Nathan Walsh at Bernarducci Meisel

Nathan Walsh -- a realist painter who lives and works in York, England -- initiates his views of American cities with a single postcard-sized study which he then enlarges into a rigorous blueprint-like underdrawing. As he layers and builds his paintings Walsh subtly alters and enhances the perspective of each scene: he feels that artifice is necessary to make his works convincing. Although he does use photographs as one of his source materials, Walsh does not define himself as a Photorealist. "You almost need to create the space from scratch, using the photographs only as a guide," he explains: "If you don't do that it won't be convincing as a painting."

Transamerica, 180 x 123 cms., oil on linen, 2013

Visitors to his upcoming exhibition at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery will be able to use a newly developed iphone app called "Repentir" to "rewind" the developmental and artistic processes behind Nathan's painting Transamerica by taking a photo of the canvas and then scrolling or wiping away its layers. I recently spoke to Nathan about his work, his artistic process and his subject matter.

John Seed Interviews Nathan Walsh

Nathan Walsh
Tell me something about your background and education

I can remember as a child looking at reproductions of Van Gogh drawings that my father had framed up around our house. This must have piqued my interest and I enjoyed drawing and painting at school which led to completing an arts foundation course, then a degree in Graphics Arts at Liverpool. 

Liverpool had a rich visual art scene and was an exciting place to study and explore. More than anything I remember doing lots of reportage and life drawing, I had little idea of how I might apply this practice but I was keen to study and improve it. I continued making drawings and simple observational paintings for a number of years after university which led to being included into local and eventually national exhibitions. This in turn led being offered an associate lectureship at an art college in York, where I still live today.

Teaching half the week and making paintings for the rest of it was a happy medium with one activity informing the other. Around my late twenties I began to feel that the work I was making lacked any real direction and I enrolled on a Masters program led at the time by two noted realist painters, Steve Whitehead and Clive Head. It was a small course but in a lot of ways could have been tailor made for me, and I served what now seems like a traditional artist's apprenticeship.

Central Camera, 69.5 x 103cms., oil on linen, 2012
What did your early paintings look like?

Like many artists my early work displays the heavy influence of whoever I was looking at at the time. I've moved through various phases, obsessions with Vuillard, Bonnard, Sargent, Whistler etc. led to more contemporary realist practice, Estes, Rackstraw Downes, Neil Welliver and Lopez Garcia. There is a direct link with what I was doing fifteen years ago to what I'm doing now but my practice has become far more focused and less derivative.

Chicago: 7am, 125 x 227 cms., oil on linen, 2012

You once told an interviewer 'I suppose I am a bad Photorealist painter, but that's because I am not really a Photorealist painter'. Can you expand on that statement?

I use photography in my work but only in a way to gather and manipulate information. The idea of duplicating something that already exists as photography is I believe now a redundant position. To this end my working habits go against standard photorealist methodology.

For example I don't construct scenes digitally using software or mechanically transfer imagery from monitor or slide to canvas. It would be easy to do this but when a camera or computer starts to exclusively dictate how a painting looks then the outcome is predetermined. My paintings purposefully explore surface, colour, mark-making and texture all of which are absent from the source material. The confusion often lies when my work is viewed as a photographic reproduction whether that be in a catalogue or more frequently online.

Chicago in the Rain, 129 x 183cms., oil on linen, 2012

In your preparatory drawings you "create space from scratch." Tell me a bit more about that process? 

Photographs are by their nature flat and exclude the opportunity to explore the illusionistic space a painting can suggest. Therefore I draw and then redraw every element within my pictorial space linked to a series of vanishing points along a horizon line. I use perspective in a fluid and open ended way which will change and develop from painting to painting; again it's based on a conscious decision to move away from a 'known' way of describing the world. Working in this way allows me to alter to shape or size of a building, tree or person, change its position or remove it from the composition altogether.

Detail: Chicago in the Rain

If I want mix curvilinear perspective with linear then I can or if the picture demands a position that lies in-between these positions then so be it. It's not a conventional approach but takes from various sources and becomes something of its own making. It also allows for the introduction of elements not present at the original location, whether that be 'importing' a structure from Google earth or drawing a real life object in my studio and incorporating it.

This is a hybrid approach to drawing, the goal being to create space that is convincing and concrete. In this drawn and painted world it has to make sense on it owns terms, if an architect were to analyze my drawn buildings I'm sure they wouldn't stand up for long.

23 Skidoo, 135 x 319 cms., oil on linen, 2013

Could you discuss one of your favorite images from your current show? 

I think the most exciting paintings in the show are the ones which move furthest away from a conventional way of describing the world but still look believable as a world we could inhabit. 23 Skidoo is the most ambitious painting I've made to date; it describes three separate streets in the Flatiron district NYC and a multitude of people going about their daily business. You couldn't take in this view as a pedestrian or see around each street corner as I've visualized it.

