Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Falling in Love with a Rock

by Kyle Gallup

Kyle Gallup, Rocky Beach, 2010, watercolor on paper, 12" x 16"
As summer returns and I emerge from the cocoon of my studio, it’s time to look outside. Painting from life is a way for me to clear my head and keep my eyes sharp. I’ve done this as long as I can remember.

In my early teens I was intent on immersing myself in the landscape, seeing what I could make of it; pencil drawings of a dappled Ozark light, watercolors in Ireland with its pastoral green patchwork dotted with fallen stone castles and cemeteries, Maine’s coastal rock-strewn beaches. Landscape painting has romanced me, connected me with a grand tradition and masters of the sublime.

It’s hard to say how chronicling light and color in nature has effected my studio work. What I do know for sure is that the process of laying out paint on my palate and putting loaded brush to paper is at once a challenge and freedom like no other. Translating the scene on to paper, the natural world becomes entertainer, teaser and sometimes taunting muse.

Beginning with bold washes of transparent color helps me to set up what’s most important, a simple outline or pathway to the thrust and weight of any scene. A passing cloud on an otherwise clear, blue-sky day adds interest or a shadow in the heat. Swaying silver-topped trees and gullies of dark, deep green conjure Corot or the rough, barked-edge of a tree in the foreground brings to mind Van Gogh with his precise, pen-to-paper intimacy, making his way up and down the gnarled trunks, getting to know his pollard birches. 
Vincent Van Gogh, Pollard Birches, 1884, pencil and ink heightened with gouache, 15" x 21", (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)
I find myself in the middle of the most exciting visual happenings from one moment to the next. There is complexity, nuance, sound, weight, depth and clarity that exist separate from me. There are edges and colors that induce hallucinations, sounds of the wind, birds calling to their mates, laughing, shouting children in the distance. All these gently pierce the ebb and flow of life.

Getting to know one’s place within the whole scheme of things can have its risks, like any great affair. Searching and seeking out those things that are most moving, getting close to the heart of the scene, the bend in the road I can not see beyond, the allusive, pastel horizon between sky and sea, finding form in the boldest gray faceted rock that sits shiny wet, in the sun.

Discovering the shape of things can take me to the edge, make me feel compulsive about getting it right and knowing all there is to know. Mixing a dark clay color looks one way on the palette and then another way on the paper. How does that rock sit so firmly there? It must be a give and take, from observing eye to paper. A bond forms as I try different ways of getting at the truth of the rock’s presence. The way the sand and other stones sit nearby, the sunlight hitting the lightest side, bringing out it’s dimpled, indented mass. When I see a relationship that feels close to what I am looking at, I’ll take a break.

The next day, and the day after that, if I’m lucky enough to be in the same spot, looking at the same rock on the shore, I’ll feel smitten. A friend awaits my attention. I am finally able to caress the rock on paper with all its colored variations and know its structural shifts. The rock now sits in my mind and has given its self over to my knowledge and understanding of it.
Hudson Beach, 2009, photo credit: Philip Turner
Kyle Gallup, Hudson River, NYC, 2009, watercolor on paper, 9" x 12"
Often I’ll take several photographs of where I have been painting, a record keeping, just in case I have the opportunity to return. I have returned to familiar spots to find trees, rocks, and shorelines unchanged and then I take up where I left off. Old friends in the landscape make themselves known after a brief, getting-reacquainted period. Or sometimes I review my photographs of the scene and look closely, trying to understand how I could have been so involved with a seemingly unimposing rock on the beach.
Kyle Gallup, Study for Coney Island Landscape for John Baldessari 2011, graphite, ink, lithographic prints, painted paper on wood panel, 9.5" x 13.5" (Click to enlarge photo.)

Kyle Gallup is an artist who works in collage and watercolor.

Editor's note: On my request, Kyle Gallup included her own studio work in this post.
                      --Charles Kessler

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Delightful to see Gallup's own work.