Think about the way a crowd moves through a museum or a gallery.
It is that gliding, lateral waltz – the museum sidestep – choreographed to the wall surfaces that make a museum.
Despite a generally linear flow, as the eyes alight on each canvas, the mind is sent on expeditions to wild and unpredictable places.
For some artists – like Kent Sullivan, our Artist of the Week — these wild and unpredictable places are raw material for inspiration.
“I am convinced [that] if an artist wants to learn from the best, then he or she must study the very best of the very best,” says Sullivan.
To him, that special sector of “the very best” is the Hudson River School. He is a present-day pupil of the mid-19th century group of Romantic American painters.
“I don’t just love and appreciate the Hudson River School artists,” he says. “I feel a kinship to them.”
Each Hudson River School motif – a cavernous clearing, a wandering system of branches, an echoing gorge – is a habitat for crouching inspirations.
Sullivan’s museum trips are like a pedagogical hike.
To the landscape artist, “paintings in those museum intently studied yield more information than most colleges and universities can ever offer.”
He studies the great masters of the mid-19th century movement of Romanticism and collects a mental log lessons that he brings home to his own studio (an efficient space with an oak easel, everything orderly and shipshape).
He remembers one exhibition in particular, a traveling showcase of Thomas Moran, that had made a stop in Washington D.C.
“When I came back to my studio [after seeing the Moran exhibition], I was so energized and ready to paint,” he says. “It was both a learning experience and a wonderful motivational experience,” he says.
He recalls his study of the single exhibition lasting a remarkable eight hours. Moran’s work had fueled and sustained his visual voyage – the paintings were his sustenance, like a trail mix the eyes.
Sullivan proves that, like any other river, the Hudson River is still in flux. He courses the best of his kindred artists’ energy into the contemporary world – that turns the mill of his own distinctive and sophisticated style.
On this unique perspective, he says, “I am in a generation of artists who not only see the world from the plein air perspective, but also have grown up seeing the world through the lens of photography, big screen movies, iPhones, television, and all sorts of mass media.”
He establishes a current current. His paintings dredge a 21st century clearing for the Romantic Hudson to flow.
He creates, what he describes as, “traditional art with the contemporary perspective.”
While Sullivan is a realist who paints landscapes in traditional oil paint, he always sharpens with an informed, modern edge by integrating technology into his practice.
His fidelity to his style – old traditions with a contemporary twist – is almost idiosyncratically consistent.
Even the lighting in his studio eddies the traditional with the contemporary.
“I do have natural light in the studio; but, I add to that light candescent, halogen, fluorescent (yes, fluorescent!) and color correct lighting,” he explains.
To those with the customary fluorescence-fear, his rationale is actually rather, well, enlightened; his logic: to paint in the light in which the painting will be viewed.
And, while he does not succumb to the (practically required) artist’s antipathy towards artificial lighting, he does have his own peeving grievance.
“Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, that is just wonderful, it looks just like a photograph!’” he says.
Of course, he takes the words as a compliment; he knows that was the words’ intended assignment. But, he strives to capture something more than mimesis.
“For when you are at a place in nature, – the Grand Canyon, a salt marsh, the highlands of Scotland, the rugged seacoast – you do really want to capture that emotional euphoria that you experienced in that moment. That is what I am aiming for artistically. Not a merely accurate depiction of a scene, but a true sense of the place,” he says.