The time I spent on location presented an area of chaos and variety which led me to want to make something in response which was the opposite of this state. My painting is ordered, an obvious construct where each specific person is engaged in a definite activity which relates formally to the architecture around them. I guess in a roundabout way I'm looking to make an idealised version of the world around us.

Rockerfeller, 160 x 223 cms., oil on linen, 2013

Is there anything else you would like to say about yourself or your art? 

I think my show that runs through November is very much a starting point. It suggests a number of points of departure which can be further explored or rejected. Realist painting is at an important stage in its development and has to keep moving forward if it's to remain valid. There are a number of artists both sides of the Atlantic who are acutely aware of this issue and are finding new ways of making alternate (painted) realities. The next five or so years are going to be very interesting and I hope to play a role in this movement.

Jerusalem, 157 x 107 cms., oil on linen, 2012

New Paintings
Bernarducci Meisel Gallery 
37 W. 57 Street, New York, 10019
7 November - 7 December 2013
Opening Reception: Thursday, 7 November, 5 - 7pm

Rod Penner at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe

Rod Penner, a Texas-based photorealist, is currently showing a selection of his painstakingly crafted paintings of small town Texas at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe in New York. The exhibition -- which New York Magazine hailed as "superb" -- includes a suite of six inch square paintings that feature bravura depictions of tire stores, muddy roads and rutted asphalt.

I recently interviewed Rod via e-mail and found his responses to be just like his paintings: direct, clear and unmistakably strong.  

John Seed Interviews Rod Penner
Rod Penner
Rod you paint Texas subject matter and show in New York. How have New Yorkers responded to your visions of Texas?

Viewers connect to the work because the paintings are not just about a specific place but are also rooted in memory.

Hilltop Laundry, 2012, Acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 inches
Many of your paintings are in a tiny six inch square format: how and why do you like to work so small?

I've painted large and now I want to paint small. It's a new challenge. The inspiration for these 6 x 6 inch square paintings comes from many sources; 17th century Dutch painting, the poetry of William Carlos Williams, and my own small works collection to name a few. I liken these works to poems or meditations.

Red, White, and Blue Station / Brady, TX, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 16 inches
Does your work have any kind of political or social content, or is it simply a matter of "what you see is what you get" realism?

You won't find any hidden or overt socio-political meaning in my work and at the same time I hope that by utilizing what I find in the American landscape I'm able to connect to viewers on a deeper psychological level.

Pray for Rain, 2013, Acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 inches
Photorealism is often dis-regarded as being all about technique. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

It's an accurate assessment for a lot of art produced today. My paintings are based on my surroundings and observations and I hope they transcend technique. Hyperrealist paintings that don't reveal something of the human condition leave me cold.

Mr. W / Lubbock, TX, 2013, 12 x 18 inches
In your painting Mr. W / Lubbock, Texas you have achieved some remarkable atmosphere. Is it fair to say that paintings like this are edging towards abstraction?

Yes. This painting was influenced in part by the work of John Zurier. I'm also a big fan of Frederick Hammersley's geometric paintings, the winter scenes of tonalist Bruce Crane, and anything pre 1900 from John Francis Murphy. I am consciously trying to simplify certain compositions while infusing elements of abstraction and tonalism.

Allsup's, 2013, Acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 inches
What do you want visitors to your exhibition to experience when they see your show?

I want them to have a spiritual experience. Or at the very least, a newfound awareness and appreciation of their surroundings.

Ranch View Motel / Vaughn, NM, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 18 inches
Rod, I know that you also collect paintings: tell me something about your collection.

It's very eclectic; ranging from a 7 x 7 foot canvas by contemporary artist Andy Piedilato down to a 4 x 6 inch study by Richard Estes. A drawing, dating back to 17th century Italy, hangs in our den next to a small 19th century painting by Spanish artist Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala. Scattered throughout our walls are a few modest Hudson River School paintings, including works by A. T. Bricher and Samuel Lancaster Gerry. Most of our collection has come to us by way of trades and auctions. If money was no object, I'd be scooping up works by Ralph Albert Blakelock and John Francis Murphy.

Installation View: Rod Penner Exhibition at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe
Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe
17 October - 23 November 2013

Liu Xiadong: "Hometown Boy"

Painter Liu Xiadong is currently the subject of two recent exhibitions: "Between Israel and Palestine" at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, and "Hometown Boy," at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A leading figure in the "Neo-Realist" movement that emerged in China during the 1990s, Xiadong paints from life -- often in plein air settings -- and has an eye for narrative details, mannerisms, and subtle human interactions. Xiadong's brushwork is deft and direct and the varied locations that appear in his work suggest that his oeuvre is his travel diary. A documentarian with a heart, his canvases strike a balance between blunt description and narrative empathy.

