Monday, May 12, 2008


Hope Valley Morning, 2007
oil on canvas
(c) Phyllis Shafer

Of her commission to do a painting of Yosemite in the Fall of 2004 for the Yosemite show at the Autry the NMA, artist Phyllis Shafer has said, "I felt Bierstadt on my back, but I was honored, and felt very positive, that it was a challenge." She adds that as busy as Yosemite Valley is, you can’t diminish the grandeur, the sense of being enveloped, cradled. She describes the fronds in the foreground of the painting, drooping from the snow. "I love the gesture of these things in the foreground. I’m a foreground fanatic. I luxuriate in the textures and colors of the foreground."

When asked if her work is meant to proselytize for conservation, Shafer explains that she would rather volunteer to help directly in conservation, and just enjoy her painting for itself. Her initial response to the gesture of the land is to dance. She says the rhythm and movement and vibrations affect her style. "I'm looking at landscapes emotionally – I crank them up, the colors also."

She starts very broadly, very loosely. She ends up with about twenty layers of paint. After seeing the size of some of the paintings in the Yosemite show Shafer explained that she would like to learn to paint bigger, and "lose those tiny brushes."

She often torques the perspective so you can feel the periphery. When you're actually there you're aware of everything. Your eye connects colors in their saturated and muted forms.
She mixes burnt sienna and ultramarine to make a dark paint for her background. She takes a rag and spreads it out on the canvas. Since she paints outdoors she wants to do away with the glare from a white canvas. She does a 'take-away' drawing with stiff brushes and then she extends her palette. She says she creates a cartoonish flattening of forms, but she really wants that rhythm. She says she can’t make a horizontal line (contrast that with Maynard Dixon across from her!). "You develop your own language to tell your story." She says it's all there in the field--probably 2/3 of her time on a painting, and then in her studio she does the other third focusing in. At one point she said, "I never want to put a structure in."

Research note prepared by Kathleen Durham and Lois Smalley.