New Works by Michael Kessler
Schmidt/Dean Gallery, 2015
Where an artist lives has a huge effect on the work that they produce. For the past 20 years I have lived and worked in the Southwest and most of the time I've been in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Recently I set up a new studio in southern Utah near Bryce Canyon National Park. In the Southwest it's all about altitude which determines the amount of moisture that exists which in turn determines the flora, fauna, and geology. Basically the higher the altitude the greater the moisture. The difference between 5000 feet and 7000 feet can be quite profound but the difference from 7000 feet and 9000 feet can be extremely dramatic. At 9000 feet there's enough moisture to support a forest. My current studio in Southern Utah is right next to the Dixie National Forest which consists of 2,000,000 acres of heavily wooded highlands. It is basically an oasis in the sky.
My studio in Santa Fe is surrounded by a large expanse of Pinion and Juniper trees. Each year from February through May the Juniper trees produce an enormous amount of pollen which causes a very strong allergic reaction. Happily I have discovered that my studio in Utah is free from this pollen so I retreat to escape the allergies. This year I came to the Utah studio with the intention of producing a new body of work for my upcoming exhibition at Schmidt/Dean Gallery in Philadelphia. I had already begun a new series of paintings, called the "Slant" series and had every intention of continuing that work. The power and beauty of the environment in southern Utah quickly grasp my attention and I began to play around with a few new ideas in the studio. I mixed up a dark forest green and started playing around with the paint letting it run and thinning it out to make washes. I allowed the green to suggest forms and foliage of the trees that surround my studio and then contrasted that with the aspen tree qualities which also surround my studio. Suddenly I had a new and exciting series of works underway. Each day I would spend hours hiking through the forest observing it closely. Back in the studio I would allow those observations to manifest as I played with the Forest Green and the Aspen qualities.
The painting process that I have developed over the last 40 years can be applied in many ways however it seems to be tailor-made for paining the forest. All the elements of the forest can be depicted through the layering process resulting in a well-integrated matrix. It's as if all these years I've known that I would wind up painting the forest and needed to develop a process even though that was not my intention as I moved through the decades. As a very young aspiring artist I took to the woods where I observed closely the rich and complex set of elements but my early attempts resulted in illustrations. Now 45 years later I have a fully-developed painting process that is completely capable of reflecting that rich matrix while retaining the primary identity of "painting". That is to say these are paintings first and depictions of the forest second.
I related this new development to the owner of the Schmidt/Dean Gallery and happily he had a positive feeling for my enthusiasm so we decided to make the new exhibition about this work. Chris Schmidt and I have worked together for 25 years so we know when something good is coming down the pike.
The thing that I find really fascinating is the way that its possible to take a really traditional subject matter like trees in the forest and approach it with imagination and innovation to produce work that is somehow new, fresh, and contemporary.
Michael Kessler, 2015