I was able to interview Liu Xiadong -- who lives in Beijing -- with the assistance of curator Zandie Brockett.

John Seed Interviews Liu Xiadong
Liu Xiadong
What can you tell me about your childhood and early background? Did you know as a boy that you wanted to be an artist?

When I was young, my home was in a small village. Over time -- due to the growing paper factory -- the village slowly turned into a larger town. We all lived in one-story homes and all the residents knew each other. When I think about my life then, I think it was very natural. Each house had many children, and all of the children in both my family as well as in other families got along very well.

When I was younger I used to study Gong Fu, but as I got older my parents thought it would be better for me to learn art, so I went to live with my uncle, who was also an artist. When I was about 13, I was selected by my teacher to test into the middle school that was attached to the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. I passed the test and was admitted into the school.

Liu Xiadong, "Self-Portrait," 2010, oil on canvas
In your studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing you practiced oil painting. At the time, wasn't oil painting still seen as a western medium, and an unusual choice?

Oil painting is a Western tradition, but when it came to China about 100 years ago it was very welcomed, as it was very different from traditional methods of Chinese painting. Yes, I studied oil painting when I was at CAFA. We were taught the history and techniques of all the masters from the Renaissance through Impressionism, including Russian Realism: the latter has greatly influenced oil painting in China, and as a result has had an influence on my own work.

Liu Xiadong, "In Between Israel and Palestine #11,"
Oil on canvas (diptych) each 12 x 16 in. 
How did your studies in Madrid influence the direction of your work?

I think it made me think about the abstraction of objects - it really helped my work and my appreciation of the manner in which the abstract form exists. I use an abstract perspective to depict people's attitudes and their mannerisms.

Liu Xiadong, "In Between Israel and Palestine #16,"
Oil on canvas (diptych) each 12 x 16 in. 
Tell me something about your career as a filmmaker.

In the early 90s, movie theaters prohibited anyone from showing their own movies: they would only show works of professional Chinese filmmakers and that which was produced by certified film-making entities. When I was graduating, my friends and I really wanted to freely express ourselves and our lives in our artworks: film was one medium of expression.

At the beginning we had to fund the movies ourselves and find a way to shoot these B+W films. In the 1992, I acted in Wang Xiaoshuai's The Days -- which depicted me and my lover's life -- and which was later chosen by BBC as one of the best 100 films in history. Around the same time, I also acted in Jia Zhangke's Beijing Bastard, which was about life, love and drugs, and the freedoms that coincided with the craziness of young life in Beijing; the film won the Golden Lion award at the 63rd Venice Film Festival. This was the start of the independent film scene in Beijing.

After, film in my life shifted in another direction, as it became more about documenting my own projects and giving the viewer an alternative view into my works. In 2005 I had this opportunity to invite Jia Zhangke to work with me on my Three Gorges Dam project - he produced the two films, Still Life and Dong.

In 2010, Hou Xiao Hsien worked with me to produce the film for my project Hometown Boy, which is the exhibition currently showing at the Seattle Art Museum. This film won the Best Film Award at the Taipei Film Festival and the Golden Horse Award at the Taiwan Film Festival. My involvement with film has greatly changed and shifted over the years, but I feel that it is a new and more open perspective towards my own painting.

Liu Xiadong, "In Between Israel and Palestine #19,"
Oil on canvas, 59 x 54 in. 
Tell me about the range of subject matter in your paintings.

I really like going to places that are in chaos or in a not entirely functional/developed state. I think that these places can more really show people's true attitudes, their lives and the environments in which they exist. I see it as an opportunity to break through these circumstances and in a very honestly manner explore their realities. These troubled environments also give me the power to breakthrough my own preconceptions and perspectives of painting through which I can express my own desires.

Liu Xiadong, "Jincheng Airport, 2010," oil on canvas, 118 x 157.5 inches
Can you briefly tell me about some of the themes and images present in your exhibition "Hometown Boy?"

China's changes and the changes that globalization has brought to China has lead to very significant changes. My hometown is a very, very small town. But the changes that happened there were also quite significant, including the construction of new buildings, the bankruptcy of a factory and the resulting of many people needing to find new jobs. I wanted to go back to my hometown and see this progress so that I could depict it in a way that represented the changes in China on a larger scale. I had to face the pessimism of a lot people.

Liu Xiadong, "Bent Rib," 2010, oil on canvas, 59 x 55 inches
Can you briefly choose and discuss one of the major paintings you are showing in Seattle?

"Bent Rib." I painted the two of my friends from when I was a child. I asked them to stand on the side of the road and discuss their own health, creating a quite a strange scenario. For the most part, you have these kinds of conversations at the hospital or inside of a private space: I think this is an absurd and strange view depiction of the life we live.

