"Top of the Mountain"

Top of the Mountain.jpg

Winter scenes are really challenging to paint I think. Winter reduces everything down to a minimum of colors. Think about it...in the springtime, mountainsides are covered with bright green new growth on the trees and meadows are filled with blooming wild flowers. Summer is filled with deep greens. Autumn is nature blazing with wild oranges and reds. Winter is...nothing. Winter reduces nature to black and white. So winter scenes pose a problem for the painter...

How do I make Winter interesting?

This recent painting is entitled "Top of the Mountain" and it basically is a mixture of three colors: Black, blue and white. You probably can't see it in the photo, but the blue...there are areas of cool blue ("Ultramarine blue oil paint for those who care) and warm blue (Thalo blue). These really are the only two blues I use for any of my artwork. And then there are areas of each of these blues that are grayed down with just a bit of dark brown (Burnt umber). The blacks are all a mixture of the ultramarine blue and the burnt umber (I never use just raw black paint from a tube). Mixing black with the two color components allows me to vary the shade of black, because I can cool it down with a bit more of the blue or warm it up with a bit more umber. Easy, right?  

So the challenge with any winter scene is to work more careful than ever with composition and value, so it helps the eyes know exactly what to look at in what order. It also is a real challenge with very minute variations in whatever little color there is. It's a great exercise for the eye balls! 

So next week is Thanksgiving and some of you will be visiting...ASHEVILLE! Excellent choice. Please consider yourselves invited to visit my studio in the River Arts District and you can see a variety of winter paintings I have ready for adoption. :)



"How do you decide what to paint?"

Johnsen Commission concept photo (for future 30" x 60" painting)

Johnsen Commission concept photo (for future 30" x 60" painting)


One of the questions I'm often asked is how I decide what to paint. That question is most easily answered if said answer is dictated by the desires of a client for a painting that is commissioned. Obviously, for a painting commission, the client tells me what they want. That makes it easy (and usually a lot of fun because the subject could be almost ANYTHING).

When I'm just painting something to fill my walls here at my art studio in Asheville, then the answer is a lot more subjective. I usually am trying to keep an ear open at all times to what seems to be resonating with people as they enter my studio/gallery. That helps dictate what I will be working on next. See, my work station (where I do 85% of my work) is located just inside the door to my studio, so I'm right there, meeting and greeting people (and hopefully) painting. I hear people's comments (sometimes they crack me up!) so I know what is interesting to people. That helps me so much when I need to sit down and figure out what to paint to replace something that's sold.


One thing I've learned is to think one season ahead. Right now it's autumn. But right now, I've got an entire wall full of winter themed paintings and I've got more in the pipeline. The winter scenes are hot now through the holidays. As soon as "REAL" winter settles in and we're under snow pack and fighting freezing rain and sleet, then the appeal of snow scenes wears off. But that won't happen until January 1. As soon as it hits January, I'm painting spring scenes and by May, it's full-on summer scenes. I think this is because the human heart loves to anticipate the next season, but when we're "in the MIDST" of that season, we get bored and are longing for the next season. This is all new to me -- I grew up in southern California and we really didn't have much in the way of seasons at all, but the rhythm four seasons in Western North Carolina brings to life is just wonderful I think. I'm so glad to be living now in a place with four real seasons, because I love to paint all four (the Blue Ridge Mountains are spectacular all year round).

When I'm painting an abstract, then usually I just take a look at the "in" colors that are hot for decorating and I use those colors. Usually.

In the end though, I paint what makes me happy. There. True confessions. That's how I decide what to paint. Enough writing now...back to work.


"Valley of Shadows"

Valley of Shadows.jpg

Valley of Shadows

In September 2017, Joy and I visited a good friend in Munich, Germany. While there, we explored what is left of the concentration camp at Dachau. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and felt. 

Visitors to Dachau are very quiet. It's a horrible and holy place. The weight of the evil is still there. You can still feel it. I think it will always be palpable. It should be. I left Dachau needing to express my own grief. This painting is that expression.

Notes about Valley of Shadows
1) Featured on the far left of this piece is the iron gate with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes you Free). This gate was the way in, but rarely the way out.


2) Moving to the right, set against and gray and blue stripes reminiscent of the uniform prisoners were given to wear is the gold star of David, beneath which are the countless souls who suffered here.


3) Moving to the far right, I inserted a scene from the Arch of Titus in Rome, featuring Roman soldiers carrying off the menorah from the temple in Jerusalem (another time of absolute grief and horror). It is at this point, against the blackness, I inserted a symbol of hope. Hope is displayed near the far right of the canvas, carrying the eye off the artwork...onto...what? That is what hope does -- carries our imagination into the unknown, with the assumption that goodness and beauty and life is coming soon.


