May, 2003
Interview questions for: The Young Impressionists Show

Artists: Tim Bell, Stephen Griffin and Abigail McBride
McBride Gallery 410-267-7077 - June 8 to June 22, 2003

Lineage and History of American Impressionism
"The Road to Annapolis"

Q: Impressionist art has been around for more than 100 years, what is it about Impressionism that still captivates the art lover?

McBride: People are attracted to the beauty of light and color. Impressionism is more about light and color than anything else.

Bell: Only the surface of Impressionism has been scratched; nature has an infinite variety of motifs for the painter seeking to paint the truth.

Griffin: The viewer can feel and relate to an Impressionist painting when the artist captures the beautiful color harmonies of a particular day.

Q: What do most people expect to see in an Impressionist painting? And how does that differ (or coincide) with what you are trying to convey as an Impressionist painter?

I think people expect to see loosely painted landscapes when they think about Impressionist landscapes. My landscapes fit that definition for the most part. However that does not tell the whole story and that is certainly not the whole point. I am hoping that my landscapes will communicate the beauty of outdoor light and give some sense of the rhythmic beauty of the organic shapes and patterns found in nature. The slightly more unexpected thing is that the principles of Impressionist painting (light and color) can also be found indoors with still life and interior scenes.

People expect to see girls in white dresses and straw hats, white picket fences, usually nostalgic images. I’ve seen things in nature that really move the soul. I want to show people the beauty of the creation. If you are inspired, you will have something to say.

Griffin: I am trying to paint what I see in nature, capturing the emotion of that day in a way that will move the viewer.

Q: What are some of the popular misconceptions of Impressionism?

If it is fuzzy or loose, then it is Impressionism. Not true! It is a general tendency for most Impressionist painters to paint loosely but that is not what defines Impressionism.

That the manner, or technique of applying paint in small dots, dashes, loosely, or with a palette knife, and then using so-called “candy” colors is “Impressionist.” The truth of nature is usually not sweet, but a deeper beauty, even somber. Impressionism is putting paint on canvas in your own way, well drawn (rendered), letting nature reveal itself in the truth of its color.

Q: What drew you to Impressionism over any other style of art, particularly styles that may be more readily understood, or perceived as more ‘mainstream’ or contemporary?

It just happened. I don't remember choosing Impressionism over any other school of painting. I believe it is the most beautiful blend of technical mechanical realism and emotional passionate response to the nature’s beauty, of all the schools of painting.

I saw paintings by others and thought, "I’ve seen that too!" I just wanted to express the beauty of nature and felt Impressionism was the best way.

Griffin: One must study the past, but not live in the past, to be contemporary as an artist. One must incorporate the principles of Impressionism to the visual language.

Q: How does American Impressionism differ from French Impressionism, if at all?

I think the American Impressionists have a little more interest in turning the form, giving a three dimensional appearance to objects. I think the progress of American Impressionism is in using the French Impressionists’ revolutionary understanding of color and light and applying that to an academic understanding of drawing.

Bell: I think American Impressionism is really a further development of the original ideas of the French Impressionists.

Impressionism is a language of color and light begun by Monet, being understood and uncovered by its students today. The ideal would be to marry the Academics of Monet’s day with Monet’s emphasis on color and light for a more truthful painting.

Q: How do your Impressionist paintings differ from the Masters of the 19th and early 20th Century?

Bell: Hopefully they will be a further development of Impressionism, mainly in color, although right now most of them were better colorists than I am.

Griffin: Right now I am trying to walk in their shoes and master their understanding; only then can I press on.

Q: More specifically, what would you say is your unique ‘signature’ within the Impressionist style? Or, what are you hoping to achieve?

McBride: I'm much too young to have a signature within the whole of Impressionism. I'm just getting going here. My only hope is to paint the most beautiful paintings possible for me to paint in my lifetime. If my paintings can reflect a tenth of the beauty I see all around me I will have accomplished a great deal.

Bell: As of yet I don’t feel I’ve brought anything to the table. Aside from developing my skills, I’m not sure what I want to achieve. But really, I’ve only just begun.

Griffin: I am trying to paint colors that express a particular day.