Since I live in a country of tremendous change, the realities of the life, and things that happen on a daily basis, often appearing in the news, really start to influence ones thoughts and ideas. When I paint, I like to incorporate many elements that may influence us. This painting is an example of what I have learned from my own daily life: namely that strange things do happen and that you can never guess what you may unexpectedly run into on any given day.

Liu Xiadong, "Li Wu Works the Night Shift and Still Can't Sleep by Day"
2012, oil on canvas, 59 x 55 inches
Who are some other living artists whose work you admire?

Jasper Johns. I feel that works that are seen in few places by few people are the best.

Liu Xiadong, "Green Pub," 2013, oil on cotton duck, 86.5 x 88.5 inches
What are your interests outside of art?

Drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and talking with friends.

Liu Xiadong, "Egyptian Restaurant," 2013, oil on cotton duck, 79 x 86.5 inches
Is there anything else you would like to say about your life or career?

I hope that my work can enter the realities of life and follow its changes. I want my work to have a really natural progression and way of depicting that which I paint.

Liu Xiaodong  
In Between Israel and Palestine
Mary Boone Gallery
September 5 through October 26, 2013

Seattle Asian Art Museum
 Hometown Boy
Liu Xiaodong
August 31, 2013-June 29, 2014
SAAM Foster Galleries

Julie Heffernan: "Sky is Falling"

"If the imagination is shackled, and nothing is described but what we see, seldom will anything truly great be produced wither in Painting or Poetry." 
--Thomas Cole, in a letter to his patron Robert Gilmor, Jr., dated December 25, 1826
Julie Heffernan's exhibition Sky is Falling features eleven paintings that portray the artist's imaginative visions of a world that is blighted and chaotic yet somehow still transcendent. Each painting depicts a vignette that is an enchanted allegory of the artist's anxieties about the future, oxygenated by her imagination. Most are set in visionary landscapes that are simultaneously sheltering and threatening.

The title of each canvas begins with the words Self-Portrait, which are there to remind us that the scenes are portraits of a personal and internal world, not literal depictions of the artist herself. Heffernan paints to try and make sense of things and to reconcile her despair over what man has done and is doing to the environment. Alongside her anger there is an optimistic yearning for healing fused with a pragmatic drive for self-protection and survival. Rich, complicated and paradoxical Heffernan's recent works offer a new Romanticism designed for our damaged planet.

I recently interviewed Julie Heffernan and asked her to discuss her ideas, and to offer narratives for five of the paintings on view at PPOW gallery through November 16th.

John Seed Interviews Julie Heffernan

Julie Heffernan

Self Portrait as Catastrophic Failure, 2013, oil on canvas, 68 x 68 inches

In your PPOW exhibition "Sky is Falling" many of the paintings include landscape settings that seem rooted in Romanticism. Where did you get the inspirations for these settings? 

I grew up in the West, so I'm inclined towards mighty spaces. Cole and Bierstadt's Grand Landscapes, though typically 19th-century romantic, make perfect sense to me: our family's version of a cheap vacation was camping in gorgeous National Parks like Yosemite and Lassen. For Cole, like us, these places got us as close to god as we could possibly imagine being, but at the same time, they represented what we had lost, any kind of real relationship to the natural world beyond what LL Bean could trick us out with.

Self-Portrait as Last Resort, 2013, oil on canvas, 34 x 54 inches

Since each of your works has as aspect of self-portraiture, what role are you asking landscape to play in relation to that? 

I find myself repeatedly drawn back to the landscape to explore my own issues, both planetary and personal. In these latest paintings I wanted to see what sense I could make of the landscape around me after calamities like Hurricane Sandy and the BP oil spill. I've invented alternative habitats, mechanisms for storing food and things we can't live without, like water and books in Self-Portrait as Last Resort. I needed to do this, to imagine another way, give myself a hose to stop all the burning, as in Self-Portrait as Catastrophic Failure, to calm my fury at what I hear and read everyday about the realities of climate change and its effects on people all over the globe.

Self-Portrait as Gulf Clean-up Plan, 2012-13, oil on canvas, 66 x 68 inches

Tell me about the sense of righteous anger and you want these works to transmit and what that anger connects to. 

I see similar furies simmering in the work of Thomas Cole as he confronts the particular struggles of his time: the Industrial Revolution and the changes it wrought on civil society. Today it's the invisible nature of our environmental problems that really drives me nuts. Whether it be Monsanto's poisons creating "superweeds" and "superbugs," or the proposed Keystone XL pipeline running stealthily through the Ogallala aquifer, potentially contaminating our biggest underground freshwater supply, the average person can't see what's happening to the world, because the cause of toxicity can be thousands of miles away, or simply kept secret. These are the kinds of things I was thinking about in Self-Portrait as Gulf Clean-up Plan.

How do these works differ from those in previous series? 

