Some artists strive for more abstraction — or at least less detail — in their work. And some get a helping hand from the weather.

Mary Bentz Gilkerson, an artist in Columbia, South Carolina, says all her paintings start off as very abstract pieces featuring large masses, and she zooms in only when necessary. In this case, when the temperature suddenly dipped below her usual South Carolina comfort zone, Gilkerson had to finish up a little more quickly. This dovetailed nicely with her desire to leave the foreground less developed. “In this case I really wanted to focus attention on the group of trees at the back, so I used the abstract light patterns in the foreground to lead the viewer’s eye in to that,” she says. “I’ve found a good painting starts off with good abstract bones. Then you can make it as representational or abstract as you want. If the balance in the light-to-dark pattern is right, the painting will work.”

Gilkerson goes on, “I am in the midst of an artist-in-residence at the Congaree National Park near my home in South Carolina. It’s an area that I’m very familiar with and have painted in many times before, but it’s exciting to experience it in a new way. Congaree National Park is a bottomland forest, an enormous area of swamp in the floodplain of the Congaree River. From a high ridge covered in tall pines and smaller oaks, the land drops off very quickly into a dense, swampy forest of tupelo and cypress. It’s an area I have very close ties to. When I was growing up, my sisters and I were allowed to play and roam at will on family land on the bluffs just across the river from the park, so when I walk there I feel like I’m breathing in the scents of my childhood. One of the things I’ve found in my daily painting practice is that you can revisit the same spot, the same piece of earth, over and over again, and it’s new each time. The time of year is different; the time of day is different; the way the light plays across the surfaces is different. All of these facts mean that there is an almost unending array of possibilities for the interplay of color, light, and form. And that’s what happened in this painting. I was eating my lunch at about 2 p.m. on a cold afternoon after a long walk through the woods. While sitting in a clearing at a picnic table, I noticed the way the light was playing across the surfaces of a group of pines at the edge of the clearing and making long, extended shadows across the pine straw covering the ground. The ground was dappled in light, leading like a path up to the group of trees whose trunks were spotted with the same light. I had to get my paints out. It was too cold to get caught up in details, so it was a very quick painting, maybe an hour. I’m finding painting outside in the cold is speeding up my processes considerably!”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here