In the Right Place
, by Michael Albrechtsen, 2010, oil, 24 x 30 in. Courtesy Legacy Gallery
, Jackson, Wyoming
Society and artists themselves regularly refer to artists as creators, but Michael Albrechtsen is careful about this use of the word. During our interview he referred to the quote attributed to Michelangelo: "Only God creates. The rest of us just copy."
"That's a huge connection with me, to be out there and see what he created for us to enjoy," Albrechtsen says. "From Michelangelo
on down to George Inness
, there have been artists who believe in God and believe he is the true creator of things. I don't believe that we can re-create what we are seeing out there. I try instead to create the emotion, what I felt in the scenery, since I can't re-create what he did. I try to re-create that sense of serenity and peace."
The artist is somewhat reluctant to discuss this nature of his work for fear of being misunderstood. "I don't want it to come across like I'm saying, 'Here I am and God is telling me what to do.' It's not like that at all," he says. "I'm not saying that God is guiding my every move when I paint. It's more me trying to express my feelings about God. When I get outdoors I feel closest to God than just about anywhere else you can be."
Albrechtsen says he thinks his views on God and landscape painting are natural, considering the emphasis his family put on both faith and nature when he was growing up. "Because of how I was raised, my connection of the outdoors with God's creation was always there," he says. "My dad would take us camping all the time, and we went to church often, so it just seemed natural. When I got older I realized that I was trying to express the beauty of God's creation.
"The rest of my family has a talent for math and numbers and engineering. My talent, which was given to me by God, is my eye and sense for artistic things. I am supposed to express my feelings of what I see out there, how I feel about a subject matter, my individual experience in a location. I think that is what God would want us to do. And maybe if somebody else looks at a painting by an artist, by me, they can get that same feeling."
Recently, Albrechtsen experienced a painting project that felt even more spiritual than a plein air excursion. He was commissioned to paint a 10 x 70-foot mural at a Mormon temple in Kansas City, and the experience was so powerful, it has altered his working method.
"When I paint outdoors I get a sense of what's around me, and that is God's presence," he says. "But in the studio, I don't get that. Music can help. But when I was working on that mural for the Mormon Church, knowing that I was working in a building where people were going to worship God, that brought a very strong sense of responsibility, and it was an even stronger experience than I get outdoors. There was a sense of guidance that I felt; even color choices came to me in a different manner than they would if I were painting in a studio. It made me think of things in a different way, with a different process.
"I'd be a liar if I didn't say that I like to paint something that looks nice and has some nice brushwork and nice colors and is technically impressive to show people what I am capable of doing. In this mural, I didn't really do any of that. Everything I put in that painting was to enhance the experience of people coming in to worship. It wasn't for me to look good. It was a totally different experience, and it's been fun to see how much of that I've maintained in the things I've painted since then." For more information, visit www.michaelalbrechtsen.com