SEPTEMBER 30, 2020

Q & A: 20 Questions
(PART 2)


Summer has passed as a blur and we're knee-deep into fall already and it's been four months since I first started this blog series! 


As some of you may know, I've been working feverishly to create new paintings for my solo show opening in early November at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago. However, I wanted to take a moment, before finishing one last painting, to pick up where I left off on the Q & A. In addition, I recently enjoyed an interesting text-versation with my friend K about perceived differences between some of my paintings relative to grids and rectangles versus circles and ovals, so I'll light on that question, too.


Q. Do you have any regrets about becoming an artist?  When I was in high school and then during the first couple years in college, I thought I was destined for the sciences, either as a veterinarian or neurologist. The love for science has never left. I suspect that's why I love fossils and geology so much, and also why I ended up as a very analytical landscape artist. Years later, at this point, I can't imagine not being an artist. I've become incredibly visually attuned to my surroundings, possibly innately. I believe painting has become my primary language and that I communicate most effectively through art.

In addition, I can't imagine a higher calling than that of an artist. You might ask "How does Landscape Painting factor into this?" – I believe landscape painting, like all art, is vital because landscape artists notice and note their surroundings and the natural world in a pictorial format that can be shared and viewed by others. Artists illustrate qualities that might be missed in an ordinary passing by. Artists challenge how the viewer sees or perceives the world we live in, sometimes by holding up a conceptual mirror and sometimes by providing a window or pathway to see and think about the world differently. 

In addition, any given space will eventually cease to exist as it currently is, due to consumption and climate change. Landscape artists serve as analytical historians of a sort regarding our ever-changing surroundings. In a myriad of ways, paintings serve as a visual commentary of human impact or desire or influences. 

There is so much to say about this topic that one blog entry can hardly begin to scratch the surface!  



Wetlands; oil and graphite on panel, 18" x 24"



Q. I heard someone ask another artist to describe his work in 3 words – what words would you use to describe your work?  Analytical, architectural, innovative


Q. What materials do you use and why?  I use Ampersand Gessobord panels, Gamblin oil colors, and Cretacolor Monolith woodless pencils.

I use Ampersand Gessobord panels for their archival qualities and resistance to warping.

I use Gamblin oils because it's a small American business and they vouch for their archival and colorfast qualities. I love their paints' finish or sheen quality when the paint is dry. If I have any questions, I can simply email or call them and get real answers from the people who make the paints. Additionally, they're very involved in recovering the excess chemicals that would normally escape into the environment and they return those chemicals to consumers as pigments/paints. Gamblin is also in the forefront of creating safer oil colors as well as other types of paints and mediums.

My experience with Cretacolor Monolith woodless pencils has been that they are consistent as far as density and lack of impurities. 


This combination of materials guarantees archival qualities and timeless performance which are important to me and my collectors.





Q. Why so many birch trees?  I suspect that it has something to do with growing up in Michigan and also traveling to areas where birch trees, and aspen trees, too, grow. I simply love the stark contrast of their white bark in an otherwise dark forest or browns and greens. The calligraphic quality of the black leaf/branch scars on the tree trunks appeals to me, too - nature's mark-making. Quite a bit of mythology exists regarding birch trees, as well. I sometimes wonder if that stems from the branch scars appearing like many eyes that watch you as you walk in their midst.  



Birch Trees and Snow; oil and graphite on panel, 24" x 20"


Q. Why do some paintings rely on grids and rectangles while others seem to rely on circles and ovals?  

The paintings are not only about grids or architectural frameworks but also about geometry and how simple geometric shapes are used to convey universal or everyday objects. As an example, many of my paintings incorporate ovals or circles to represent leaves or rain or snow, within the architectural grid. 


In the case of Summer's End (see below), the painting is about the seasonal color change of lily pads floating on a lake's surface. The grid is less overt, and ovals were incorporated to create/suggest the ripples on the water surface and also the lily pads which float on top of those ripples.


In the case of the Untitled painting that follow's Summer's End below, the ovals convey the interaction between patchy shadows and dappled sunlight shining through the trees on a sunny day in my front yard. The grid serves as the architectural pinning or skeleton on which these elements play.




Summer's End; oil and graphite on panel, 18" x 24"


Untitled; oil and graphite on panel, 16" x 20"



If you have any questions that haven’t been touched on yet, please visit my contact page and send them to me – I welcome hearing from you!


If you're planning to visit Chicago between November 6 and January 9, please visit Zolla/Lieberman Gallery to see my upcoming solo show: Distillation of Space. The gallery will be hosting two openings: Friday, November 6, from 4 to 7pm, and Saturday, November 7, from 1 to 4pm. In order to ensure the protection and comfort of guests and staff against the spread of Covid-19, the gallery will be implementing a series of safety measures: two opening receptions to alleviate overcrowding, enforcement of standard guidelines including mandatory masks, and limited occupancy of gallery spaces. Zolla/Lieberman Gallery promises to provide a safe and clean gallery setting where you can enjoy artwork that merits an in-person experience. Please stop by, enjoy the artwork, and say hello!



June 13, 2020

Q & A: 20 Questions
(PART 1)


Friends and family have asked me questions about my art over the years. After a recent conversation, E and J suggested that I aggregate some of those questions and answers in a blog. Like the “20 Questions” game, we talked about what might be the top 20 questions I’ve been asked. Over the next couple months, I’ll post these questions/conversations.


