In the hierarchy of genres taught in art history class, desert landscapes would be low on the list. But they positively rule compared to the lowly still life. Fortunately, the lowest-rated form has a new champion in Eric Merrell. The Pasadena artist has a style and intensity that attracts followers for whatever he’s doing, whether it’s painting Joshua Trees at midnight or a potted Euphorbia in his own backyard.
The Coors Western Art Exhibit is an exciting way to start off the new year and I'm psyched about the four pieces I'll be showing. They work well as a group, but individually each has its own mood. If you're in Denver I hope you'll take some time to visit the exhibition - it runs along with the National Western Stock Show from January 7-22, 2017.
Each year I make a limited edition print as a special thank you to collectors of my work and those individuals whom, without their support, I wouldn't be able to do what I love to do: make art. This image is based off of a painting I did on location of an oasis in moonlight in the remote California desert.
Although this edition is closed and no longer available, I had so much fun doing it that I plan to offer a few new prints next year in small editions.
Thanks to everyone who supports the arts, and Happy 2017.
I'm thrilled to have been invited to participate in an exhibition at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. These two new pieces are from Tucson, AZ and the San Gabriel National Monument just north of Los Angeles.
Small Works Great Wonders will be on view November 11 – December 31, 2016.
I'll be exhibiting three paintings at La Casita del Arroyo in Pasadena on October 9, 2016. The Moon Stirred is a nocturne, far up the Upper Arroyo Seco back in the San Gabriel Mountains, the full moon rising over a silhouetted cliff and the flower stalks of Yucca whipplei, the archetypal yucca of The San Gabriels. The Lower Arroyo is seen in both Arroyo Dusk and Arroyo Seco Afternoon. The San Marino Tribune was kind enough to use my nocturne for their article announcing the exhibit.
If you're in southern California, I'm going to have three paintings featured at the upcoming season finale of Classical Underground next Monday, June 6. CU is an informal concert series featuring many extremely talented musicians playing classical pieces that aren't heard often.
It will be really exciting to see the paintings in a live music setting.
Tickets and details: http://www.classicalunderground.com/
I recently completed a new self-portrait that I've been planning in my head for some time. Ideas for paintings often arise from things I see or read, or certain 'problems' that present themselves. "What if...?" often leads me to an interesting concept to work from. For this painting, I had to have everything set up in anticipation of sunset; I only had about 30-45 minutes max each day (you can see the shadow creeping up my chest). It took 6-7 consecutive days painting outdoors at sunset to develop the painting to this stage.
I want to clarify: I see these colors. These aren't the colors of Fauvism or Expressionism which depart from describing reality: not arbitrary, they are carefully orchestrated using a full color palette to describe light and space. The six earlier self-portraits below give some comparison; all depict different lighting situations and times of year. Three were painted indoors, three were painted outside. One of the strange things about color (among many) is that if you believe there is a lot of color, you'll see it; if you don't think it's there, you won't see it.
Top row, from left: Self-Portrait with Cool Light (2005); Self-Portrait in Winter (2007); Self-Portrait by Open Door (2014).
Bottom row, from left: Self-Portrait 100F in the Shade (2015); Self-Portrait by Moonlight (2015); Self-Portrait Indoors (2016).
I'm stoked to be a part of a new exhibition opening soon in Palm Desert. The Salton Sea, sometimes called an accidental sea due to its unintentional creation in 1906-07 (refilling the Salton Sink), has been an inspiring and mysterious place for me to paint over the last seven years. "The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise" explores the strange and beautiful history of a place once heralded as California's Riviera through paintings, photographs, video, and sculpture, as well as historic memorabilia.