Over the years I've been making paintings that tell stories, but in these paintings I wanted my work to name names, point fingers, show some of the darker corners of American history--greed, empire building, corporate overreach-- and find imagery that shows some of the so-far invisible consequences of our reliance on dirty energy sources and toxic farming practices. And yet, as a painter, I am still drawn to Beauty and Art, to the cultural artifacts that made us Great.

Self Portrait as the Other Thief, 2013, oil on canvas, 76 x 96 inches

What can you tell me about the image of Self Portrait as the Other Thief in which models of Monticello and a Roman Arch are nestled in a tree? 

In Self-Portrait as the Other Thief I'm interested in gods and temples and rituals, and what happens to them when they don't work for us anymore: places like Monticello--an American temple--with its fraught history of incompletion, multiple ownership and familial inter-racial conflicts. Jeffersonian architecture is the antithesis of the kind of tract home I grew up in; it's all permanence and aesthetic sweep in a way that was meant to coordinate with European values and call us to higher purposes.
Detail of Self-Portrait at the Other Thief

But it was a bit of a boondoggle itself: unfinished by Jefferson, it went through stages of dereliction until it eventually achieved historical landmark status, only after it was finished by a Jewish owner. This kind of history reflects a larger American cultural history of grand ideas tempered by conflicting ideologies and foreign influences.

Self-Portrait Running Amok, 2012, oil on canvas, 68 x 42 inches

Is there some optimism in this series? 

In the face of all this I continue to imagine alternatives to it, like tiny worlds inside the knothole of a tree, full of rooms with events going on inside that describe aspects of the human condition: circumstances of failure, feckless action, violence, love and redemption. In Self-Portrait Running Amok the roof is coming down, detritus is piling up, and in the process we're getting rid of things we don't need anymore - like the Pentagon and Exxon Mobil headquarters and all those oil spills. In these new paintings I want to think up new possibilities, distinctly different environments in which to live, breathe, work and travel far.

Julie Heffernan: "Sky is Falling"
Oct 17 - Nov 16, 2013
PPOW Gallery, New York

Rob Evans: "Mystery and Metaphor"

Rob Evans in his studio: Image by Bill Simone Photography

Painter, Digital Printmaker and Curator Rob Evans -- who has lived in a Pennsylvania farmhouse adjacent to the Susquehanna River for three decades -- is the subject of an exhibition now on view at the Baum School of Art: "Rob Evans Mystery and Metaphor." Working from his surroundings and from the seemingly ordinary, Evans has carefully crafted a magic realm that presents cycles of transformation, decay and ephemerality. I recently interviewed Rob and learned more about his background and his ideas.

John Seed Interviews Rob Evans

Rob Evans, "Moth," 1993, acrylic on panel, 24 x 72 inches (triptych)

Tell me something about your early background and how you became an artist. What kinds of early experiences shaped you and your art? 

Since childhood I have always been visually oriented - I believe I was born that way. I was always the kid in school doing the class mural or poster. At the same time, my need to probe for a deeper understanding of the nature of things stems from being raised by two scientist parents (a biochemist and an archaeologist) with an endless curiosity about the world around them. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. with unlimited access to the great art and science museums of the Smithsonian. This exposure to both art and science awakened the sense of mystery in me which is still at the core of what motivates me to create.

The suburbs surrounding Washington D.C., for a young child, were not a particularly inspiring place to grow up. However, during summers and holidays our family would visit a large property owned by my maternal grandparents overlooking the Susquehanna River in south central Pennsylvania. Perched on this property's highest point and surrounded by 100 acres of old growth oak forest was a magnificent 4 story stone inn (named Roundtop). This was the primary residence of my grandparents and I spent many extraordinary summers there roaming the woods, collecting insects, animal bones, old bottles and all kinds of interesting artifacts.

 Experiencing the cycles of life, death, growth and decay first hand in this natural realm opened my sense of the wholeness of things in a way the suburbs couldn't have. This place had a profound effect on my sensibilities as an artist and is what ultimately drew me back there to raise a family and paint. Our farm (located on property adjoining Roundtop) and the surrounding natural landscape are starting points for almost all the concepts I deal with in my paintings.

While I was drawn to the extraordinary beauty of the wooded hills and farmland of the Susquehanna Valley there was also a keen awareness of the push of urban sprawl - the highways, power lines, industries, housing developments all encroaching. Fences, jet trails, dots of light on the horizon or plumes of smoke are all recurring elements in my work and refer to this ever-present tension.

I remember well my grandmother having to temporarily abandon her home at Roundtop during the near meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant back in the 1970's. Its dual plumes of steam are still within view of our family property, less than 10 miles up river and often appear in the background of my paintings. As an artist I am fascinated by this dichotomy of sublime beauty and a foreboding sense of peril and unease - to me, capturing this is what differentiates a 21st century painting from a 19th century one.

