11 June 2013

painter / printmaker - Neil Welliver

Neil Welliver: In the 1980s, while working at a Sonesta Hotel in Hartford, CT, I was exposed to more than a dozen 6 foot square wilderness paintings - two in each suite. I was captivated!

The paintings were all the works of Neil Gavin Welliver (July 22, 1929 - April 5, 2005) an American-born artist, best known for his large-scale landscape paintings inspired by the deep woods near his home in Maine.

Later, I came across a book with the following quote. Apparently chided by an interviewer for engaging in a supposedly non-macho career as a painter, he responded:

"Painting outside in winter is not a macho thing to do. It's more difficult than that. To paint outside in the winter is painful. It hurts your hands, it hurts your feet, it hurts your ears. Painting is difficult. The paint is rigid, it's stiff, it doesn't move easily. But sometimes there are things you want and that's the only way you get them"
He graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art (now part of the University of the Arts) and then received an MFA from Yale University. At Yale, he studied with the abstract artist Josef Albers, whose theories on color were influential. But his own style while at Yale evolved from abstract color field painting to the realistic transcription of small-town scenes in watercolor.

In the early 1960s he went to Maine, and began painting large oil paintings of his sons canoeing or female nudes bathing. In 1970 he moved permanently to Lincolnville, and by the mid 1970s the figure as subject had given way to the exclusive study of landscape.

He often painted out of doors in winter, and enjoyed the crystal quality of the air and luminosity created by light reflecting off snow, but acknowledged that the process was not easy.

His plein-air studies, usually taking about 9 hours, and painted in 3 hour increments, after which time the light would change too much to continue. Welliver insisted that he was uninterested in trying to copy the exact colors of objects, desiring instead to find "a color that makes it look like it is, again, surrounded by air."

His equipment-laden backpack weighed seventy pounds, and included eight colors of oil paint: white, ivory black, cadmium red scarlet, manganese blue, ultramarine blue, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, and talens green light.

Welliver later expanded some of the outdoor studies into large paintings in the studio, painting 4 to 7 hours a day, meticulously starting the canvases in the upper left-hand corner and finishing in the lower right. If the finished paintings were vibrantly painted, containing "an emotional intensity that goes beyond the ordinary limits of realism", they also tended to be emotionally sombre

Art critic Jeremy Sigler spoke of his technique of converting field studies to canvas:

Welliver made small, roughly two-foot-square studies that he would later blow up into large-scale oil paintings in his barn studio.
      There, Welliver employed a modified Renaissance technique that involves making a large color-by-numbers style drawing of the study on a sheet of thin brown paper, painstakingly pricking each line of the drawing with thousands of tiny holes, and then pouncing the drawing’s surface with a soft bag of charcoal so as to leave its impression upon a primed canvas.
     Once the lines were there, he would lay down the oil paint—all mixed to one precise “Welliver” consistency—and methodically fill in the empty graphic sprawl of the canvas, inch by inch, wet on wet, from the top left corner to the bottom right, almost as if he were a human laser printer
Welliver died in 2005, but shortly before his passing writer Stephen Jermanok said:
There’s only one way to truly immerse yourself in Welliver’s woods: Leave the art behind and frolic in the same trees, marshes, bogs, and river that so enrapture him.
      Welliver recently donated 695 acres of his farm to Maine’s Coastal Mountains Land Trust, allowing public to traverse his woods.
      Many of the trees seen in paintings like The Birches (1977) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been lost due to ice storms, but a thick forest and dense underbrush remain, timber crackling underfoot.
     Light splinters through the branches of fallen firs onto their newborn cousins, dwarf pines – a cycle of nature, death, and rebirth that mirrors the ebb and flow of Welliver’s life
The handful of works selected for show here, cannot begin to convey the grandeur of his efforts. For that matter, the scale of the webpage depictions poorly conveys the power of one of his paintings or prints that one gets while it is directly in front of the viewer. Which brings this subject back, for me, to where this reminisce started ~ standing alone, staring and in awe, at the powerful paintings in the Hotel Sonesta's suites.

IMAGE CREDITS: Welliver screen shot from a 1992 Maine Public Broadcasting program

No comments:

Post a Comment