"The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise"
Marks Art Center, College of the Desert, Palm Desert, CA
March 21-April 22, 2016
Opening Reception: Friday, April 1, 5-7pm
From Artist and Curator Deborah Martin:
"The Marks Art Center is pleased to present “The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise” featuring a selection of works and memorabilia from the collection of the late Jenny Kelly, new video from Coachella Valley artist Cristopher Cichocki, Contemporary Sculpture by Ashley Hagen and Aili Schmeltz, photographic works from Christopher Landis (In Search of Eldorado), Joan Myers (Salt Dreams), Kim Stringfellow (Greetings from the Salton Sea), and new work from photographers Victory Tischler-Blue, Bill Leigh Brewer and environmental artist Doron Gazit. In addition, the exhibit will include paintings by Deborah Martin (The Slabs: The Last Free Place in America) and new work from landscape painters Andrew Dickson, Mary Austin-Klein and Eric Merrell, who will present a new series of "nocturnes" inspired by the Salton Sea. A site specific installation will be on view by Los Angles based artist Thinh Nguyen who will present a durational performance “From Dawn to Dust” during the opening night reception on Friday April 1st, from 5-7pm.
For those who have chosen to make the Salton Sea their home this is their sanctuary. Like the sea, these communities have been forgotten, yet they continue to band together and persevere in spite of the odds stacked against them.
The sea provides habitat to some four hundred and thirty species of birds, some of them endangered, and is one of the last significant wetlands remaining on the migratory path between Alaska and Central America. Every year, the North shore of the Salton Sea is diminished, partly because of drought and partly because of the sale of Colorado River water to coastal areas. The migrating pelicans and grebes have fewer fish to eat as the shallow water disappears. The dust from desiccated shallows blows into the air and is easily inhaled by local children, whose asthma rates lead the state.
The nonprofit Pacific Institute estimates that the surface area of the 350-square-mile lake will shrink 100 square miles by 2030, salinity will triple over 15 years, and fish will disappear in seven years without intervention.
This exhibition is not only a tribute to the artists who have found inspiration in the Salton Sea, it is a tribute to the endurance of the sea itself, and to the people who are dedicated to preserving it."
This exciting project was just released a few weeks ago. Nocturnes is a short film that follows me into the desert while I paint at night. It was shot on a Sony A7S, which is the first camera with the ability to film in moonlight without any other light sources. It was all shot on location - even the lightning storm.
We've also gotten some nice coverage since its release:
Artists on Art (issue 17 contains an article I wrote, “Is Plein Air in Moonlight Possible?”)
NOCTURNES SCREENINGS AT U.S. FILM FESTIVALS
Lone Star Film Festival, Fort Worth, TX, Nov 10 – 13, 2016
St. Louis International Film Festival, St. Louis, IL, Nov 3 – 13, 2016
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs, AR, Oct 7-16, 2016
Alameda International Film Festival, Alameda, CA, Oct 7 – 9, 2016
Tacoma Film Festival, Tacoma, WA, Oct 6 – 13, 2016
Great Lakes International Film Festival, Erie, PA, Sept 22 – Oct 1, 2016
Joshua Tree International Film Festival, Joshua Tree, CA, Sept 16 – 18, 2016
Atlanta Underground Film Festival, Atlanta, GA, Aug 19 – 21, 2016
DocuWest International Film Festival, Denver, CO, May 11 – 15, 2016
RAW Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA, April 24, 2016
I made these limited edition linoleum block prints as a special thank you to collectors of my work and those individuals whom, without their support, I wouldn't be able to do what I love to do: make art.
The first two images above (sunset) make up the majority of the edition: 105 prints out of 125 total; the remaining 20 prints are of the third (nocturne) image.
Thanks and Happy 2016!
Collectors of my wife's photography will receive the limited edition print below.
Henry Hensche (1899-1992), a painter known for his connection to Provincetown, MA, was also a highly influential teacher and a major proponent of the role of color in painting. (His west coast counterparts of the mid-20th century were Sergei Bongart and Theodore Lukits.) Hensche was a student of Charles Webster Hawthorne, who was in turn a student of William Merritt Chase; Chase's outdoor painting school on Shinnecock, Long Island was one of the earliest to be influenced by the lessons of the French Impressionists.
© Eric Merrell
Moonlight has fascinated the arts for centuries. Writers have composed about its romance, artists have painted its mystery, musicians and composers have been moved to produce beautiful passages that evoke those ideas. But while moonlight has been depicted by many painters, it was often done from memory out of necessity, because it's hard to see and paint in the dark.
