Experimentingby Ron Sanders, 2010, oil, 30 x 24.
Collection the artist.
Artists often hear that galleries and collectors want consistency—that an artist needs to settle into a style and produce a number of paintings that work as a group. However, artists do not usually think or want to work that way for very long. Ron Sanders played around with this tension in a series of three paintings that includes our Cover Competition winner, Experimenting. “The series was about creating consistency within my work while exploring a variety of styles and subject matter,” Sanders says. “Decisions, Decisions is a good example—in that one picture is a loosely painted landscape, a tight portrait, and a chiaroscuro still life.”
The first in the series, Triple Self-Portrait, featured a painterly self-portrait on an easel, with Sanders painted in tight realism off to the side, head in hands. The piece earned many plaudits and resulted in prizes from the Richeson 75 competition in the figure and portrait category, and from the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society, among others. Experimenting was the second painting in the series, and it came together somewhat by accident. Sanders had hired the model for another concept, but he began to think about what was going on in the model’s life and what kind of painting a young adult who was experimenting and struggling through a wild period would paint. He decided on elements of abstraction—for both the painting she’s holding and the background—and conducted research to remind himself how the Abstract Expressionists handled color and design in their paintings, and prepared himself to stretch out into a style he rarely tackles. “The abstract painting had its own challenging design structure,” Sanders says. “It was kind of funny to me, because I have a history of being very much a representational painter.”
Depicting the background wall was nowhere near as complex a task as the abstract painting, but it offered some parallels through similar colors and textures. The cracks, crevices, and shadow patterns of the wall, which Sanders created using Grumbacher’s ZEC medium, guide the viewer in and around the composition. The turpentine pot and paint tubes in the foreground clarify the narrative of the painting and give Sanders a chance to introduce a shiny texture into the scene. “I originally had a palette there, too, and they were all directly below her,” says Sanders. “The compositional design demanded that they go off to the side. The inclusion of the paints and the pot was necessary compositionally and for the sake of the narrative—I needed them for depth and to contrast with the abstract elements.”
Sanders’ fine art is gaining more attention, but he’s long been a successful illustrator. The artist says these two interests grew up almost simultaneously. In art school he heard that representational art was dead. “My heroes were the great academic and Renaissance painters, but I was told by teachers that that was over, so get over it,” he recalls. “They said, ‘You can’t do that anymore unless you are an illustrator.’ So that’s what I became.” His illustration work earned him lucrative assignments from textbook publishers, and his fine art secured him a gallery show within a few years of getting his B.F.A. from Columbus College of Art & Design, in Ohio. The United States Mint recently chose Sanders to join their Artistic Infusion Program as an associate designer, a prestigious position that will allow him to develop designs for U.S. currency.
For more information, visit www.sanders-studios.com.
Brian RileyManaging EditorAmerican ArtistWatercolorDrawingWorkshop
Bridger GMCby Wendy Marquis2010, acrylic, 24 x 30. Collection the artist.
Marquis paints with acrylic, glazes like an oil painter, utilizes painting techniques of watercolor, and draws upon her experiences as a faux finisher to create her scenes of life in Montana, where she now lives. Bridger GMC was chosen as the grand-prize winner not only for its simplicity—which made it an ideal cover image—but also for the way it demonstrates her informed approach. The artist starts with an underpainting that is either done in pale sienna for a predominantly warm scene, or pale yellow for a cool one. Using photographic reference, she begins at the top of the composition and works her way down. To create depth, as well as a wide value range, she applies layers of thin glazes. “The glazing definitely came into play when I worked on the rusted areas of the truck,” the artist says. “There are probably four or five layers of the rust color, and more in the shadow areas. This gives the painting a translucency you don’t always see in acrylic. I was careful to keep the layers thin so that you can still see the base color—I wanted to avoid that flat, plastic look that you sometimes get with acrylic.”Marquis has painted other trucks since moving to Montana from New Hampshire five years ago, but this one presented itself as something special. “I love to drive around and find inspiration, and I was on a mission that day to find something to paint,” she recalls. “A lot of times I find the right subject but I have to change the background. This one was perfect, with a dream background.” She says the sky was essentially as depicted, with minor editing necessary. Marquis was particularly pleased with how the clouds delivered broken shadows to the background hills, which she says anyone in the Bozeman area would immediately recognize as the Bridger Mountains.The artist recalls her work on the foreground grass, which added much of the painting’s depth. “I kept making the highlights lighter and lighter and they kept popping and coming farther forward,” she says. “I also made them four or five times larger than the grass in the middle ground. The most enjoyable part of painting is seeing things start to have depth as you play with light and color and brightness. It’s like magic.”Marquis trained at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, where she was a graphic design major, “but that didn’t cut it for me,” she says. “I needed to paint.” She spent a decade painting murals and applying faux finishes to houses and businesses in New Hampshire before relocating to the Big Sky Country. Marquis was well established on the East Coast, but starting over in Montana has been worth it. “It’s an awesome place for an artist,” she says.For more information, visit www.wendymarquis.com.
The Northern Girlby Julio Reyes, 2007, graphite, 24 x 18. Private collection.
