Ask four artists to paint the same four landscapes and you get 16 widely different interpretations.
Local artists Jeri-Lynn Ing, Larry Reese, Judy Sutter, Susan Woolgar went to Southern Alberta to do some outdoor painting last August.
Before finishing their time at the Gushul residency in Blairmore they set out a challenge: Each artist would take a photograph of a different view, then all four would paint the same four scenes that were caught on camera.
While they do much of their plein air painting together as “the Northern Four,” they decided to work on these landscapes separately and not discuss their approaches with each other.
Some intriguing artworks came out of the project, as can be seen in the Four Paintings, Four Perspectives joint exhibit at the Harris-Warke Gallery in Sunworks.
Although paintings from the same photograph sometimes share aspects of light or composition, others are so completely different, it’s hard to tell they were inspired by the same reference material.
The artists say they knew they would each be bringing their own styles and perspectives to the table, but were still surprised by the results.
For instance, Reese painted a farm house nestled in rolling hills beside the Crowsnest River in a bold, illustrative style using acid colours. The other three artists chose to edit the house out of the picture altogether.
Sutter realistically rendered the bend in the river and a tree from the photo, while Ing and Woolgar were interested in capturing impressions of the windswept trees and plays of light on the hills.
Even though styles diverge, viewers can still observe commonalities, with three of the artists choosing to paint highlights using various orange tints.
“This was a lot of fun to do,” said Ing, who took her landscapes close to abstraction,
She noticed that the pinks and lavenders she used to paint grasses in her depiction of a hazy forest scene lined up closely with colours used for the same scene by Sutter and Woolgar.
Ing, who has taken various art courses over the years, admitted that she found herself pulled by conflicting desires during the exercise: “I wanted it to be loose and not too literal,” but she also felt some pressure to paint what was before her — the trees, roads, meadows and rivers.
“I was caught up in this internal struggle (that came down to) how much do I owe the land?”
Woolgar, who shares a studio with Ing, is evolving from being a realistic painter to a less representational one. “I’m trying to look beyond the literal, because I’ve painted that way for so long,” she said. “I sought different ways to express landscape, looking beyond the accepted textures and colours.”
The most problematic reference was an intricately detailed forest scene. Woolgar, an Alberta College of Art and Design graduate, painted four or five versions of it before coming up with her final artwork, Slope.
“I fought with the composition until I found something that I liked,” explained Woolgar, who eliminated most of the busy-ness, focusing on a rocky slope, covered with moss and dappled sunlight. She also scraped paint away in places, to reveal interesting colours and create textures.
Her impressionistic Oxbow features wind-bent trees under a pinkish sky.
While its been suggested that the ability to paint more loosely and boldly comes with confidence and experience, Woolgar believes it really comes with experimentation. “You have to paint your way into it.”
Reese and Sutter, who are more realist painters, consider themselves less experienced than Ing and Woolgar, but produced some striking images.
In Follow Your Dreams, Reese used a pallet knife to create the impression of Castle River Road leading to the Rocky Mountains. He liked how the added texture helped create shadows and grasses in the landscape.
As an acting instructor in the Red Deer College Motion Picture Arts program, Reese had opportunities to take painting classes at the college and has been pursuing visual arts “seriously” for more than a decade. Before that, he painted as a hobbyist since he was a youth.
His works show the most stylistic experimentation of the group, ranging from super-realism of Whispers of Quiet to poster-like graphics in Along Comes the Dawn.
Sutter has also taken art classes for years, but doesn’t get the chance to paint as much as she would like because of family and other commitments (she’s married to former NHL player and Red Deer Rebels coach Brian Sutter).
Her Evening on Castle River Road contains rich yellows and olive greens, giving a sense of waning, golden light. It was a departure from the actual photo, taken earlier in the day, but Sutter wanted a more intense interpretation.
By contrast, Sutter’s Afternoon on Miner’s Creek gives a sense of greyed-down filtered light, achieving a sense of place for the forest painting, in which sunlight disperses through tree branches.
The four Central Alberta painters say they like the encouragement and camaraderie that comes with painting together.
Even when working apart, as they did during this project, they enjoy coming together at the end to share impressions and critique each other’s works.
“I like painting with people that I respect and people that challenge me,” summarized Reese, who feels the skills and abilities of the other artists push him to excel at his own painting.
The show continues to Feb. 12. A First Friday reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 6.