Despite the difficulties involved, artists are in good company: Van Gogh, Caspar David Friedrich, Frank Tenney Johnson, Elihu Vedder, Frederic Remington, and Lockwood de Forest are just a few who painted nocturnes. Some painted by candlelight, some tried working in the near dark after memorizing the colors on their palettes; some painted from memory or imagination, while other artists painted an imagined nocturne on location - in the middle of the day. I'm fascinated by all of these depictions, but the thing that always rang a little off for me was that many of these moonlit scenes felt too 'crisp', too similar to daylight - they didn't feel like moonlight. When I'm standing in moonlight, especially with no ambient light, it's very easy to navigate and walk around - individual trees and plants are distinguishable - but details, sharp edges, and the full spectrum of daylight color are greatly reduced. We're left with softness, unidentifiable forms blurring into other forms, edges that get lost and blur into the sky, and a very reduced (though not at all achromatic) color range.
Many nocturnes painted today employ too much value contrast - the lightest lights often look like spotlights on canyon walls or trees, not soft moonlight. (Urban settings are obviously going to be different.) Interestingly, nocturnes are often not landscapes shrouded in absolute darkness painted with the darkest pigments; even a quarter moon has light enough to see some things. Instead they're a little lighter, maybe in the range of 80% dark; but the lighter values are only slightly lighter.
(To experience a truly dark landscape, go somewhere far away from light pollution maybe a day or two after a full moon so that it will rise a while after sunset. After the sun goes down but before the moon rises, the landscape is incredibly dark. Once the moon rises, you’ll be surprised how bright its light is.)
Technology has helped advance nocturne painting. While artists working in previous centuries were extremely limited in how they could approach painting at night, today we have many different portable lighting options that make it possible to stand outdoors in moonlight and paint what we see. Despite this, painting moonlight on location is still considered something of an impossibility.
Of course it isn't easy, but neither is painting during the day. How many tries did it take to come up with something you thought was successful when you started painting? It takes time and preparation to learn the approach. Still, the challenge of painting nocturnes is the same as during the day: to paint what you see, not what you think you see. What we see at night is much different than what we see during the day, but since humans are (for the most part) diurnal, we tend to think of things in terms of daylight. Moonlight can often border on abstraction, but that's appealing to me. Everything can't be explained. Don't worry about the science behind it. A nocturne shouldn't be painted in the same way as something painted during the day.
With landscape, it's fairly easy to allow ourselves to abstract. I often paint landscapes in moonlight. My self-imposed challenge with these two portraits painted on location in the moonlight was two-fold: looking at how the color differed between the two paintings (the first was painted a few days before the full moon in July, the second a month later in August), as well as painting what I could truly see; allowing myself to lose features or elements of likeness if I couldn't actually see it. In the self-portrait, the eyes and eye sockets lost most of their detail, so I just tried to paint them as they appeared. In the other one, I could make out cool bluish glints of moonlight reflecting in her eyes, but the shadow on her neck nearly got lost in her hair.
Stand in the dark awhile, let your eyes adjust. You'll be amazed at what you can see, and paint. If you want to explore nocturnes further, join me for my annual Nocturne Painting Workshop, October 24-25, 2015.
This excerpt in Art and Artists from July 14, 1907, Antony Anderson's weekly art column in the L.A. Times caught my eye. Interesting read. "Can Color Be Taught?"
"The colorist is simply a man in whom a certain set of nerves are unusually sensitive, but those nerves by training can be made still more sensitive, and can be brought more completely under the control of his intelligence. While he remains untaught he is unable to use his powers effectively, because he does not understand them. His successes will be accidental, his methods will be erratic, and the results at which he arrives will be disconnected and probably unconvincing. Subjected to discipline, however, he will become more consistent, and he will find out exactly what he should do in order to convey to others the impression that exists in his mind."
"The man who would teach color must himself be a colorist exquisitely sensitive and perfectly trained; he must be able to dissect and analyze the most subtle combinations, and to explain the details of the most elusive harmonies, for of all sciences the one with which he has to deal is the least susceptible of being governed by hard and fast rules."