Julio Reyes’ The Northern Girl reveals its creator’s skill at compassionately depicting individuals as part of the world that surrounds them. It portrays a young woman looking into the distance. She is surrounded by an industrial desert—seemingly a city’s worth of power lines and towers. Between this nearly lifeless setting and the hazy gray sky, the world of the drawing seems bleak, but the girl exudes strength and hope. She holds herself upright and confident, her parka defending her from the chill. Her gaze is firm and serious—we get the sense that the world will confront her with many challenges but that she will successfully meet them in due course.
Notably, only a tiny portion of the drawing actually shows the woman herself, whose profile only partly emerges from her hood. But that small focal area is affected by—and, in turn, affects our perception of—everything around it. The figure, the industrial infrastructure, and the natural landscape and sky are combined into a unified vision of personal fortitude in response to an impersonal world. “I have always been moved by the human capacity to love, dream, and persevere with great courage and sincerity, in spite of a vast and unsympathetic Nature,” the artist says. “To a cynical art world this may sound silly, but to me it is one of the miracles and beautiful mysteries of life.
“I wanted to evoke a sense of vastness and beauty—a kind of isolation and human frailty,” Reyes says of his winning drawing. “The warmth of a single person against an infinite sprawl of technology, tangled power lines, and steel towers seemed poetic and dramatic to me. Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, the cityscape has served as the backdrop to my entire life. My memories are bound up in those wires.”
The drawing is an excellent example of Reyes’ usual method for developing an artwork, which is based upon gradually coming to understand and appreciate his subject. The resulting drawings and paintings often cross the boundaries of traditional genres. “These days, I’m trying less and less to force a composition into existence,” Reyes says. “I would rather let the picture reveal itself to me as my understanding of a location or sitter grows. I might start an idea for a painting inspired by a location and find I end up painting a portrait instead.
“In The Northern Girl, the landscape is every bit as important as the portrait, and the portrait is no more important than the jacket,” he continues. “Even the dry silvery quality of the air in the emptiness surrounding her is inseparable from the gestalt of the piece. I’ll paint a sprawl of power lines with the same care and sensitivity I would a study of an old friend; a familiar face as I would the surface of some craggy tree bark. Every object, texture, and pattern is a kind of totem, portending to so much beyond itself.”
The model in The Northern Girl is the artist’s wife, Candice, who moved to Southern California from a mountain town in the northern part of the state. “I believe she has always been a little out of place in Southern California, like a flower that blooms in the desert,” Reyes says. “In many ways, The Northern Girl is a double-portrait, a love story.”
The image grew out of the time Reyes and his wife spent on freeways and on city streets in Southern California’s urban areas and suburbs. “I had only flashes of images at first, along with a lexicon of memories, smells, and sounds of the terrain itself,” the artist remembers. “I secretly entertained the idea for some time before actually having Candice pose.”
The drawing depicts not only a specific person of great importance to the artist but also a specific location—the great electrical towers of the Inland Empire, the large area east of Los Angeles. “There’s an arid, silvery quality to that air, and it’s woven into every brick on every building, every face, and every freeway,” Reyes says. “I suppose that’s what led me to use graphite the way I did. The idea of ‘weaving’ silver light into everything was exhilarating.”
Reyes generally begins sketches for a drawing long after he has a subject in mind. “By the time I started The Northern Girl, I was already working on several different compositions in the same vein,” Reyes says. He drew most of the piece with a mechanical pencil and worked up through layering. “I remember the whiteness of the jacket and the terrific rush I got trying to capture a certain dry quality it had when the Southern California light illuminated it,” Reyes recalls. Although he was tempted to render the jacket’s every fold and crinkle, he refrained for the sake of the design, and this restraint led to the drawing’s stunning and bright focal area.
In addition to mechanical pencils, Reyes often draws with graphite pencils in varying degrees of hardness, and also with graphite sticks. He occasionally uses a lithographic crayon to heighten the darks in a drawing. Other tools include kneaded erasers, stumps, and chamois. He is not particular to certain brands. “Many of these tools are so simple and elemental that there is little difference between most of the better brands,” he notes. The artist is increasingly turning to charcoal, for which he uses compressed black charcoal, vine and willow charcoal, and charcoal pencils in varying densities. As he does for his graphite drawings, he uses various erasers, stumps, and chamois with his charcoal drawings, and he uses old paintbrushes to soften edges.Reyes is also a painter and sculptor, and he studied at Laguna College of Art & Design, in California. Among his greatest influences he lists artists ranging from Albrecht Dürer and other masters of the Northern Renaissance to such 20th-century artists as Käthe Kollwitz and Andrew Wyeth. Reyes is represented by Arcadia Fine Arts, in New York City, where he will have his first solo show this fall.
Reyes’ most recent artwork, like The Northern Girl, is largely inspired by his immediate surroundings. Depicting such subjects gives the artist great satisfaction. “I have found the most meaningful source of inspiration in the people, places, and things I know best,” he says. As for his future work, Reyes is aiming high. “I want to create art for the rest of my life according to my highest calling and fullest abilities,” he says. “I want to look back on a life of meaningful and serious works of art—art that stands against the growing nihilism of our time and celebrates with fixed purpose the beauty and immensity of life.”
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