Although its been years now since I’ve last seen one of Ferdinand Hodler’s stunning paintings in real life, I can remember clearly the day I was introduced to his work. It was a bitterly cold January day in Switzerland— so cold that my eyes felt like they were freezing in my skull. My friend and I dashed into almost every shop we saw on the walk to the Kunsthaus Zürich to briefly escape the pain. Once inside the museum, I was thrilled and stunned to find the expansive and colorful works of the famous Swiss artist. He painted hundreds of portraits of his lover Valentine Godé-Darel as she slowly withered away from cancer, and a few of these intimate moments were on display. I remember her open mouth, gasping for air and her eyes just slits of pale green, hardly open; she seemed barely conscious. Her imminent death felt tangible. I spent a long time in front of that painting. I also marveled at Hodler’s expressionistic and reflective landscapes, especially those painted at dawn, in pale yellows and blues such as Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc with Pink Clouds (1916). Free from details and composed of symmetry, his paintings are full of such muted and realistic light that I can squint my eyes and imagine I’m there with him. His paintings and the blue shades he mixed reminded me of my family home in Lake Tahoe; and there, in that art museum in Zürich, after ten years of vigorous study and travel, I longed to return to my mountain home.
I’ve thought of these paintings often as I continued my travels and finally returned home in May 2013. I’ve spent the last two years reconnecting with family, building up my permanent art studio, drawing and photographing. Life has taken on a slower pace and I find I am finally digesting and distilling all I’ve learned and experienced. As I laid out all the information and drawings that would become my paintings, I realized I had created a show based on the color blue, combining the energy I felt from Hodler’s portraits with the dreamy colors he used in his landscapes.
Conceptually, blue is traditionally associated with peace, serenity, authority, wisdom, confidence, truth, and faith. Blue is cool, deep, and wet, just like Lake Tahoe. There is nothing that brings quicker emotional clarity or physical relief for me than diving into her calm waters. On a more literal level, I noticed a majority of the new pieces developing in my studio were predominately blue. I was feeling a little blue and started listening to lots of jazz, Chris Isaak and Bonnie Raitt in the studio. My blue eyes were thick with tears, my heart was full and it felt good.
Physically, I love to carve my subjects into the canvas with oil paint, starting with the skeletal structure and layer-by-layer, I add musculature and clothes. I prefer to work on large canvases that give me room to be expressionistic and very gestural. I am interested in the relationship of a person to their surroundings and how they fit, or don’t fit in with that particular microcosm. I am also interested in the idea of revealing versus concealing and have a natural tendency to find and exaggerate special facial expressions, physical attributes and body language to create a certain tension.