In full disclosure, more times than not, long after the conversations have passed, I would ruminate over my answers and think of additional and significant points I should have added or phrased differently, so I’ve incorporated that gift of time and reflection into the answers here.


Q. How did you become an artist? I was always creative but didn’t intend to become an artist until my (1st) senior year in college. I had thought I would be working in the sciences somehow, possibly as a neurologist or vet or something like that …



Q. What made you change your mind? I always felt I had a talent and, even though I initially disregarded it, I was happiest when I was creating something. I wasn’t always a painter, though. I worked with paper-making and made wall reliefs that I painted. I also worked with clay and made hand-built sculptural vessels. After my cat knocked over and destroyed a batch of vessels that were drying, I realized that I didn't want to create work that was so vulnerable to my living situation, and decided that I needed to create work that could be stored on the walls. That became the impetus to a return to 2D artwork, and I began making collages of cut-up paint chips over which I drew and eventually painted. This was in the late 90s.



Q. Did you always paint this way? No. Eventually the collage aspect transitioned to drawn and painted grids as my inspiration turned to what I was seeing as I walked to and from work when I lived and worked in Chicago: trees, clouds, other buildings, cranes, etc. were reflected on the glass-and-steel window grids of the buildings I walked past twice a day as part of my commute. I found it interesting to note that I would look at something reflected and assume that what I saw in the windows was real even though I didn’t have direct experience with it. I started thinking about how we apply this idea of accepting the reality of our surroundings without needing to have direct experience. We see things reflected on windows, or through windows, or on a device screen, and believe they are real. 


Sometimes this is out of necessity - not everyone can travel to another continent and see what the environments and people’s lives look like there, so we have to rely on photos and video to inform us. However, a lot of people never break through this plane, and tend to always see and experience their surrounding environment through windows or via their devices, never actually coming into actual contact with the outside natural world.


And so my painting journey found it’s direction and voice: exploring and abstracting how we perceive and/or experience the outside world, aka the “landscape”.





Q. Why geometric shapes? As I analyzed how we perceive our surroundings and the landscape, I thought about how much of our communication consists of symbols to represent common elements or scenarios, and many of them are configurations of simple geometric shapes – for example, a house, waves, clouds, rain drops, and the list goes on. In certain contexts, when we see a box with a triangle on top of it, maybe with a couple smaller rectangles reversed out of the larger rectangle, we know it’s intended to represent a house even though very few people actually live in a house that looks like that. In fact, if you ask a child to draw a house, they’ll begin with a rectangle/box and a triangle. 


At the same time, a lot of geometry exists in nature. The planet is a sphere. The sun and stars are gaseous spheres. Raindrops cause ripples on the surface of water that radiate out in concentric circles. Several minerals form in naturally occurring geometric structures. 

As I painted, I abstracted and applied these concepts of simplified geometric symbols and inherent geometric patterns into my landscapes. Over time, as I've continue to explore places and analyze the aspects of those places that speak to me, my painting vocabulary stretches and expands and evolves.  


Now, add the fact that humans (and all vertebrates) have binocular vision (2 eyes). One of the resulting implications is that we can only focus our vision on one pin point of whatever we are looking at – everything outside of that is out of focus. Despite that, we know what we are looking at. 


When you look at a tree, you might focus on a leaf, and the rest of the tree will be out of focus but you don't doubt that you are looking at a tree. If you look beyond the leaves and focus on a part of the tree trunk, you don't doubt that the out-of-focus fluttering green things that you are looking through or beyond are leaves, but they’ve lost their defined shape because you didn’t focused on them. I apply this sort of perceptual abstraction to my paintings: some elements are specific and some are abstracted into geometric shapes.






Check back in the near future for the next blog and more of "20 Questions"! The following are a few that will be answered in the next blog:

Q. Do you have any regrets about becoming an artist?

Q. I heard someone ask another artist to describe his work in 3 words – what words would you use to describe your work? 

Q. What materials do you use and why?

Q. Why so many birch trees?

If you have any questions that haven’t been touched on yet, please visit my contact page and send them to me – I welcome hearing from you!


April 1, 2020


I recently returned from an inspiring trip to the northeast coast of England, in and around Whitby. All you Bram Stoker/“Dracula” fans will be familiar with this town, or at least the abbey.



I was there for about 12 days, during which I saw some amazingly beautiful rugged coastlines, quaint villages and rolling moors dotted with sheep and horses, and it felt like I was living in a blissful bubble. 







Fast forward to now – I’m thankfully back home in the States and self-quarantining in my home studio but this is definitely not the same world I left. 


As we all stay in place, we’re affected differently. Some people are prepping their gardens. Others are baking or sewing things. Still others are taking online classes. 


I need to paint, to find grounding and solace in creating – that’s not really all that different than other times of stress and anxiety. What is different is the subject matter that I’m mentally able to paint. Several of the paintings I had prepped before leaving England are now stacked up and waiting for another time because they don’t feel relevant to me now. During this time of anxiety and fear, I’m compelled to create paintings about passageways, about the hope of getting through something.

I’ve attached a photo of one of these paintings and some photos of work in process images.







Stay tuned as I add images as the paintings unfold. 


In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep your distance but stay connected. If you want to check out more paintings completed recently, click here.



Facebook     Instagram

Sitemap | Rhonda Gates Paintings 2020 All Rights Reserved - V11.12.19 |