The Luminous Landscape
Philip W Nichols infuses vibrancy into his landscapes with craftsman's patience and skill.
By Gussie Fauntleroy
He'd have been happy in the era of his shipbuilding ancestors in new England, taking time for the craftsmanship, for noticing the the nuances of nature, for reading Greek philosophy. Here and now, Philip W Nichols lives a twenty-first century version of the skilled, patient, and observant life. He takes time and finds pleasure in the work of his hands: painting, drawing, creating bas-relief sculpture, and doing fine woodworking, including construction of his own handsome silver-leafed frames.
But there's a paradox: Nichols' richly-colored landscapes vibrate with immediacy and passion, as if they sprung onto the canvas in a flash, instead of arriving through the time consuming process actually involved. Through the swirling, spirited movement of clouds, water, and leaves we sense the excitement of the animated natural world. The artist achieves this effect by applying countless small spots of paint and subtle glazes, choosing colors that reverberate agains each other to create the impression of intense yet natural hues.
Schooled and practiced in both classical realism and abstract impressionism, Nichols has developed his own system of abbreviated marks to render his impressions of the landscape - impressions informed by a well-trained eye, yet sparked by the energy and emotion of his personal experience. His recent series of river scenes, for example, were inspired by the first landscape he encountered in northern New Mexico: the cottonwood-canopied banks of the Rio Grande near Embudo, where he lived in a log cabin with a small adobe studio.
"I fell in love with the river. This was basically my front yard." he recalls, nodding toward a painting in which cottonwood branches bend over the river and the water is filled with multi-colored reflections of autumn leaves and a brilliant blue sky.
Viewed from a distance, the scene is clear and convincing, yet up close the image dissolves into it's underlying elements of texture and paint. That's an aspect of Nichols' art that satisfies his love of the purely compositional process, as well as conveying the beauty of the land itself.
"Even though I'm working from nature, it's as much an abstract painting as it is a landscape." he explains. "I start with a drawing and then flow into color and play with the paint. I love looking at all these colors and surface. I like taking chances. I get bored if it's formulaic. I ask what would happen if i did this? - like this! That's what experiment and innovative play is all about."