As they stand silhouetted against a blazing sunset with Tara illuminated in the background, Gerald O’Hara says to Scarlett, “It’s land, Katie Scarlett. Land, land. It’s the only thing worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it is the only thing that lasts.” Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Land that We Love
A look at Revelatory Contemporary Landscape Painting
By Betsy Dillard Stroud
As a child, I wandered through woods, waded in creeks and hung upside down from trees. I sat in shaded moss beside springs, with water so cold it took your breath away. Every fall, Papa raked the leaves up in our yard and my sister Caroline and I would jump into them with full abandon. Perhaps that’s where my love of landscape began developing. As I sat by creeks on rocks, listening to the melodic burble of the water and just let my mind wander, I think it was my earliest way to meditate.
Virginia, where I grew up, is a majestic example of the glories of landscape in America. The spring is burgeoning with every kind of flower, and the fall is ablaze with crimsons, bright yellows and oranges. Now I live in Arizona, and the color is incredible—almost beyond belief. The light shifts and mountains are indigo one minute and then suddenly magenta. The tertiary landscape is a subtle and lovely backdrop to drop dead gorgeous sunsets.
Our love of land is engraved in our DNA, I’m sure, and it flourishes in landscape painting, which always changes, with every perception, every visionary painter. If landscape painters were at the same location, each expression, technique and version would be completely different. From Watercolor Masters and Legends, here are a few of the inventive landscape painters and their expressive approaches to location, location, location. Let’s take a look.
Landscape Painting Inspiration
Stephen Quiller reminds me of Thoreau’s famous words in Walden. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Returning from the woods and filled with their serenity and beauty, Quiller captures those aspects by layering color upon color, medium upon medium, brushstroke upon brushstroke. With the contrast of both opaque and transparent washes, he executes the full spectrum of emotion and spirit of his landscape adventures, expressing that irenic glimpse into the world he has created. When the big burn happened near Creede, Colorado, he also recorded that event, a definite art historical reference to the 18th century theme of the beautiful and the sublime. The beautiful is just that–beautiful–and the sublime is the horrific (describing the sometimes destructive side of nature).
With Barbara Nechis, astute observation of nature is the key. She memorializes nature with lots of pictures, yet those pictures are not the inspiration for her paintings. They are just memories of a place, a time, a thought. On a totally wet surface, Nechis begins her magic, capturing that elusive feeling through her brushstrokes, not trying to emulate reality, but creating ambiguous forms that transport us visually to her emotional and spiritual connection to place. Soon images emerge. Those images of nuance and subtlety, often juxtaposed with the white of the paper, are strong reminders of place without shouting out “location, location, location.”
Ken Holder’s versions of landscapes have captivated me for more than 25 years. Combining realism with abstraction and getting away with it is no easy feat, and Holder’s work is a lure, a compelling mystery of representational imagery painted in acrylics, enhanced with abstract scraps and shapes of watercolor that he has torn or cut, painted, shaped and inserted around and into the landscape painting, itself. Like a sculptural relief they allow the viewer to enter a creative world of both imagination and iconic representations of nature.
We can see then, that like bystanders at an accident, landscape painters have their own perceptions, their own expressions and versions of what lies within their optic and subliminal feelings about this land that we love that is rapidly disappearing before our eyes and may soon be “Gone with the Wind.”
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Miles Batt, Sr. (November 12, 1933 – November 13, 2015) and to his body of work, which represents one of the most creative and inventive approaches to landscape painting in the 20th and the 21st centuries. Magical and chromatically electric, Miles created his versions of “location, location, location” and made us gasp at the beauty and skill of these paintings, and at the same time laugh at the whimsical and delightful metaphor of his significant red button, always a voyeur to his rapturous adventure in color, shape and line. We will miss Miles with all our hearts, but he will live on through his contribution to the world of watercolor.
The world of landscape painters are recorders of our times. They perhaps most of all preserve those memories that will live on forever.