On Memorial Day, Kansas painter R. Gregory Summers posted three paintings, all of cemeteries. He says that these works were both pleasant and thought-provoking to paint, and useful for what they ask of the viewer.
“I’ve always loved cemeteries,” he says. “As a kid in the Flint Hills of Kansas, there was an old cemetery where we would play Hide-and-Go-Seek, and try to scare our sisters and cousins at night. Now I like painting in them. They are so peaceful. Painting in cemeteries, it’s hard not to think about all those who have passed before you. I’m also interested in battles and history. If I can get other people to think and remember, I will. I posted those paintings on Memorial Day because it is a time to remember.”
Summers’ trio of paintings do more than serve as a reminder of what Memorial Day is about; it also charts the changes in his painting approach over four years. The earliest of the three, “Cemetery Ridge,” showcases the more saturated colors Summers favored in 2011. “That one was full of fall color, with bright contrast,” says Summers. “I didn’t even know how to use gray back then—there’s not so much mixing.”
“The Guns Are Quiet Now,” by R. Gregory Summers, 2013, oil, 9 x 12 in.
On his way to the American Impressionist Society show, in Charleston, South Carolina, Summers painted “The Guns Are Quiet Now,” a battlefield cemetery in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, caught in early morning light. “The daunting task was all those bazillion tombstones in front of me, ” the artist recalls. “I thought to myself, I love this scene, but how in the world am I going to capture all of this? I can’t paint all of those! But I think it turned out really well.”
In April, Summers taught a workshop in Macon, Georgia, and it rained for much of the trip. “At the end of the workshop the sun peeked out a little bit after a lot of rain,” he recalls. “I was beat from the workshop, but I had to take advantage of the sun. I was catching the humidity at the end of the day, trying to keep things muted with grays and very little pure color.”
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” by R. Gregory Summers, 2015, oil, 12 x 16 in.
Summers has painted in cemeteries in the country and in rough parts of the city. They are all restful. “Even in one cemetery that was in an old part of Kansas City that is a pretty rough neighborhood, it was very quiet and peaceful,” he says. “I was kind of worried there at the beginning, but it was a different world inside a world.”