Portland artist Scott Gellatly found worlds to explore in the clouds for his upcoming solo show, “The Sky Suite,” on view at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland, Oregon, through November 30.
Many of us have done cloud studies, but Gellatly discovered that paintings of clouds offered a deeply involving variety of challenges, especially when the horizon line was cropped out of the scene. “By completely removing any element of the horizon line, I opened up the composition,” Gellatly says. “It made for a great challenge — working to ensure an engaging composition with a foundation in landscape painting but without a horizon line. How do I divide up the composition without showing a horizon line?”
“Northwest Sky #6,” by Scott Gellatly, 2013, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Courtesy Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland, OR
Gellatly achieved the soft look characteristic of most clouds by mixing colors more on the surface than on the palette. The detail featured here shows a bit of the artist’s brushwork and approach. “This section of ‘Northwest Sky #6’ shows the variety of mark-making that I used throughout the whole series of paintings,” comments Gellatly. “There are softer transitions of color and value that allude to a more atmospheric, airy quality of the sky, juxtaposed with sharper, crisper marks to describe the more solid structure of the cloudscape. Within the muted colors, there are distinct temperature variations that offer a push and pull of pictorial space, and these areas are broken up by the lighter, purer blues to punch through to clear sky. Also visible in this section are defined brushmarks against the smoother areas of manipulating the paint with a palette knife. In this series of paintings in particular, I felt that the more ‘painterly’ the approach, the more convincing the result became.”
Gellatly came upon the theme for this show almost by accident. He was in his backyard with the easel set up, testing out some paints for the company where he’s employed — Gamblin Artists Colors — and keeping an eye on his two young sons. He needed to paint. He looked up. Above him, the clouds were dramatic. “After doing six or so of these little cloud studies, I fell in love with the process,” Gellatly recounts. “To me, in these small paintings was a great little microcosm of plein air painting — responding to a fleeting element of the landscape and capturing it as honestly as possible.”
“Northwest Sky #3,” by Scott Gellatly, 2013, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Courtesy Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland, OR
He continues, “The other thing that was interesting about this series was that it totally transcended location. It came out of my backyard, looking straight up. But I could do it from the front seat of my car on a small thumb box on my lunch break. I painted a couple of pieces behind my kids’ school while they were playing.” Gellatly used some of the studies to paint larger, 18″ x 18″ studio paintings. In all, he ended up with more than 25 pieces — and the artist feels they are more significant as a group than any single one separately. “The installation was going to be important,” he says.
“Northwest Sky #7,” by Scott Gellatly, 2013, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Courtesy Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland, OR
Clouds are ephemeral. They come together, they break apart, they change shape before your eyes and move across the sky. How do you paint something that is ever-changing? Gellatly says he approached it in several different ways, creating a composite of direct observation, memory, and invention. He tried to capture the “shape and personality” of the clouds, but felt free to add features of the clouds that suddenly appeared during the process. But most pieces started with one moment. “When one part of the sky stops my eye, that is what I want to paint,” he says. “It may be the condition or quality of light that I want to paint, or an interesting shape. That particular aspect of the cloud will certainly change during the painting session. The painting is a balance of staying true to that thing I wanted to express in the first place and letting the painting evolve along with the changes in the sky — taking into account features elsewhere in the sky.”
“Northwest Sky #8,” by Scott Gellatly, 2013, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Courtesy Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland, OR
So none of his paintings are highly accurate portraits of a particular cloud group. This doesn’t bother Gellatly in the least. He considers this aspect of the paintings to be squarely in the plein air tradition. “You can never capture all of the elements from the entire time of the painting session faithfully,” he points out.