This is the last in my series of three paintings of Revelstoke, BC, at sunset, in winter. It is tricky to paint a snow scene at night, because basically light and dark are reversed. The sky is dark, the snow-covered ground is light, and the problem is to put sufficient visible objects in the scene to create perspective and interest.
I came across the famous Canadian artist Robert Genn the other day. He died in 2014, and I found out about him while looking up his “37 Club”, in which painters execute a painting either in 37 minutes or with 37 brushstrokes. I’m sure his technique is effective to prevent over-thinking and over-working pieces, it does mean that you need a high level of expertise to execute a painting so fast and still have it look good. Genn’s landscapes are detailed to the point of looking geometric, and are quite bright, with strong contrasts and almost neon-coloured highlights. He surely did not execute them in 37-anything. I tried the 37-stroke technique on another Revelstoke painting, the second in the series – and it turned out a bit rough. I’m not sure that I like it.
In this little painting I rather tried to practice the lessons of my favourite landscape artist, Mitchell Albala – use a limited palette; create perspective by the placement of objects and lines leading the eye in; mass the trees – paint the shapes of the branches and the shapes of gaps in the branches, not the branches. (Easier said than done.) It took me weeks to do. Weeks of planning and drawing and putting in details, and staring at it and wondering whether it will ever work, being in reverse. At one point I scrubbed almost everything off with some CLR – too mad at myself to waste a canvas and give up. Now, I think it’s my favourite piece after Summer Walk in Hagley Park, Christchurch. Of course it is merely an amateur’s scribblings, absolutely nothing in comparison to the work of real artists, like Genn and Albala.
The interesting thing is, that Genn’s paintings are, in my opinion, almost abstract in that they represent his – or a generally accepted – view of a landscape, rather than the landscape itself. Some aspects are simplified with blocked-in areas, others are detailed with small, outlined geometric shapes, repeated and mirrored.
I thought about whether that is what I was aiming for. The answer was no. And this little painting caused me so many problems because I wanted it to look how it looked that night. I want to recognize where we were and what I felt and how the dark crept up on us while we were standing on the river bank like a black velvet cloth dropping from the sky.
Artists paint what is in their heads as well as what they see en plein air. If someone else sees it and recognizes a moment, or feels a connection, that’s a plus and perhaps they’ll want to buy the painting. But that’s not, I think, why many people paint.