For years I treated the landscape as a backdrop to my mostly figurative paintings. I rendered trees, mountains and fields as nonspecific swaths of color and tone. It wasn’t until I began traveling with my wife, Jill Bartelt, that I started feeling the urge to revisit the beautiful places we had explored. These landscapes became imbued with meaning and memory and I wanted to extend those brief vacations into days and years. Fortunately, my wife takes wonderful photographs of our trips and it is her photos that I use as the inspiration for all of my paintings. Her photos give me the luxury to wander slowly through the places we had come to love and led to the discovery of new painting techniques and methods.
I’d always been quick and direct with paint, slapping it on straight from the tube, but my desire to depict details like the subtle play of light on stone called for an indirect, layered technique that is best achieved with thinner paint. I haven’t used solvents (turpentine, mineral spirits) to dilute oil paint since 2003. I discovered I could achieve a thin fluid paint by making it myself; I hand grind dry pigments (Gamblin) into linseed oil. With this slow, indirect style, painting became a meditative process and close observation revealed details about the landscape I hadn’t seen at first glance. For instance, while painting the rock tombs of Myra, Turkey, I noticed a warrior with a huge circular shield carved into the cliff face (center left of painting). I found that the more I painted in this method, the greater my appreciation was for the land not just in far flung places but also close to home.