I see impressionistic painting as the design of an intricate puzzle. If an impressionistic painting is done effectively, it will draw the viewer in from a distance and, as approached and viewed from up close, it can change from being a clearly recognizable subject and deconstruct into what is a seemingly disorganized jumble of brush strokes and colors. Conversely a highly rendered portrayal of every detail of a subject leaves little or nothing to the viewers imagination and allows for very little personal interpretation or involvement with the painting. We all bring our own individual emotions and responses to the table when we view works of art. My end goal is to present an emotionally charged “impression” of my subject to the viewer allowing their own emotions and experiences to come into play; melding with and guided by the “impression” I’m attempting to create.
In any style of painting the designing of the big abstract shapes is paramount. The underlying abstract of good painting is as important in representational impressionistic painting as it is in purely abstract painting. The big shapes provide the structure that create the strength and power in a piece that will allow it to read whether it is one inch across, one foot across or fifteen feet across. One of the artist’s challenges is to continually break down the big abstract shapes interestingly and beautifully with warm, cool, grey and pure variations, without destroying the general value plan and simple definition of those big shapes.
After almost two decades of painting, I have come to understand how truly cerebral a large part of the painting process needs to be.... if it is to be done well. Painting has a romanticized reputation of being purely emotional and spontaneous, and is sometimes even viewed as a relaxing pastime. In reality, painters struggle, on a daily basis, to achieve a place where the required technical skills become thoroughly ingrained. Accomplishing this and tapping into it on a subconscious level for even a few moments, can help to free an artist’s emotional responses to their subject and allow for a less complicated expression of their artistic inspirations. No easy feat, but when it works, its rewarding in ways that are difficult to describe.....except, maybe, with paint and a brush.
A visual memory is possibly the most important of the tools that an artist learns to use. My father, Jack Martin, helped me begin the process of developing my visual memory of the landscape more than sixty years ago. He made a point of getting us into Colorado’s wilderness as often as he possibly could. Fishing and hunting were only the excuses he used for us to leave the world of man behind. The two of us and our dog spent a large portion of my childhood out in the wild. He was never more at ease than during those periods we spent out in our beautiful and unspoiled Rocky Mountains. Jack’s passion for the wild places was contagious as was his passion for life. He infected me with both, clearly achieving his desired goal! He showed me a way that I have never left behind.
I spent thirty years after college working for myself as a landscape photographer. And, as you might expect, that required that I spend most of my time out in nature. There's a theme here. That theme is “out”. I prefer the trail or the road and the “out” of doors to almost anything. I have been “out” in nature for many thousands of sunrises and many thousands of sunsets. And, for all the days that lay between them. It feels like I have experienced virtually every imaginable variation of light and atmospheric condition. At the very least, I’ve put one hell of a dent in the list. I’ve spent decades chasing light and soaking up the feeling and the essence of the world around me. I know in my bones what it’s like to stand at the edge of an alpine lake with a crisp early morning light blazing through the thinnest of atmospheres raking over the beauty before me. Or, the luminance of partially diffused late afternoon light filtering through the humid air of the California coast and washing everything in its path with warmth and a vibrancy of color that, to me, is totally unforgettable. Having seen these things hundreds of times leaves those experiences etched in my visual memory and in my soul forever.
To this day I still find that same calming peacefulness, that my father sought, anytime I’m "out" in nature. Anywhere in nature. A blazing hot Utah desert canyon... A wintry afternoon below Half Dome... Warmed by a summer breeze in the Badlands of South Dakota... The massive and thunderous falls on the Virginia side of the Potomac River... The delicate rain forest above the cloud line at the top of Molokai... The rocky coast and vertical cliffs of Ragged Point in Big Sur... Standing surrounded by a forest of Saguaro south of Tucson...
And, it goes on and on and on and on...
The visual memory required for informed landscape painting comes only from time spent in the outdoors. That visual memory can hopefully afford me the ability to imbue a sense of place to a painting that I hope will have a visceral impact on my audience. My paintings are collective responses to the time I have spent out in nature and ultimately I hope to leave my viewers with a clear sense of what it feels like to stand in a given place in a specific light condition.