"Even when I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death,
I will not fear, because You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

Forest of Autumn Gold

Forest of Autumn Gold.jpg

Living in Asheville, North Carolina as an artist in the River Arts District, I don't see many birch trees in the woods around here. Western North Carolina has river birches and they're nice and all, but we do not have proper "paper birch" trees. Thankfully, I don't have to just paint local scenes (though I do end up celebrating the mountains and trees of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains more than anything else). This painting, "Forest of Autumn Gold" is based on my memories of a certain October thirty four years ago when Joy and I visited the state of Maine on our honeymoon. Birch trees (proper paper birch!!) were everywhere. I remember the sound of the leaves in the wind roared like a waterfall. So beautiful.

Birch and aspen trees are magnificent in art. I lump them together simply because with my somewhat impressionistic style, I paint both birch and aspen trees in a similar manor. They are graphically perfect! Black on white. What a great design!! And they stand out against the foliage perfectly in any season. Seriously, in winter, spring, summer or (especially autumn), the tree trunks of the birch or aspen trees always stands out against the color of the leaves. Think about it...what other tree trunk steals the thunder of it's leafy canopy like birch or aspen? Okay, the Sequoia Gigantia in California probably wins but that's the only other tree that does. 

So I celebrate the beauty of autumn in Maine (or Colorado, depending on whether you see these as paper birch or aspens). Either answer is correct. Cheers!

Then and Now

A few weeks ago, I was staring at (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful statues in the world, Michelangelo's "David". The piece is absolutely astonishing. At the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence, there are several other statues by other artists and I could not help but compare them to David. The difference is astonishing. The other pieces I saw were beautiful and skillfully worked, but in no way could be compared to David. Other pieces had arms but David had blood vessels and sinews. David is nearly alive. The skill to create such a masterpiece is mind boggling. That much is patently obvious.

David (2).JPG

Michelangelo's "David"

As opposed to the "victory pose" over the fallen giant Goliath, Michelangelo's David appears to depict the youth just moment after he has made the decision to fight giant but before the battle has actually taken place, a moment between conscious choice and action. His brow is drawn, his neck tense and the veins bulge out of his lowered right hand. His left hand holds a sling that is draped over his shoulder and down to his right hand, which holds a rock.  The twist of his body effectively conveys to the viewer the feeling that he is in motion, an impression heightened with contrapposto (an asymmetrical arrangement of the human figure in which the line of the arms and shoulders contrasts with while balancing those of the hips and legs). There is your art history "lesson of the day". This classic pose causes the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposing angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. The contrapposto is emphasized by the turn of the head to the left, and by the contrasting positions of the arms.

Compare and think...

So that was then, this is now. Times change I guess. See, when I got back home to the States, I saw a poster of a statue Picasso had created and I could not help but compare it to David, just as I compared the other statues I saw in Florence. So here's a good little exercise for you: Compare and think. What are you thinking? (I'd really like to know.)


Pablo Picasso's "Petite fille sautant a la corde" 

Here is what High Five magazine says about Picasso's sculpture:   

"Pablo Picasso's work remains astonishing. It is not limited to painting. The incursions of the Spanish master, especially in sculpture, produced admirable results."

"Before 1950, when the "Petite fille sautant à la corde" (or "Little Girl jumping rope) was completed, the practice of sculpture in Picasso seems episodic, according to the pictorial reinvention that crosses his work. Having no training in construction, unlike a classical training in painting, the sculpture remains for Picasso a hobby (if I may say), as a fun place to express his free creativity."

"Although Picasso prefers to use his brushes, he remains an inventive sculptor, motivated by the desire for experimentation. Picasso is a man constantly torn by the need to rebuild. He is reappropriating formal objects, technical innovations and artistic breaks to give his work a new impetus."

Catawba Falls

North Carolina waterfall

I love Catawba Falls. It's a really beautiful waterfall at the end of a (sometimes steep) trail just down the mountain from us in Old Fort, North Carolina. The trail winds along the river and ends at a cliff and this really beautiful waterfall and pool (great for swimming in summer by the way). 

Joy and I discovered Catawba Falls with the help of my daughter Camden. She had hiked here before and told us about the trail so...we had to discover it ourselves. This is one of countless waterfalls within an hour of our home here in Asheville. What an amazing thing it is to be a landscape painter in the River Arts District, so close to so much...uh...landscape! We try to get out and hike every day off (weather and house chores permitting). 

This painting was commissioned by some very nice folks (Asheville locals) who came into my art studio and asked a question I LOVE to get asked: "Do you do commissions? We have a specific photo of a very special place to us". I love that. Of course, I was excited to talk to them about the project (about half of what I sell are commissions). I love commissions for many reasons. They are a pre-paid painting so uh, that's nice. But it's also a great way to not only get a nice piece of art (I'll keep painting it until it IS a nice piece of art) but it's also the opportunity to create something sentimental to the client. I've painted photos from honeymoons and vacations all over the world. 

So...Catawba Falls is done and is to be picked up this week. If you want directions to the trail, just email me or swing by my Asheville studio. Cheers!