"To arrange color by rule is to make it lifeless and without meaning, to destroy its power of exciting emotion, and to reduce it to a mechanical balancing of color areas. What I understand by the science of color is the accounting for the relation between the pitch and area of the colors used in a properly adjusted combination, and the explanation of the manner in which varying color tones can be brought into agreement so that the result of their juxtaposition is absolutely harmonious. That this science is subject to laws which call for complete obedience I admit, but these laws must be taught by demonstration, not by text-books. And can you tell me of any school in which teaching of this kind is available?" (reproduced from The Lay Figure, in International Studio).
I'll be teaching two workshops next month in which we'll focus on color and discuss a lot of these points. How do you make good color without subjecting it to formulas? Color has always been considered part of emotion, hard to control; the opposite is found in the reserve and control in academic drawing - the classic battle of the Florentines v. the Venetians, of line v. color. Color is extremely personal, but it can be used to communicate as well.
I grew up in Northern California where summer turns the rolling hills to a burnished gold. With the oaks and sage mingling and creating hillside patterns, it's the classic California landscape. I was recently was able to explore and paint my hometown - here are a few of the pieces done on location.
I've been wanting to paint more portraits outside using natural light, so I recently set up a mirror and sat myself down for a self-portrait (well, I was standing, but you get the idea). My goals lay more in exploring the new color relationships and what they convey than in trying to get a 'likeness'; however, with enough time, the individual will come through with the right shapes and spots of color.*
It was definitely hot out - my thermometer read 100F in the shade - but my goal wasn't bragging rights for painting in extreme temperatures; I wanted to use color to convey that heat. The darker and warmer reds in the shadow on my face are (relatively) darker compared to the greenish-oranges in the shadow on my neck, and the cooler pinks and violets around my cheekbones are lighter than those reds; still, while more 'colorful' than one might expect, when taken all together they should hold a sense of form and create a sense of light. This kind of information is lost in a photograph, hence the necessity of painting in the heat.
A little side note about my color: I've had people ask how I categorize myself: would I consider myself an Impressionist, Expressionist, or lately, Fauvist (what, no Romanticism?). While I admire artists from those movements, I don't feel akin to them. And while the Fauves can be fun, they were essentially rejecting three-dimensional space, so when Andre Derain painted a beach he used an intense red, possibly straight out of the tube. My color is not the broken color of the Impressionists nor the 'liberated' color of the Fauvists: I'm interested in searching for subjective/personal color relationships that still function within our shared experience of humanity, so although certain colors might come as an unexpected surprise to a viewer, they make sense and (hopefully) lead to new insights.
* When looking at paintings our natural tendency is to want people to look 'right' - getting a likeness - this makes the human figure a difficult subject to use for studying color. Not the premeditated academic 'color' like Ingres or Cabanel, but beautiful natural light that is as much a joy for the artist to discover as it is for the viewer. My focus has been in studying how light works and how we perceive it; landscape and still life allow more freedom to experiment in those areas.
When the California Art Club returns to USC's Fisher Museum of Art to present their 104th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition from March 29 - April 19, 2015 this spring, I'll be exhibiting a new large painting titled The Rush. This piece is located in the Pinto Basin of Joshua Tree National Park.
Purchase tickets to the Opening Night Gala Reception here.
Proceeds from this sale benefit Arts Without Boundaries ,a non-profit organization which brings free arts instruction and performances into public schools.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I'm stoked to have five of my paintings - all being shown for the first time - at the Coors Western Art Show in Denver, CO opening next week as part of the National Western Stock Show. Check them out online now and then go see the works in the Gallery at the National Western Club starting January 5, 2015.
Purchase tickets to the Red Carpet Reception on January 6th here. The exhibition runs through January 25, 2015.
Four fresh and recent paintings are in a new group exhibition at Altamira Fine Art in Scottsdale, AZ opening next week. Check out all of the work for Desert Mythos online now and then go see them in the gallery starting January 5, 2015. Two pieces are from Joshua Tree National Park and two from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. One work was painted from memory. Can you figure out which one?