Kenneth Salaz grew up in Arizona, but he is fully immersed in the Hudson River School of painting. Of course he would put the two together. The New York artist explains his work in the desert, done through the lens of a Westchester County artist. 

Salaz moved out of New York City, up the river, specifically to be able to paint more Hudson River paintings in the style of paintings by artists he admires, such as Thomas Cole, Sanford Gifford, and Frederic Edwin Church. His work earned him a Hudson River Fellowship two years in a row from Grand Central Atelier. Still, he always remembered “the intense light effects … and the magical glow the land would have in response to the light” that he noticed in the Arizona desert, even as a small child. He combined this vision with the techniques of the Hudson River School of painting in this piece, executed outside of Tucson.

“I convinced my cousin to drive me somewhere in the desert where there would be water during the sunrise,” Salaz recalls. “He thought I was crazy, but he managed to find me water. The benefit of being trained in the Hudson River School became apparent immediately. First of all, the Hudson River School focuses so much on a unified light quality throughout the painting. Secondly, they often used subtle transitions of colors — not bold, sharp changes in hue. This made it easier for me to capture the moment in its entirety by focusing on the gradation of values in the landscape, as well as the subtle changes in hue that were happening in the sky — by not trying to be ‘over bold.’ Thirdly, the Hudson River School often uses a base color of burnt umber or burnt sienna, as you can see in a piece such as Sanford R. Gifford’s ‘A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove).’ This technique of using a brown underpainting with subtle shifts in value and hue helps me simplify the complicated landscape with all its details and complexities.”

Salaz continues, “The challenges were also there. The Arizona sky, particularly in the morning and at sunset, has these amazing blazes of color that shoot out of nowhere and light up the sky like fire. They happen very quickly and don’t last long. The Hudson River School approach of building the values of a painting in a slower process makes it more difficult to catch these ‘blazes’ when they occur. In addition, another challenge was capturing one particular moment of light in time. When the sun rises in the flat desert, the light changes very quickly — it just washes over the entire landscape, as opposed to when you are painting in a valley in the Hudson area or in the Catskills. The Hudson River School technique was developed in these valleys of the east, and I had to adjust the speed at which I was painting, as well as the notations I was making on the canvas, in order to capture the rapidly changing moments of light.”


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