Sunday, August 02, 2015

Looking at Artists: Peggy Root and Tamie Beldue

We visited the Blue Spiral 1 art gallery in Asheville today.  It's Asheville's largest gallery and represents a great variety of artists and crafters.  You can tell that they have standards because they don't represent me!  The current exhibition shows new work from a few of their stock artists.  Two of them really caught my eye: Peggy Root, a landscape painter, and Tamie Beldue, a figurative artist.

As discussed in a number of earlier posts, I've been doing a lot more landscapes over the past couple of years.  And I've been largely frustrated and disappointed with my results.  My paintings wind up being overly literal and too specific, with colors that are either too intense or too muted, and values that are either too dark or too light.  The result is too often a clash of things vying for attention rather than a harmonious image where everything pulls together.  So when I see somebody who can really paint a good landscape, I look at how they handle particular passages and compare that to how I might have blundered through it.  And as I saw today, Peggy is a really good painter, and I learned quite a bit just from looking at her works.

Marshes Connecticut
Oil on canvas
Artist: Peggy Root

Here's a sample of her work.  To start with, she has an eye for good composition.  The distant hill and the treeline is in the upper third of the painting, the stream is in the left third, reflecting the trees and sky.  The marsh is a mid-value, muted green area that sets off the dark and light areas.  There is a nice, natural balance to the arrangement.  Everything fits together and contributes to the mood.

Speaking of mood, all of Peggy's paintings that I saw had strong emotional depth to them.  Too many landscape paintings by other artists look like snapshots with all the depth of a Twitter tweet, but Peggy's show real feeling.  It's like she's saying "I was here, and it was beautiful, and I want to share that joy with you."  That's not an easy thing to say with paint.

One of the things that I noticed with her work is that she builds them up in layers.  For example, a tree may start with an ultramarine blue block-in, then have a layer of muted dark green, then a lighter warmer green, and a stronger yellow-green in the lightest areas.  These layers will usually not have hard edges - they'll be blended or scumbled to suggest foliage rather than define it.  That's one area where I typically fall down: I try to define too much.  Compare her painting of marshes (above) to mine (below):

Butler Beach Marsh
Oil on panel, 9"x12"

Peggy's is calm and contemplative, with strong composition, excellent use of light/dark, and colors that naturally go together.  In mine, I got sucked into trying to depicting every weed and matching colors as accurately and literally as possible.  It would have been much better to paint the greens as areas of broken color rather than tons and tons of vertical strokes.  And I should have done better in selecting and painting my lights and darks - the reflected light on the water, for example, should be much brighter than it is.  But that's the way I saw it at the time, so that's what I put down.  And so you see what I mean between Peggy's suggesting and my defining.  

 I saw that Peggy teaches workshops occasionally.  I'm going to try to take one.  You, meanwhile, should go to her website and take a look.  Or, better, go to Blue Spiral or one of her other galleries and see them in person.  They're so much better in real life.

The other artist that made an impression on me was Tamie Beldue.  Tamie teaches drawing at UNC Asheville.  She came long after I'd already graduated, but I've talked with her a time or two.  Blue Spiral is currently featuring a number of large mixed-media drawings, mostly graphite with watercolor, pastel, and encaustic.  Here's one that's typical:

Portrait on a Porch Swing
Graphite, watercolor, and encaustic, 52"x35"
Artist: Tamie Beldue

What I liked about Tamie's work, besides the fact that she can really draw, is her use of soft and lost edges.  She uses sharp edges, strong value contrasts, and colors to draw the eye, with reduced contrasts, soft and lost edges, and muted colors (if used) to suggest the structures in other areas of the work.  In this example, the young woman's eyes are the darkest and sharpest part of the work and are the primary focus.  The secondary focus is on the junction of the hands, and here the values and sharpness are almost, but not quite, as pronounced as around the eyes.  The shirt is depicted to some extent, enough to indicate what she's wearing, but as your eye moves away from her eyes, there's less and less detail, to the point where in some places there's pretty much nothing.  If you don't think it works, imagine this drawing with all the details of the shirt, bench, jeans, and wall included.  It doesn't work, does it?  But how many artists do you know that would include all that stuff?  Most, I imagine.

Like Peggy, Tamie is very good at establishing an emotional connection in her work.  Her figures are real people.  The process of drawing them from life is long, meaning that quiet will necessarily be an important part of the image.  Tamie manages to find the quiet part of her subject's personality and capture that in the image.  I can appreciate that.  In my own figurative drawings, I try to get something of the subject's personality on paper.  I draw in a much more rapid and sketchy manner than Tamie, and that works for me.  But one thing I can take from Tamie and try to apply in my own work is a greater use of soft and lost edges.

So.  Blue Spiral has a good show up right now.  Go see Peggy and Tamie's work.  If you can't make it, at least go online to the Blue Spiral website, or to those of Peggy and Tamie.

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