… What I’m interested in finding are the colors that are equivalent to those objects in air. I find that trying to use local color is almost a guaranteed way of missing it.
This is from Realists at Work by John Arthur (1983). This is from the studio interview with Neil Welliver:
[ … ]
John Arthur: Your move to landscape painting started in Maine, is that right?
Neil Welliver: No. I think, and this was very important to my painting then and is now, the nudes and the landscapes were the same thing. A Chinese painter, Jay Yang, said to me once, “Oh, it was so exciting to see the fish, the nudes, and the trees; everything was painted with the same touch and the same intensity.
J.A.: Your scale and way of using paint seems to stem more from Abstract Expressionism than from the landscape tradition.
N.W.: Yes. I think that’s accurate.
J.A.: But the paintings are based on direct observation.
N.W.: Very strongly. You’ve seen the drawings and small paintings. You see the wedding of those two things.
For me the energy in a representational painting flows on two levels, and for many painters I think it doesn’t. One level is the material and the canvas. Sometimes whole sets of relationships and “energy flows” take place on that level, and whether you see the image or not is immaterial. Then there’s another level of observation of objects and space — natural associations. The simultaneous presence of those two aspects of the painting is what I’m interested in.
J.A.: With the best Realist paintings, one can literally have one’s cake and eat it too. Everything that one responds to in an abstract painting is present, and yet there are all of the connotations of the image.
N.W.: But one thing about a lot of good Realist painting which does not interest me is the delineation of volume. For me the volume is volume that moves from the surface of the canvas into the space — total volume. But the description of the volume of forms — that kind of tightness stops the energy flow I’m talking about. That aspect of the Realist painting is of very little interest to me.
J.A.: I think there are two ways of describing form in a painting. The one most of us learned had to do with the volumetric description of form and stems from Cézanne and Cubism. But volumetric form can also be defined by light and dark, à la Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Eakins. Both ways are accurate and valid.
N.W.: I remember one time Paul Resika was here and I showed him a brook that is a sea of boulders. He walked in and said, “A feast of planes.” A feast of planes. For me there were no planes at all. Instead, I was seeing a great energy flow of light, fragments of light whistling along the brook and back through the total volume we were looking into.
[line break added] The idea of immediately focusing on the object and its planes — I wasn’t seeing that at all. I was looking at something extremely obscure, not light in the normal sense, light bathing objects, but light in the air, flashing and moving like a flow of energy through space. That interests me greatly. That’s what my paintings are about.
Neil Welliver, Midday Barren, 1983
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J.A.: But I read in Edwin Denby’s interview [for the Currier Gallery of Art catalog] that you’re not really interested in attempting to duplicate nature or its local color. Are you only after ambience?
N.W.: No. In fact, to paint what’s out there, you would have to have a tube of air because of the air and light which surround everything. What I’m interested in finding are the colors that are equivalent to those objects in air. I find that trying to use local color is almost a guaranteed way of missing it.
My most recent previous post from Arthur’s book is here.