Artist Spotlight: Provo
Paul Nielson: Continuing the Tradition
by Ehren Clark
The history of the beginning of Modern art is often told in terms of a reaction to and discarding of the longstanding tradition of the Academy. The art academy has its roots in sixteenth-century France, coming on the heels of the artistic accomplishments of the Renaissance. Many artists studied the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, Bellini, Titian and others, and also focused much of their attention on the art of Classical Greece. Before the rise of Modernism, this tradition of study was the dominant force in Western art for well over three hundred years. Today, the tradition of the academy still exists, though outside the contemporary “art school.” Artists continue to study those of the past in figural drawing, perspective, composition, narrative and other aspects of correctly rendering naturalism and the Classical tradition.
One artist in whom this tradition is still very much alive is Provo-based artist Paul Nielson. Studying privately with his master (in the traditional sense of the word), famed artist Patrick Devonas, after graduating from the fine art program at Brigham Young University, Nielson has gravitated towards a study of the Classical. Neilson's interest was ignited with the figural drawing courses offered at BYU, and after exploring other genres, he began an intensive study based upon the tradition of the Academy (first at Carl Bloch Academy in Springville) and the tradition of the Classical.
The term Classical Art generates many connotations -- motivation to correct rendering of the figure, naturalism -- and thrives in many cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and the pinnacle of study at Florence, Italy. The tradition has evolved from artists such as Raphael and Titian, to Le Brun (the first president of the French Academy of Art), Poussin, Boucher, Fragonard, David, and Bouguereau till the present day. At one time any young artist who wished for success was expected to study at an academy, many of which flourished throughout Europe.
Following this tradition, Nielsondedicates himself to his craft, painting with intensity and excruciating detail. The lengthy process by which he arrives at a finished work is no less excruciating: figural drawing from life, clay models, preliminary sketches, contriving an actual staging of the clay figures to render his astoundingly accurate compositions correctly.
Yet as post-modernity allows, Nielson takes his classical training as a basis, while contriving images that he terms “Classical Symbolist,” as other contemporaneous artists have done. An image such as Théodore Géricault's "Raft of Medusa" may serve as an early example of the concept behind this term. The raft, having survived a shipwreck lingers upon a stormy sea; some figures are dead, some alive, yet a small detail of a boat in the distance promises hope, salvation and liberty -- many of the connotations of French ideology in the stormy nineteenth century. The painting is magnificently rendered, with symbolism and a degree of the Romantic sublime.
To this masterpiece might be compared Nielson's "Philios." |1| It also is classically rendered in great detail, yet there are aspects of Romanticism in Nielson's motivation- again, hope and optimism in this world, for the past, for the future and primarily the present in figures which he terms mystical. This height of humanity in Nielson's work is reflected in these figures that are, like his manner, "classical" -- timeless. The composition is excellent, with the utmost exactitude in proportioning. However it is the figural aspect that gives the picture the element of the sublime. They faceless figures are shrouded in cloaks, and connotate aspects of the past, present or future. Nielson replicates these figures in many of his paintings -- a forest, a deserted plane, a sea shore -- and they stand tall and seem to guard the gates of the hope of humankind. His paintings display an inner pathos, a main directive for the Greeks, a pathos seldom seen in contemporary painting.
As Nielson paints with such intensity, his works are equally intense. The artist usually may be found in his Provo studio, working on life studies, preliminary sketches, preparing his clay models and painting his works. Often his wife must interrupt him during his work to eat and he sleeps very little. His art, according to him, is a passion equally powerful as other aspects of his life and he forgoes any superfluous activities for the sake of his work.
Nielson's paintings are a testament to the continuation of fine painting in the traditional sense, yet have the technique, the content and meaning that many representational artists of today do not have. Nielson's works are bold, masterfully articulated, unique, and above all meaningful in their sublimity. The pathos that one feels in his paintings incites emotion as powerful as the manner in which Nielson renders his canvases. For a showing of the artist's work you may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org ||
Special Event: Salt Lake City
First Annual Artists Gala
"Sometimes when working in the studio, it can feel isolating. Every once in awhile it's nice to get out and see what's going on in the Utah art scene," says Emily Chaney, organizer of the First Annual Artists Gala, to be held Saturday, June 9th.
The Gala has been organized to allow artists to network with others in the visual arts, creating partnerships, exploring artistic ideas, and strengthening the art community. At the event, a live African drummer group will be performing, a light buffet will be served, and art will be for sale and on display.
Chaney has written for 15 Bytes, is a professional artist herself and is currently gallery director for Terzian gallery in Park City, so she knows the benefits of networking with others in the community. The Gala has brought in artists from all over the state: Sharon Marquez (Park City), Lynn Meacham (Roosevelt), Marilynn Nielson (Midway), Christopher Shill (Layton), Tom Howard (Kearns), Deborah Hart (Sandy), Nate Ronniger (Salt Lake City), Doug Braithwaite (Sunset), and Penelope Wright (Holladay). Area galleries will also be present, showing their support for the art community: Phoenix Gallery, Coda Gallery, Paisley Pomegranate, Julie Nester Gallery, Terzian Galleries, Pickett Fairbanks Gallery, and Artists and Heirlooms. They are joined by area businesses like Celestial Flowers, and Corporate Edge. The Utah Symphony and Opera has donated the space, and Nicholas Cavallaro has volunteered his talents as a lighting designer.
