Enamored of the Visual
Gaell Lindstrom 1919 - 2009
Gaell Lindstrom's lifelong dedication to artistic endeavors was driven by a voracious curiosity for and delight in the visual world. For sixty years he mapped out a unique visual world, portraying in delicately rendered oil and gritty watercolors the visual splendors of locales far and near.
Gale William Lindstrom was born in Salt Lake City on July 4, 1919, the youngest of four children. His earliest artistic influences were found close to home. His father, a house painter and decorator, often employed artists from the Sugarhouse area and the Highland Park chapel across the street from his home contained murals by Lee Greene Richards, J.B. Fairbanks and others.
Throughout his life Lindstrom expressed himself through a variety of mediums. During the Depression he developed an interest in photography and would continue to use the camera throughout his life, both as a tool for collecting reference materials for his paintings and as an end in itself. He enrolled at the University of Utah to study painting with LeConte Stewart. He also studied with George Dibble and Joseph A.F. Everett. Lindstrom called Everett a "poet with paints" but he was not swayed when Everett told him watercolors should be executed in a pastel palette and in single washes. To prove his teacher wrong, Lindstrom darkened his palette, mixing colors like Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna, and scrumbling and pushing them across the paper in multiple layers. After graduation, he took his moody watercolors and unconventional techniques to Cedar City where he began a teaching career. While he was teaching at SUU the school asked him to redesign their logo. When an assistant asked him what if the school didn't like his design he replied simply "They'll have to find someone else to do it."
Though he could be fixed in his opinions, Lindstrom had a generally unassuming manner, dappled with sparks of dry wit and bursts of genial enthusiasm. While in Cedar City he asked a pilot friend to take him on a trip over Zions canyon. When they returned the pilot made a less than controlled landing, and when he apologized to Lindstrom the artist quipped: "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing."
In 1957 Lindstrom secured a position at Utah State University and began a decades long career there. His watercolor techniques influenced a number of students, including Osral Allred, who became hooked on watercolor when he took a class from Lindstrom in his senior year in order to satisfy a graduation requirement. At Utah State Lindstrom was known for his ceramics. He had developed an early interest in ceramics, pursuing the form in Montana and elsewhere and while at Utah State he developed the school's first ceramic institute. His pieces were often made from Utah clays and frequently when traveling with friends or family he would point out various clays that would make good pots. He studied with Navajo potters to emulate their techniques, and produced a film -- Ernesto Mateo, Potter of San Bartolo de Coyotepec -- on an Oaxacan potter that was shown on PBS.
Oaxaca was a frequent destination for the artist, who always loved to travel. He spent time in Western Europe, Asia, North Africa and Central America. His advice for travel was simple: Take a bus to the center of town. Walk to the corner. Look both ways. See which direction looks most interesting. Go that way. Repeat.
When he traveled he often remarked on details others would never even notice let alone note. He might point out the width of highway stripes in one country or the size of a church doorknob in another. This delight in detail is evident in his paintings, which create orchestras of color out of busy marketplaces, the undulating stripes in a Guatemalan dress, or the run down buildings of an old mining town.
His visual appetite was matched by an avid intellectual curiosity. He always seemed to know something about everything -- though he took no effort to show it. He was interested in various cultural activities, including the symphony, ballet and opera. He loved books, which he frequently gave as presents, and might reward the searcher of a hard-to-find volume with one of his watercolors. He even authored his own book, a study on Thomas Moran's time in Utah published in 1983.
Lindstrom was never a prolific painter but he was always striving to expand the range of his artistic voice. His earliest watercolors were loosely rendered studies of form, reminiscent of the WPA era. In the 1950s and 60s he deepened his palette and expanded the grit in his paintings. In the 1970s he began opening up his watercolors, making wide-open spaces of scrumbled paint layered with strips. A series of nearly monochromatic watercolors depicting dense woods owe as much to Jackson Pollock as to Andrew Wyeth. In the 1980s he traveled to Hong Kong to study Chinese ink painting, and returned with a series of experimental landscapes executed in ink and watercolor.
Lindstrom's work became tighter and more solid as he got older, always displaying an acute knoweldge of form and color. He recognized the pitfalls of a purely formal approach, however. "There's nothing worse than a bad academic painting," he once said. He wasn't above critiquing classics -- he once remarked to a son, while in the Louvre, that the Mona Lisa's hands were too large, and the flesh of her chest, because it was of the same dimensions, detracted from the point of interest, her face.
After decades of teaching Lindstrom and his wife Marilyn retired to a home east of Hurrican, where he had a view of Zion Canyon. He continued to paint and travel, content to explore the labrynths of Venice by himself, or the dry vistas of Morroco with his sons and a local driver. They eventually moved to St. George where both were active supporters of the St. George Art Museum. Lindstrom stayed enamored of the visual world until the end. At one point in his last days he remarked on the beautiful blue mountains he could see, the late light casting undulating shadows on their surface. He was admiring the rumpled blue comforter at his feet.
|Hints 'n Tips
Seeing colors and values with the eye and mind
You have heard about something being deceptively simple, but how about simply deceptive? That is the topic of today's discussion. In this case we are speaking of colors and values that are deceptive. And why are they deceptive? The answer lies in the way we perceive information, process it, categorize and understand it, all in the blink of an eye.
For one thing, the mind is slower than the eye in a sense, but the eye takes most of its direction from the mind. In slight of hand card tricks the magician relies on the mind of the viewer to supply wrong information based on past visual experience. In the same way, colors and values can be deceptive because the mind is ready to supply the wrong conclusions based on our past visual memory.
The way it works is that the mind is always making comparisons, whether we are conscious of it or not. These comparisons are made at lightning speed and are a way of dealing with copious amounts of visual information we are being bombarded with all the time. The mind develops a visual shorthand to help us get along in the world. This can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it.
It's a strength in that a painting will "read" correctly from across the gallery if the visual relationships of the various forms match the viewer's past visual experience. An example of this might be how a tree should look in relation to the sky with regard to shape, color, value and edge quality. But it can be a weakness when the mind tries to give an artist a visual shorthand for what they are seeing. When painting a scene the artist must understand color and value relationships unhampered by superfluous ingrained assumptions such as: trees are green, skies are blue, tree trunks are brown, rocks are gray. In reality these colors might need to be something entirely different in order to create a believable visual representation of the scene.
To do this, we as artists must re-think our mental perceptions and replace them with a whole new way of understanding. The study of visual relationships, based on an understanding of how light affects objects in space and how surrounding objects influence each other's color and temperature is the key. As an example of this principle in nature, let's use a rock out in the middle of a field on a sunny day. The rock may have a local color (that is, its basic color when not being affected by a strong light, such as the sun) on a gray day. But on a sunny day the rock is going to be strongly lit on one side with warm light, will have cool reflected light from the sky on the other side and will receive warm reflected light from the ground plane on the under side. This coupled with highlights on the sunny side and dark accents on the bottom where light is very low will produce warm and cool relationships that will speak painterly volumes. Now place the rock in a stream and you will have similar effects but must take into account the influence of reflected light from the water's surface.
The bottom line here is, paint what you see and not what you know, at least not what you knew before you gained this new way of thinking. Remember, everything in the landscape will affect everything else in the landscape to one degree or another. When in doubt isolate a color/value to see and understand it's deceptive truth. A small piece of neutral card stock with a tiny aperture the size of a pea works well here.
There is no sight without the mind and an artist will always have to rely on both the eye and the brain to create convincing visual representations of the natural world. But the mind that helps us get by in the world without overloading our senses must be retrained when our task becomes to create that world in a convincing and compelling matter on a two-dimensional surface.