Rob Evans, "Pregnant Plant," 1995, pastel on paper, 21 x 28 inches

You have said that your work is "between Regionalism and Magic Realism." How did your style evolve?

I have always been drawn to artists whose works interpret and transform reality in some way. Both Magic Realism and Regionalism utilize a dream like edge that transcends descriptive observation, yet at the same time both are rooted solidly in the real world, inspired by or related to real places, experiences and memories. That connection to place in my work is something I share with Regionalists like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. I think it gives the work a sense of honesty and authenticity. Using the familiar as a vehicle for channeling something larger and more universal is an approach I have taken throughout most of my career, from my early farmhouse interiors like "Power Lines I and II" or "Evening Ritual" to my more recent altarpieces and triptychs like "Origins" and "Movement".

Rob Evans, "Power Lines II," 1987, mixed media on paper, 21 x 25 inches

Insects and elements from the natural realm, the Susquehanna River, fences, doorways and empty rooms, although a familiar part of my surroundings, take on deeper significance, becoming unconventional metaphors for such things as change and transformation, the ephemeral, the precariousness and uncertainty of life's journey and the mysteries of life's cycles and rituals.

Rob Evans, "Fossil," 1997, mixed media on paper, 27 x 38 inches.

Tell me about the ideas and meanings behind your painting "Fossil."

"Fossil" was inspired by childhood excursions to the strip mines located on the mountainside behind my paternal grandparents home near Wilkes-Barre, PA. The devastation had exposed enormous fossils in the slag piles and my brothers and I would find huge chunks of layered slate that opened up like books, revealing whole fern plants embedded in the rocks from millions of years ago.

I became intrigued with the idea of one of these fossils, juxtaposed against the backdrop of that barren landscape with the ominous coal processing plant and scattered human debris all around. On the one hand you have the specter of an environment near the brink of uninhabitability due to human dependence on fossil fuels, yet at the same you have these living ferns, the recent incarnation of its fossilized ancestor, along with trees and other plants reclaiming the landscape. It seemed to be a strange and compelling image with the power to conjure up many layers of meaning and debate.

Rob Evans, "Evening Ritual," 1989, oil on panel, 40 x 90 inches (triptych)

Tell me about your activities as a curator.

Curating for me began as a way to seek out and connect to my roots as an artist as well as to my contemporaries in the current art scene. One of my first curatorial efforts was the exhibit "Transforming the Commonplace" which was shown in 2003 at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, PA. It examined the work of a group of renowned contemporary realist artists who shared a similar interest in working with everyday experiences, events, places, people or objects as a vehicle for expressing something more universal or sublime. It included major works by many artists I had admired over the years including Antonio Lopez Garcia, Vincent Desiderio, Bo Bartlett, Jamie Wyeth, Odd Nerdrum, Tom Uttech, Brett Bigbee, Susan Hauptman, Debra Bermingham, Israel Hershberg to name just a few.

The best part of the process for me was having the privilege to visit some of the artists in their studios to select works, resulting in the forging of new friendships. As an artist who has chosen, at this point, to live and work somewhat away from the urban centers of the mainstream art world, I found it to be a wonderful and energizing way to stay connected to a community of artists with similar sensibilities and interests. I also recently organized and curated a traveling exhibition titled "Visions of the Susquehanna: 250 Years of Paintings by American Masters". Having lived and painted in the Susquehanna Valley for most of my career I became intrigued with the idea of exploring the lineage of artists who had painted here before me.

After much research I was thrilled to discover and bring together an amazing group of works by such prominent historic artists as Benjamin West, George Inness, Thomas Moran, Jasper Cropsey, and Charles Demuth as well as contemporary works by Mark Innerst, Debra Bermingham, Leonard Koscianski, Paul Caranicas, Randall Exon and many others. The exhibit was documented by an 80 page book and received widespread press, helping call attention to the need to preserve and protect this endangered river and its rich artistic legacy.
Rob Evans,"Study for "Movement," 2010, mixed media on museum board, 37 x 33 inches
Note: this work is a study for a 7 foot high free-standing altarpiece currently in progress

What are your interests outside of art?

My greatest passion outside of art is my family. My wife Renee is also an artist and we have enjoyed sharing the process of renovating and transforming our farm into a creative workplace and model for sustainability. We converted the barn on our property into 2 expansive studio spaces, a conference room and private B&B guest room. We have installed 30 solar PV panels on the roof of the barn and have renovated the farmhouse to include passive solar heat as well as geothermal heating and cooling, LED lighting, high efficiency appliances and sustainable materials such as bamboo and cork flooring. 

