Galleries – Landscapes
My first experience painting in plein air was when I was about 12 or 13 with my mentor, Alton S. Tobey. He had taken a group of his students to a pond in Larchmont, N.Y., near his studio, to paint out doors. It was a profound experience as I felt an affirmation of an already experienced connection to nature and it hooked me into landscape painting for my entire life. Though I don’t think of myself exclusively as a “Plein Air Painter”, (infact, as you can see from my work – I am not attached to any one genre, style or even medium, I have never liked labels) – I simply think of myself as an artist, a “spiritrealist” (a term I coined in the 70’s to describe art as a way of life, not a stylistic manner). I am committed to painting and creativity- in whatever manner the creative spirit moves me to express it. That said, I have been however, also committed to the intention of the expression of that creative spirit through painting the landscape. I have throughout my career continually focused on the landscape, painting both in plein air, (on location) and in the studio. Nature has played a key role in my life as teacher, healer and guide, her powers and grounding energy nourishing my growth. Thus, the Landscape has been the source of much of my inspiration, it’s archetypal imagery a universal language.
I see my painting as a spiritual practice, not in any religious dogmatic sense, but my sense of spirituality is a sense of connectedness. To feel my presence as a part of nature, as both a witness and a participant in creation as it unfolds. For me, painting outdoors is a meditation, an opportunity to be in nature with focused and expanded awareness. I often experience a sense of expansion and awe, a humbling and an ecstatic joy. In many of my landscape paintings I represent this feeling by pitting the finite against the infinite expanse. My painting is a celebration of life energy, connection and the beauty of creation. If I am successful, I am able to convey this to those that experience my artwork. – That satisfaction we all seek, real happiness comes when we contact Beauty – Love, a universal force of attraction, like gravity. The place within where we are connected to Nature, to each-other, to our Selves.
As you can probably discern and as I always tell my students, I have no hard and fast “rules for painting” -in plein air or otherwise. I always have said, “In art there are no rules and no mistakes, only opportunities for growth and change”. Sometimes my painting in plein air is restricted to 2 or 3 hours or so in one spot. Whether this is self imposed or due to the location or particularly if it is in a Plein Air – Paint Out or competition. Such as the works: “Storm Moving In On Boston”, (View from Forbes House Museum) , painted in the morning and then, “Forbes House Museum”, painted in the afternoon. There are also works painted over the most of one day. if it is a cloudy, overcast, grey day, the colors pop, but the light doesn’t change all that much, thus alluring me into detail (“View of Hudson from Mill Street Loft”). Sometimes I’ll work on one piece two or more consecutive days, (“Purple in the Back”, “Hint of Autumn” or “Looking into the Falls”) or even a week or more returning to the same spot at the same time of day, (“View up River, the Boca”). Some of these also may include some glazing and retouching in the studio or additional time, (up to 20%), spent on details etc, and sometimes I’ll note these as, “plein air and the studio”, such is the case with, “From the Summit, View South”, in which I returned to the mountain top for 4 hours every morning for about 2 weeks, till the days became misty, then completed the work in the studio. In a few other instances, like “Standing on Fossils”, the work was simply sketched on the canvas in the field, then completed in the studio. Or a watercolor sketch is done on Fredrix all media watercolor canvas paint board then completed with oil in the studio.
I often explain to my students a simplification of 3 ways of approaching the landscape: The “traditional” way in the West is, we carry our studio into the field, sit by the mountain and the river/waterfall and paint what we see and experience. In the East, the artist would hike into the mountains, sit by the river/waterfall, meditate there, absorb the energy of the place, then return to the studio and create the painting eidetically. The third method, my preferred approach, is a combination of both. To me what is important is not to produce a photographic representation or even a likeness of a particular place, (although this often occurs). What is important to me are my intentions. The first is to have the practice of painting be a process that I uncover and connect to my core self of expanded awareness and the Universe around me. Second is the intention – the inspiration of the unique individual piece I am working on. How does the “inspiration awaken this in me. If the inspiration, as it often is, is nature and the landscape, then my intention is to convey the energy of the place and my experience of it, my sense of “sacred” connection, the experience of ‘Oneness with the Universe”, coming to the place where I AM pure awareness. This is the experience I often have when I am in nature and/or in the process of creating art. If I can transfer that energy and experience into my canvas, capture my intention, (by all the parts serving that whole), allowing you the viewer to have a similar experience through the “energy field” of my canvas -then I feel I have reached success.
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Painting From Lewis Brydens Floating Studio
oil on 24″ x 30″ Linen
My friend and colleague Lewis Bryden, (a wonderful plein air painter, see his work at rmichelson.com), has a floating studio on the Connecticut River. I have had the great pleasure to be his guest painting with him on the river. This has afforded me a new and unique perspective on the landscape I have love to paint, living in the river valley for over 30 years.
This painting, along with the one above it and the one at the top of the page, (Northampton Bridge from the River), where painted during different sessions on Lewis Brydens’ floating studio, with finishing touches in my Ashfield studio.