Q: If someone were not familiar with Impressionism, how would they go about discerning a great Impressionist painting from a not-so-great one?

Well, first they should determine whether it is a great painting period, apart from it's participation in the Impressionist genre. The things that make a great Impressionist painting: Can they tell what time of day or type of weather it is in the painting? Is it beautiful? Does it remind you of anything you have seen or experienced? Does it have a "real" feeling? Does it look like there is "air" around the objects or does it look like flat cardboard pasted onto a flat surface. Impressionist paintings are meant to be a reflection of reality and our experience of the world.

Do you like the painting? Does it say something to you? So much is in the eye of the beholder; it is a great painting if you love it.

Griffin: An artist passing by while I was painting gave my painting the greatest compliment for an Impressionist painter. He said, “Wow, that’s a good painting, you really caught the spirit of the day!”

Q: Describe the popularity of Impressionism over the years and what the future holds for this style of art?

McBride: I think people have responded on an emotional level to Impressionism without necessarily understanding the technical matters and philosophies that drive it. I think the future of Impressionism is secure because it is really another level of understanding, which will be built upon, as opposed to a style, or fad, which will inevitably pass away.

Bell: It wasn’t popular in the 60’s and 70’s and now it is. I think the key is ‘what is the artist trying to say’? If you are saying something about a timeless thing, you won’t go in and out of style or in and out of popularity. If you are painting nostalgia, well, you better be ready to go out of style because it is not a constant.

Impressionism fills museums with people.

Q: Name and describe the Impressionist painter(s) who most influenced you.

McBride: Henry Hensche - a master colorist who used color changes to turn the form and took Impressionism to the next level of reality, Cedric and Joanette Egeli - portrait painters who bring together Hensche's understanding of color and an academic understanding of drawing, John Ebersberger - a landscape and figure painter who combines lyrical drawing with Hensche's color perception, Mary Cassat - a figure painter who explored the everyday intimacies of life, combining brilliant draftsmanship with Impressionists’ sensibilities, and Frederick Carl Frieseke - a figure painter who painted some beautifully modeled high key paintings

Bell: George T. “Tommy” Thurmond, as far as painting goes, he gave me a life. A great man.

Griffin: Right now, Claude Monet, Charles Hawthorne, Henry Hensche, George T. “Tommy” Thurmond, Robert Gruppé, Emile Gruppé and Daniel Garber.

Q: Describe the plein air, or outdoor painting, experience.

Invigorating! When you are out in the field everything is beautiful and everything seems possible. A plein air painting is more than just the artist and the painting; it is the entire experience of that day. The light is so fleeting it becomes all the more precious a thing to capture. Sometimes the weather and the landscape interact physically with the painting. When it snows the crystals get in your paint and give the surface a grainy texture. Both hands and paint are stiffer in the cold and you can find yourself having to pile it on just to get it to stick! The hot summer sun gives you slick paint and a fluid arm. The wayward insect makes a permanent home in your painting. Pollen and sand, sun and rain - these are the things that make up the outdoor experience - they make their way into the plein air painting. Each painting is a memory of that day. Everything shows up in the painting- what you see, how you feel, what you are thinking about. Maybe even what the passing critic said! It's making me want to run out and paint just talking about it!

Beauty in front of me, beauty beside me, beauty behind me. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to paint it but could rather just admire nature.

Griffin: Painting from life is expressing what you are seeing. To paint a landscape you have to be out there, having a relationship with it, seeing and feeling it to get it right.

Q: How is plein air painting unique to Impressionism?

Impressionism is observational painting. The Impressionist painter is attempting to convey the fleeting effects of light. In order to observe the light you must go to it! That makes any true Impressionist an automatic plein air painter.

Bell: For me both are the same, attempting to paint the illusion of reality, the impression of the landscape.

Griffin: Some people paint “plein air,” others are Impressionists.

Q: Bugs, rain, arduous travel, why paint outdoors at all?

All of the things that make painting outdoors difficult are the very things that make plein air paintings so special. Without those elements the energy is lost and that is inevitably reflected in the work. These things can be complained about or they can be embraced.