Both our children, who seem to have inherited the creative gene, are also pursuing the visual arts in one form or another and we enjoy spending time with them whenever possible. Other personal favorite pastimes (which seem to have taken a back seat lately to other things) are playing the banjo, pounding some occasional boogie woogie on the piano, playing ultimate Frisbee and working with various local non-profit organizations involved in land preservation, arts advocacy and environmental issues.

Rob Evans, "Origins," 2007, oil on board mounted to aluminum, 84 x 76 x 6 inches

What do you hope viewers will get from your current work?

At the most basic level I just want each of my paintings to be enjoyed as a mysterious and beautiful physical object with a richly painted surface and a sense of history behind it. Then, hopefully, through entering the illusory reality of the painted space, they can engage with the intrigue and mystery of the subject matter as it is transformed by the artist's vision. Finally, as they look deeper into the work, hopefully they begin to discover additional layers of meaning that perhaps connect with events or things in their own life. As this happens, perhaps they begin to get the meaning I intended, or perhaps they find their own personal meaning for the work - each is valid.

Rob Evans, "The Patio," 1984, mixed media on paper, 17 x 21 inches

My hope is not to lead them along with any specific narrative or message but instead to keep things slightly open ended - allowing room for interpretation. No matter what meaning they find, they will have lost themselves for a brief time in the painting, and, as a result, hopefully will leave it seeing the world in a slightly different way. Art can have this amazing impact, expanding the scope of our lens on the world to see, appreciate and contemplate things we might have otherwise overlooked or ignored. 

There's a favorite story of mine that illustrates this point. It revolves around an exhibit I participated in a few years ago called "The Object Project." Fifteen prominent artists from across the country were given the same 5 objects and invited to create paintings for a national touring exhibit. The group included such uniquely visionary artists as Will Wilson, F. Scott Hess, Steven Assael, Daniel Sprick, Robert Jackson, Debra Bermingham, Scott Fraser, Michael Bergt and Pamela Sienna among others, and resulted in a fascinating, Rorschach Test-like interpretation of these fairly mundane five objects, one of which was a cheap blue plastic hand mirror from a chain store like Walmart.

The work I created for the show, my large altarpiece "Origins," had returned to my studio when the exhibit tour ended and a patron, who had heard about the exhibit, came in to see it. The original blue mirror was sitting on a table nearby and this patron suddenly stopped in his tracks and shrieked "Oh my God - that's THE MIRROR!" and picked it up like it was a rare religious icon. It was fascinating to me how this whole project had elevated these very un-ordinary objects into something extraordinary, illustrating very vividly to me the power of art to transform and enrich our perception of the world around us.

"Rob Evans: Mystery & Metaphor"
  The Baum School of Art
510 W. Linden Street Allentown, PA
Sept. 18th - Oct. 19th
Artist Talk: Thursday, October 10, 7:30 pm

Adam Miller: Towards a Contemporary Mythology

Adam Miller has taken on a very ambitious task for himself: the creation of mythological and allegorical scenes that pose human figures in invented settings. The first phase of his career after art school -- painting large scale murals often inspired by Tiepolo -- came to an end after he realized that most of his clients simply wanted decorative backdrops. In his current easel paintings Miller has demonstrated an ambitious desire to re-visit and re-examinine mythological archetypes as they cope with challenging and contemporary situations. Miller has just turned 34 and his precocious transcendence of the norms of classical realism makes him an exciting and dynamic figure worth watching.

I recently interviewed Adam Miller and asked him about his work and his values.

Adam Miller

John Seed Interviews Adam Miller

When did you first know that you were an artist?

I always drew and was lucky to have plenty of art materials around. My parents were involved in theater and my mother also painted murals so it seemed very natural to spend time creating and drawing. At first I was convinced I would be a comic artist, illustrator and writer. I would practice perspective, anatomy, and write stories.

At around 14 I discovered Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and later Diego Rivera and Jose Maria Sert. I saw that they were using all of the same pictorial tools and devices I was interested in from comics but in a large simple language. They did not speak about individuals as contemporary fine artists tended to do but about the classical idea of the individual in the context of society. They were more interested in elucidating character through action in relation to other people who would react. As someone interested in writing and narrative this made sense to me as a way to build a pictorial language capable of expressing more than just a mood Which is what most modern figure painting seemed to be trying to do.

Adam Miller, "Twilight in Arcadia," oil on canvas, 100 x 72 inches

In a recent interview you spoke about being a Humanist, and about disliking categories and systems. Tell me more about those values and how they affect your artistic practice.

From Voltaire and Swift to Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin The Humanist role has been to say I think we can do better and to oppose authoritarian ways of limiting thought. As a way to explore this process I have become very interested in the idea of the transference. The way human beings have built in powerful archetypes and will transfer those archetypes onto an external object or idea enlarging that person into a celebrity or that idea into a dogma or religion.

Currently we do this with science. It has such power and I see people constantly taking it out of its realm and boundaries and inventing pseudo science in areas where we simply are unable to seriously apply scientific method. This can lead to absurd conclusions. One of the areas I observe this happening is in art.

