As a landscape painter, my work has always drawn inspiration from cross-cultural influences and from flora I have seen locally, in my travels, online and as depicted in works by master artists. I always embrace the cultural context that past history, art and mythos offer as they become incorporated into my landscapes.
In 2010 a private collector, who earned a doctorate specializing in the genetics of botany and whose country home in the Berkshires is located on an old apple orchard commissioned a painting to depict the Wild Apple Forest in Kazakhstan. This Apple Forest is the genetic source for all of the apples on our planet. The collector who commissioned the painting knew that I am drawn to landscape subjects that carry significant cultural metaphor.
The Wild Apple Forest is located in a remote mountainous region inside Central Asia named the Tian Shan. The ancient Silk Road passed through Kazakhstan and botanists now speculate that millennia ago nomads and traders took these wild apples with them on their journeys westward. Through time the apple has traveled with us. It has mutated and we have manipulated it through horticulture into the varieties we enjoy today. All our apples lead back to this one forest. It is now endangered and its importance is amplified by necessities for biodiversity on our planet. Researching online, I easily found an abundance of images and scholarly writings describing the Wild Apple Forest and so my first apple painting was created.
Wonderfully weighted with scientific, cross-cultural and metaphorical significance I knew I wanted to explore the landscape and theme of the Wild Apple Forest further than just one commissioned work of art. So, I embarked on a two-year journey in the studio and through my paintings began exploring the Wild Apple Forest- always keeping in mind that my purpose was to continue to expand my practice within the landscape format and create paintings combining Eastern and Western landscape traditions. Evolving together, filtered through my painting process and heavily referencing each other these paintings sustain a dialogue amongst themselves while providing different vistas of the remarkable Central Asian wild.
I learned there is more than one ancient fruit forest in the Tian Shan region and that they are the genetic Eden to over 300 wild fruit and nut species including the wild apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut to name a few. When I learned this I decided to incorporate pears and other fruits with the apples into my paintings. It is also a fact that all of these forests are in danger of extinction. The encroachment of mankind and the break-up of the Soviet Union and lack of financial resources are to blame. Today, 90 percent of those fruit and nut forests have been destroyed just in the past 50 years. Learning all this inspired me to visually eulogize this botanical Eden and create a landscape icon- The Tree of Life. I wanted this tree to be distinct from the other fruit bearing trees in my paintings, so I anthropomorphized the tree’s form and raise-gilded its apples. The Tree of Life appears in the large-scale, main painting “The Wild Apple Forest“, 2012 and in another smaller version titled “Full Moon“, 2012. The small panel studies I created while working on the Tree of Life are to me little reliquaries of the Tree and the Forest, and what they represent in my work.
Especially in context to this new body of work and in response to commemorate the endangered Forests and their possible disappearance from the planet I also composed and created “Vanitas, Wild Apple and Pear Branches“, 2011. Vanitas paintings have their origins in a 17thc Dutch painting tradition designed to carry the moral message that all good and beautiful things can come to an end.
Responding to the branching and fruit shapes I composed directly onto each painting without pre-drawing and allowed the forms to grow naturally through intuition and patience. The complexity increased as I proceeded. Inspired by the tree and fruit forms I composed each painting seeking to depict a metaphorical splendor celebrating the growing thing. Slowly developing, with a visual diligence, my goal was to also maintain a formal rhythm in each painting’s outcome.
I sought to embolden the landscapes with a super spatial clarity and an air of timelessness. Utilizing the negative space of the gesso ground I was able to transform the white into positive forms surrounding the detailed renderings. By composing each landscape with an immediate close-up foreground of tree branches the distant landscapes behind them force an unusual and dramatic perspective while highlighting the growth and richness of the branches and fruit- as if the viewer were seeing the landscape of the Wild Forest by standing and looking through the trees hanging branches. Because egg tempera is translucent I had to compose in an unusual manner by composing and painting the foreground of each painting first and then composing and painting the landscape’s background after. This was a new technical challenge for me.
Consistent to my practice of referencing traditions in landscape art I borrowed forms from Albrecht Dürer’s (1471-1528, German) woodcuts for the backgrounds in both “Wild Green Apple Branch“, 2011 and “Wild Pear Branch“, 2011. Joachim Patinir (1480-1524, Flemish) was my muse while composing the landscape in “Change of Season“, 2011.
For over a decade I have consistently created landscape paintings in egg tempera that re-compose landscape forms taken from religious and non-religious art; which exist in both Eastern and Western cultures spanning all art historical periods. Borrowed from works I have personally seen and experienced in museums, I also cull forms taken from books, catalogs and web research. Also incorporated into each painting are nature and landscape forms I have traveled to see and documented with a digital camera. Working intuitively through my process I transform all of these sources into newly formed landscapes, which resonate for me with meanings and symbolic feelings. Each painting also begins with a goal aimed at facilitating a similar reaction for those viewing my work. My landscapes are intended to invite viewers to embark on visual tours of an unknown yet familiar looking world becoming a part of their cultural and emotional consciousness.
A note about my painting technique
The materials and manner in which I construct my paintings create a familiarity for the viewer. Viewers often comment they perceive the influences of Christian religious paintings, Asian landscape art and Persian miniatures. Like the images I choose, these too have been reprocessed through my personal interpretations. Traditional colors and spatial concepts are sometimes disregarded to heighten the visual experience of the viewer pulling and leading the viewer’s eye.
The ancient painting technique of egg tempera utilizes the simple combined mediums of egg yolk, dry ground pigments and water applied to a gesso prepared wood panel or canvas. Egg tempera pre-dates oil paints and is considered by conservators to be one of the most stable and archival painting mediums.