Bell: Go outside and look and you'll see for yourself. Not just the passing glance, really observe. A friend once told me "nature reveals herself only to those who love her and court her". I've been painting the landscape for ten years now and my relationship with her is as exciting as the day it began. You will never run out of inspiration if you go to nature.

Griffin: The truth has to be seen.

Q: What are some of your favorite painting locations? Why?

I like Amos Garrett Park under the Naval Academy Bridge. It's one of the best sunset spots in town. Because it is a park, it's not cluttered. The sun goes down on the other side of the water and gives a beautiful view of a large expanse of sky. It offers expanses of water and grass to contrast the busier elements of bridges and foliage. I also like downtown Annapolis, at the harbor in the early morning and late afternoon. The intimate relationship between the sky and the water offers a peaceful resting place in contrast to the boats and buildings.

The inside of my house is a great painting location! Things catch my eye as I putter around and are revisited later as paintings. China in the cabinet, flowers on the kitchen counter and apples in a bowl.

Bell: I have so many favorite spots! Painting has afforded me the luxury of travel to many beautiful places. Usually it's fellow painters who lead you there, sharing their discoveries. I have to say the Isle of Skye, in the northwest of Scotland is my favorite. It’s a most inspiring landscape and also very challenging due to the elements. Definitely not the place for the painter who is looking for excuses not to paint! I love the challenge of painting nature when her mood is one that we tend to avoid. And when the sun does shine, it shines like nowhere else!

Gloucester, Massachusetts, Tilghman Island and Deale, Maryland – it’s wherever I see something I want to capture a few truths of the emotion and tempo of that day.

Q: What are some of the more interesting things that have happened to you while painting outdoors?

I have seen some truly beautiful things. Once I saw sunlight break through the clouds and come racing along the surface of a frozen lake I was standing on, until it overtook me and raced on past.

There was one time I had an unexpected adventure with the elements. It was a calm summer evening and I had just finished a sunset painting. As I was putting my palette back in its box a huge gust of wind came up out of nowhere. My easel started skittering across the sidewalk on all three legs. Holding my palette with one hand, I chased after my easel. As I caught the easel with one hand the wind grabbed my palette like a sail. It flipped onto my head. I struggled to pack up my gear in the now relentless wind. Once in my car I checked the rear view mirror to see if there was paint in my hair. I saw nothing so I put my hand up only to feel something wet. My hand was covered with huge globs of paint. Oh, my goodness! When I got home I knelt by the tub to wash the paint out. I watched the soap turn every color of the rainbow. I must have washed my hair 5 or 6 times to get that lather to stay white. Usually the most dramatic part of a sunset painting is the color in sky. That night it was the color in my hair!

Bell: Once I was painting in a park near LA. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a large group of people coming up the trail that passed behind me and they stopped to watch. This one person was talking and being what I felt was just a little too descriptive. Imagine my surprise when I turned around and realized the person talking was guiding a group of the blind through the park.

Griffin: I see God’s creation revealed before my eyes.

Q: Do people find it easy to approach you while you are painting in public?

They must because I get approached all the time!

Bell: I’m definitely approachable. I enjoy talking to people who are interested in painting and I like to know what they do in life. The fact is I'm usually not in very public places when I paint. I have a tendency towards the uncrowded landscape, a field or the side of a mountain, more rural. It’s great because that is where I've met the most interesting characters. If you are standing on a hillside in the highlands and a farmer mending his fence comes along, you can be pretty sure he'll have something interesting to say.

Griffin: Yes

Q: A show dedicated to three younger contemporary Impressionists is rare. What would you like the collectors to take away from this unique exhibit?

Paintings that they love. Also, the realization that Impressionism is not a painting style stuck in the past. It is a living, breathing, building block of understanding for an entirely new generation of painters. The three of us are just getting started.

Bell: I know Steve and Abigail are as excited about painting as I am. I would hope that the work reflects our enthusiasms and that people really enjoy looking at the paintings. Hopefully so much so, everyone wants to take one home with them!

Griffin: This is the beginning. We have only just begun! Please come, watch, and see where we go. For we know from whence we came, who we are, and where we are going!


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