Detail of "Twilight in Arcadia."

I see a lot of artists and critics building elaborate theories and making sweeping statements about what art should be in it's narrow and imaginary historical context. these ideas masquerade as genuine intellectual discovery but are basically empty sophistry and agenda pushing. It reminds me of the credit default swaps that were so effective because they were supposedly based on such profound almost alchemical mathematics from the scientific priesthood that they were unquestionable by mere mortals and yet at the heart they were essentially empty hiding behind a wall of mystique and jargon.

I think as a society we need to push the occupy wall street model where people start calling out bullshit when we see it or we will most likely slip into a new form of feudalism where citizens give up their rights not by becoming repressed or enslaved but by losing confidence in their ability to shape their own society.

Adam Miller, "Apparition," oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

You have told me that you admire representational artists who turn away from marketable categories of work such as portraits and still lifes. In what ways are you trying to move away from known and accepted genres?

I think there is so much more that figure painting can do than what is commonly being represented and shown. I am always trying to push the boundaries of stories and scale in my work. Classical figure painting is by it's nature a time consuming and slow way of painting which makes the challenge of doing the more ambitious paintings even greater but I think it is important to make those paintings that tell bigger stories about life and culture. I was never interested in just making pretty pictures. I also think the market for realism is very tilted toward small easy to hang pieces. Since seeing the works of artists such as Michelangelo and Tiepolo this has never been very satisfying for me.

Adam Miller, "Oasis," oil on canvas, 74 x 53 inches

You define yourself as a contemporary mythologist. Tell me how you generate that sense of myth in your work.

I view the source of myth as going back to the very beginnings of human culture and representing a continuity that still exists in society's big stories. I try to find the common archetypes of character and also explore the popular mythology of today as a new source of concepts and inspiration. 

My current series is based on hunters and I took inspiration form the idea of Artemis as the huntress of Greek mythology. She lived to hunt and represents that part of the human genetic make up. She was not cruel but simply unforgiving as nature itself is. I love that art can make these sub conscious forces conscious again. Whether we like it or not we are still dominated by these archetypes.

When we are mowing down trees or farming animals in concentration camp conditions to feed our never ending hunger we are still acting out the same drama our distant ancestors did when they took life to feed their own. Beyond our relationship to nature we are doing the same to our culture. The inefficiencies must be cleared away. The beautiful and artistic is being ruthlessly stripped from our cities and lives in favor of efficient freeways and shopping malls so we can more easily feed a never-ending hunger.

As artists I don't think we need to be activists we simply need to look as clearly as we can at the world with a larger reference to human history and find a clear visual image that can bring that elemental force into the consciousness of the viewer. It is when these forces are not appreciated for their attractive power as well as their danger that we get into trouble.

Adam Miller, "The Roses Never Bloomed so Red," oil on canvas, 96 x 60 inches

Who are some artists -- living and dead -- that you admire?

I like artists who have mastered their craft. In that I include composition storytelling, technique. Odd Nerdrum has had a big influence on me. His fearlessness to paint with all of his heart to push himself to his limits and to stay true to his vision wherever that led has led to the creation of a great body of work.

Detail of "The Roses Never Bloomed so Red"

I also admire Vincent Desiderio, Julie Heffernan, Steven Assael and Nicola Verlato as well as my peers among younger painters who are carving out a vision and perfecting their craft and language by long hours in the studio. I think there is a great movement of representational painters coming into their full blossom right now that will surprise alot of people soon and will be hard to ignore.

Adam Miller, "Among the Ruins," oil on canvas, 79 x 57 inches

Your work seems to have recently changed in mood and coloration. Why is that happening? 

I am looking at every series I make right now as one in a series of concentric circles building towards a center. It is a late medieval structure like the one used in Chaucer's Canterbury tales or Boccaccio's Decameron. As I continue I will keep shifting each new series in the direction of a different palette and compositional style. I like the idea of astronomical forms because it reflects the idea that at the center is a source of life and creativity and different states of existence can be closer to that source. As an individual I think we are all searching for that source for ourselves.

The sun represents the energetic mover or what you could call love in the solar system, that thing that generates the order and life we see around us and of which we are both an individual part and a piece of the whole. Among the Ruins from 2011 was a very remote planet where only the smallest glimmer of the suns radiance is felt. The hunters or the moon represent the place where love is present but the animal need to survive is very strong and overwhelms compassion. The creatures that are being hunted are ethereal mythic creatures of the imagination. They are the delicate thoughts and sentiments that can be so hard to hold on to in the face of everyday reality.

 Note: Adam Miller's painting "The Roses Never Bloomed so Red" will be on display at the LA Municipal Art Gallery on October 12th and 13th as part of "Beyond Eden."