"Valley of Shadows"

"Valley of Shadows" is taking shape, and it is haunting. This is really the most difficult piece I've ever done. I find I can only work on it for about 20 minutes at a time. The texture is nearly laid and should be ready to cover with the aluminum leaf shortly. I really enjoy painting beauty and this is not beautiful at all. I hope it's powerful though.

I find it difficult to interact with people coming into my River Arts District studio while I'm working on this piece. Seriously! "Oh!" says some woman from any random state in the U.S. upon entering the studio. "Look George! The artist is working!" (This is my studio. Of course I'm working.) "What are you working on?" she asks excitedly.

How do I explain what I'm working on? "Well, I'm depicted corpses at the moment". What do I say? I try to work on this first thing in the morning, before many people are wondering in. Folks, this is really difficult.

Everything else I paint, I am completely fine with being interrupted with questions and with people coming around my desk for a closer look at what I'm working on at the moment. This one is different. I feel like the time I am working on this is holy. Truly sacred. I don't want it interrupted.

So if you're reading this and you're a recent early morning visitor to my studio and wondered why the artist was so aloof and in his own little world, well...now you know. I apologize. I really was in my own little world, but I had to be there. I had to be focused. I had to listen in my head. So difficult. I would much prefer painting mountain scenes around Asheville. 

River Arts District painting 1
River Arts District painting 2
River Arts District painting 3

Autumn River Song

Autumn River Song.jpg

"Autumn River Song". This was a fun one. A while back, I had a gentleman visit my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District and he spent a good deal of time wandering around studying my artwork. We had a really nice conversation and then he left, taking a card.  This was not that unusual. Visitors to the art studio take a LOT of business cards and that's cool. That's what they're there for. But this guy called back a few days later and said he wanted to surprise his girlfriend with a painting of mine. That made my day. I love commissions!

He got on my website and found an older painting of mine that he liked, but wanted a few things changed. Here's the original painting:

Appalachian Stream.jpg

He asked that some of the rocks be removed from the right side and replace the foreground rocks with new moss-covered rocks. And he wanted autumn colors rather than summer greens. I love commissions! And I love it when a client feels the freedom to get involved (he actually spent a good deal of time hunting for the foreground rocks he wanted).

I love revisting a painting I enjoyed the first time, and tweaking it, creating a brand new and unique piece of art. It's like taking leftovers of a great leg of lamb and potato dinner and making stew out of it,  you know? It's like and unlike the original "go-round". I once heard that there really is nothing unique, just unique ways of re-combining preexisting elements, and I think that's right. How many ways can just four elements (ADTP for instance) be combined and recombined to create over 7,000,000 unique individual people? I think this really does apply to art. How many times did Monet paint waterlilies or St.Paul's cathedral? Countless. But each one is unique and he obviously revisted the idea because it gave him joy. That's how creativity works.

And when I see this new piece that combined old and new ideas, it gives me a great deal of joy. That's why I paint. So if you're considering commissioning a unique oil painting, let's talk! It's a blast.



Autumnal Shift

Autumnal Shift.jpg

Abstract oil paintings are always mysterious to me. I have a vague idea of the color palette I want to use, but honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing. That's what I enjoy about painting an abstract piece. The piece itself really kind of evolves by itself and I sometimes just feel like I'm only involved in the gentlest of ways. I tell people painting an abstract painting is like raising a teenager -- you might as well not even bother trying to make it this or that because in the end, it kind of makes up its own mind. It's good for us control freaks to paint abstract art I think. 

This painting entitled "Autumnal Shift" (thank you to Kris Archbold on my Facebook feed for the title!). It has a lot of texture -- vertical and horizontal scratches and raised areas, and then finished with just a bit of judiciously applied gold leaf. 

When I posted the photo of this piece on my Facebook page, I asked people what they saw, and what it should be named. It was an interesting and very well received little exercise. People saw a city scene on a river, tall ships and hilltops on fire. That's what I like about abstract art. It's almost like staring at the clouds -- abstract invites the participation of the viewer. "What is it?" you ask. Ahhh -- now I've got you. You must get involved and figure it out. What is it? What do you see?

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes....Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.” -- Arshile Gorky

Mystic Summer Morning

Mystic Summer Morning (oil painting)

"Mystic Summer Morning" (30" x 24") is a summer version of an autumn scene I've done before, and it's reminiscent of most summer mornings here in Asheville. Oftentimes because of thunderstorms the afternoon before, mornings can be rather foggy. That fog burns off usually by 10:00 or shortly thereafter, and then it's clear for just a bit. That fog then gathers into cumulous clouds and then becomes an another afternoon thunderstorm. But in the morning, that fog softens everything and dampens all sound.

I make it a habit of walking the 3 miles to my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District every morning (and then back again at night) but on foggy, cooler summer mornings, there's a longer route I can take that eventually leads right along the French Broad River. It's a very quite walk and when I need some extra rejuvenating and the weather is right, I walk the extra miles. It's so worth it. Before that trail gets to the river, it goes through quite woods and on foggy mornings, it's mystical. It's really beautiful that time of day. I love Asheville!