Chaney hopes this will be a less intimidating environment for artists to speak with gallery owners as well as meet other artists. Utrecht and Ogden Blue will be handing out paint samples, coupons, and reading materials. Utrecht has kindly donated two door prizes along with one large art award, which will be presented that night to an individual, chosen by the community, who has done the most this year to help Utah's visual arts community.
The event is Saturday, June 9th from 7-9pm at the Utah Symphony and Opera Studios 336 N. 400 W. Salt Lake City. Tickets are ten dollars reserved per person and fifteen dollars at the door. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Art Access, which provides equal access to the visual arts, exhibiting artists with and without disabilities. To reserve tickets or cast your vote click here or contact Emily Chaney at 801-706-8486 or email@example.com
Exhibition Review: Ogden
Perfecting a Craft: Doug Braithwaite @ the Eccles
by Brandon Cook
The Eccles Community Art Center
is just around the corner from my studio in Ogden so this past week I put down the brushes for an hour or so to stop in and take a look at the one-person exhibit of Doug Braithwaite
. I’ve known Doug for over a decade, since my student days at the University of Utah. I recall then when going out to plein air paint, setting up behind Doug knowing that if we painted the same subject, I could watch how he handled it. He always knew where to get a grasp on the motif, how to start the painting and where to take it.
For the past decade I have watched Doug refine those skills and his working method to the point I have to ask myself, "Is there any subject matter this painter can't handle"?
Examples of these skills are on exhibit during the month of June at the Eccles Art Center in Ogden. Those of you who have admired his smaller, more portable work, or have seen him at work in the field, will find some refreshingly larger canvases in this show. There are a couple of 24x32's, which show his abilities to work a detailed larger canvas with the same freshness and accuracy as his smaller works.
The Eccles exhibition features a number of southwest scenes; of those, "Desert Textures," with its solid composition and energizing rhythm, is my favorite. The show contains a few urbanscapes as well as his ever-popular winter scenes, which stand in stark seasonal contrast to a painting depicting a day at the beach. Also, as a bonus there are three little monotypes and a still life, all making for an interesting and diverse show.
The real reason to make a trip to the show is for Doug's plein air work. Now, for many painters, plein air means out in the fields, painting the cliffs of the south, or the farm fields and trees of the north. Doug is a stand out amongst many such painters for his handling of the urban environment. In fact, for me, his urbanscapes may exceed his landscapes. Doug has such facility handling geometry and perspective -- he knows how to see it and how to depict it. The buildings, vehicles, streetlamps, roads and sidewalks all give him plenty of material to show off his skill.
Looking about, you have to admire Doug's ability to crop everyday scenes to create compositions that are both interesting and dynamic. In a depiction of a green light on 24th Street in Ogden he makes something out of nothing. A beach scene where he cuts off half the volleyball net I find both gutsy and successful. The painting "6:19 Downtown" demonstrates Doug at his best, taking such mundane subject matter as a bus signaling over and somehow making it, in my own mind, a worthwhile, memorable experience.
Doug thrills at the experience of painting in the open. For him, the importance of surviving the elements, the hot, the cold, the insects, lighting challenges and wind, spills over into the finished work. I think his winterscapes in the show demonstrate this best. You can feel the cold and see the crispness of the air. Doug mentioned once to me how in freezing temperatures oil paint becomes this delightful, creamy consistency that is a joy to work with. Perhaps it is for this reason I have always been drawn to his winter paintings.
The power of Doug's brush work is that he somehow manages to make it look spontaneously loose and yet extremely tight. He approaches his canvases with surgical precision, employing a technique that convinces you he is in control of everything and yet leaves room for an energetic expressive experience. A great balance that I seldom see in painters these days.
Since meeting, Doug has remained mostly out in the field and I, mostly indoor. In the controlled environment of the studio, I am able to experiment with process and embrace spontaneity. Painting in an uncontrolled environment, Doug embraces chaos and through his process has found control. When viewing all of the paintings hanging at the Eccles exhibit, I find that he has perfected his process. I have to wonder, where does he go now for his next challenge?
If you have time, go and check out Doug's one man show at the Eccles and you will see why over the past few years Doug has garnered prize after prize in both plein air and landscape competitions. Doug truly has a style of his own that would appeal to even the casual art lover and command the respect of fellow artists. If you are an art collector, snag one because at his very reasonable prices, there is no reason not to.||
Doug Braithwaite's work will be on exhibit at the Eccles Community Art Center through June 30 in conjunction with an exhibition by Sue Valentine in the Carriage House Gallery. More of Braithwaite's work can be seen at his website.