling of light as it affects the forms. I use broad brushstrokes to block in the overall color and values of the masses while simultaneously trying to create movement. As I progress, my intuition drives me to concentrate on the idea or purpose behind what I’m painting. The further elaboration of the concept comes, later in the studio. Field studies supply you with information that you can then use on a more complete painting.
|Wind River Mountains
by Clyde Aspevig, 2007, oil, 30 x 40.
AM: You say that you have constructed your own form of realism, in that you suggest detail with such painting effects as scumbling, impasto, and transparent glazes and let the viewer’s imagination interpret the rest. Can you explain how you do this while achieving such highly realistic effects?
CA: I try to paint the landscape the way the human eye sees. I do not really paint every detail, even though it may appear that way. Instead I concentrate on the overall summary of shapes and silhouettes as they appear against the light. The detail comes from textures and the layering of paint, which create effects or abstract shapes that explain detail.
I try to blend the scene into the concept of a whole by using various techniques involving soft and hard edges to explain focus, distance, and depth. If you overstate the detail the painting becomes boring. I try to approach realism in a way you normally wouldn’t expect. The surface quality of the painting, if done properly, should enhance the mystery of how the overall effect works. Methods such as scumbling and glazing add to that mystery. When the unity of the whole is achieved, the work is successful. The fun part about painting is how much variation and interest you can achieve in building the parts that make the whole.
AM: A little-known fact about you is that you use the principles of music in your painting process regularly. What exactly was your training in music, and how have you applied that to your painting?
CA: Music has always been an important part of my life. I studied classical piano as a child and young adult. We all know that music is organized sound. Painting is “silent music” in a way because so much painting technique can be related to music theory. Soft and hard edges are similar to loud and soft notes in music. Harmony, chords, pitch, rhythm, syncopation, and timber can all be translated to the visual arts. Many scientists say that music originated before language in humans, so it’s no surprise that we are hardwired to connect the expression of painting to the mechanics of music.
Scriabin said his compositions were “sound paintings,” that is that notes and melodies were shape and form, and that timbre was color and value. I use the idea of notes, and more important the space between them, to organize busy passages (a wooded hillside, for example) so that the viewer can experience purpose in these shapes. Complex subjects can be made simple through arranging shapes as notes while still retaining the complex concept that adds interest to the painting. The trees scattered along a hillside are just notes waiting to be organized into “silent music.”
AM: Wind River Mountains, which sold through the Scottsdale Art Auction for just over $72,000, is one of your most beautifully conceived and executed pieces. Can you take us through the conception of this painting?
CA: Wind River Mountains was conceived from field studies, slides, and memories from a recent backpacking trip in Wyoming and then executed in the studio. Over the years I have developed a visual memory for the landscape. In this painting I just mentally hiked the scene, creating rocks and trees, hills and sky as I went. It’s like creating your own world in a way. This painting is a composite, but it still stays true to the actual landscape.
by Clyde Aspevig, 2008, oil, 40 x 50. Private collection.
AM: You have been very successful as a landscape painter throughout your career and are known to have not “sold out” to those who would try to pigeonhole your work. What advice would you give landscape painters when it comes to choosing galleries and interacting with art dealers?
CA: Trying to find a gallery or dealer who is willing to promote you as an artist according to your own personal goals and objectives is a very difficult task. Galleries are in the business of selling art, and generally they want big inventories or really good art that sells for a lot of money. Very seldom will a gallery nurture a young artist unless there is something in it for them, and that’s money. My advice to artists is to never sign any contract, but do be loyal to the gallery if they do what they promise. If you work really hard and paint from your heart and your work is good, you’ll do fine. There are more buyers for great art than there are great works of art being created, so concentrate on quality, and don’t raise prices faster than the market can bear.
AM: If theoretically you had an apprentice spend a year in your studio learning from you, where would you begin distilling all that you’ve learned and mastered in your career? What would be the main tenets you would want to pass on to the next generation?
CA: If I could pass anything on to the next generation it would be to follow your passion, work hard, play, be curious about everything, read a lot, travel, explore, live, love, and dig deep. And don’t drink cheap wine.
AM: Is there a dream or goal that relates to your art career and landscape painting that you have still yet to achieve? What is the legacy you want your body of work to leave behind?
CA: I’m trying to be the best that I can be as a human being. Art is the vehicle with which I have the best chance of leaving behind something of worth. I hope my paintings will always inspire people to become a part of nature rather than a force that manipulates and destroys it. I hope my work will be seen as an important voice in the environmental awakening of the last 50 years that is aiming to conserve and sustain our planet.