A Distant View, (Mt. Manadnock)
Oil on 24″ x 36″ canvas on board
This painting was done in 3 sittings of 2 to 3 hours each on one of my favorite areas to paint near our home in Ashfield, MA. Brown Road. We frequently walk the road and there is always an inspirational view to be found along the way
Her Beauty and Power
oil on 24″ x 30″ Linen
This painting was done in one long extended session, (4 – 5 hours) at St. Regis Falls in the Adirondacks. As it was cloudy out, I was not “chasing the light” and concentrated on the mood and atmosphere. I have always felt an affinity for waterfalls – both the raw power of nature and the sublime beauty.
This painting, Purple in the Back was painted in our back yard in Ashfield MA and done in 3 sittings of about 3 hours each.
The painting, Hint of Autumn was painted on the end of Brown road near our home in Apple Valley, in Ashfield MA. Done in 3 sittings of about 3 hours each towards the end of summer. I often walk with my wife Monica on Brown Rd. A beautiful stretch with some wonderful views and subjects that fill me with inspiration. I have painted there many times, and continue to do so. Always a treat.
Summit View South
oil, 24″ x 36″
Sold, Private Collection, Florence, MA
This piece was painted in plein air returning to the same location on top of the mountain for about 2 to 3 hours a day for approximately 3 weeks, with some final touches in the studio. It was chosen as the “Featured Artist Gallery Collection” for WGBY Public Television, Springfield, MA
Summit View West
18″ x 24″, oil on canvas
Another view from atop the summit on My. Holyoke, done on multiple sittings and finishing touches in the studio.
Clouds Passing Over the Summit
Cobra oil on 18″ x 24″ canvas
This piece was done as a demo for a fundraiser for the Kestrel Land Trust. It began with 2 hours at the Summit with an imprimatura mixture of Transparent Red Oxide and Prussian Blue, (makes a nice greenish grey). Then “Finishing a Plein Air Painting in the Studio” was demonstrated that afternoon for 2 hrs at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton
Summit Tonal Study
oil on canvas on panel, 8″ x 10″
Though I don’t always work the same way each time I paint, (I am in a different space with perhaps different intentions each time, which will dictate many choices), many times I will begin a painting with an imprimitura, (the first color), covering the canvas with a mid tone, then removing the lights and adding in darker darks. Sometimes these are underpainting that I will then apply thicker impastos and glazes, etc. in the field, sometimes they are just studies, perhaps for a larger piece in the studio or sometimes, as in the next few pieces, I like them just the way they are and bring them to a level of finish in the field.
Rembrandt oil on 8″ x 16″ Fredrix all media canvas paint board.
This and the one below are scenes in Ashfield just up the road from my home/studio on Apple Valley Rd that I pass all the time. Each done in a 3 hour session.
Rembrandt on 8″ x 16″ Fredrix all media canvas paint board.
On the Farm
Rembrandt oil on canvas on panel, 5″ x 7″
This is a little study of a scene on rt.112 in Ashfield that I always drive by.
Rembrandt oil on canvas on panel, 5″ x 7″
One of the many views in Hadley that I love to paint. Used to pass this one a lot driving the kids to the Hartsbrooke School. They would always complain, when they saw me grab my camera, sketchbook and paint kit – “We’re going to be late for school again!”
Farm on 112
oil on canvas, Rembrandt oil on canvas on panel, 5″ x 7″
Like many artists through out history, I don’t always use a brown earth color for the imprimatura. Color sets mood.
Storm Moving By
Cobra oil on 8″ x 16″ Fredrix all media canvas paint board.
This began as a blue and grey imprimatura one morning in the Adirondacks, I was with a group of painters (with Eric Rhoads and his Publishers Invitational) and this storm came sweeping by in the distance as the sun came out. It was time to pack it up and move to the next location, I didn’t have time to put in the sunlight but it nagged me from the corner of the studio for months wondering if I should add it to what felt like a good monochromatic painting. One day I took out a sheet of acetate and put it over the canvas to see what it would look like if I painted in the sunlight and sparkle – glad I did!
All Grown Up
Rembrandt oil on panel, 5″ x 7″
Sometimes we think we need to search the world to find inspiration when it is always right under our nose, (not dissing travel, always good to help “wake up the eyes”). I was planning to drive around to find a place to paint when I walked out of the house and saw the morning light hitting the old playhouse, ( I had been trying to get my son to weed back around it for days, was happy he had’t). – A nostalgic morning of painting that day.
Monica and I had driven a little over an hour north of the Casa to the town of San Pancho, (1 town north of Salyulita). for my birthday. By the time we settled down on the beach and I got set up it was late afternoon, almost 4:00. I had about 2 hours to paint, there was a nice surf and a breeze and the light was directly in front of me, blinding me as it made its descent, but a great painting session.
The American Falls, (Niagara) , oil on 8″ x 16″ canvas mounted on board
Sold, Private Collection, Albany, NY
“Looking into the Falls, (Niagara)”
oil and alkyd on canvas, 24″x36″
“Into the Mist, (Niagara – plein air and studio)”
oil and alkyd on canvas, 36″x 24″
These three previous canvas are among what I call my Niagara Series, (a couple of large paintings from this series is under Galleries/Landscapes/Studio). Besides being a spectacular and inspirational place, this was one of the most challenging places I have painted as I literally had to hold down with one hand my heavy French Easel with 24″x 36″ canvas while I mixed colors and painted with the other as billows of mist would lift it off the ground like a kite if I left it unattended for more than a couple of seconds.