Tuesday, June 3, 2014

175: Interview with Lynn Boggess

–From a distance, the paintings of Lynn Boggess appear to have a hard-edged reality. Close-up that reality dissolves into a flurry of abstract marks. Few painters embrace a synthesis of order and chaos with such virtuosity. His choice of color and depiction of texture imply a keen observation of natural effects. His work covers the gamut of times and seasons, and every painting seems to be a distinct record of a specific moment. Regardless of subject matter, Boggess creates an inimitable world in paint. (See more paintings here).
BRAD TEARE I first noticed your work ten years ago in an article for a show at The Principle Gallery. It seems like your highly individual style emerged on the scene fully developed. Did you find your style fairly early in your career or did you experiment with different techniques along the way?
LYNN BOGGESS My style was decades in the making. I was introduced to landscape painting at an early age through my Junior High School art teacher who was an admirer of Andrew Wyeth. His quick study watercolors were a huge influence, and I filled the walls with my own watercolors based on charcoal and pencil sketches from direct observation. The success of these early paintings gave me enormous encouragement, so it was an easy decision to pursue an art major in college.
I was fortunate to have several instructors who liked to camp in the forest and do watercolors en plein air. One of them was an Abstract Expressionists, the other a Color Field painter–which was really a helpful addition to my Wyeth realism. Graduate School introduced me to Minimalist compositions and emphatic textures.
But these elements did not successfully merge until I was a Professor of Art in mid-career. When they did, it was something of a violent power surge to my imagination. Within a few years, I resigned a hard-won professorship to paint professionally, and there's been no looking back–not a lot of time for that!
BRAD One aspect of your artistic project I really admire is your portable studio.You essentially create an outdoor studio in the wild. What inspired you to build your portable shelter?
LYNN I enjoy designing and constructing equipment as a break from painting, and that is very helpful in the Appalachian forests where I paint. Having a portable shelter allows me to concentrate on painting free from worry about the weather. The fact they are custom made allows me to pinpoint exactly what I need.
BRAD How long does it take to paint one of your large canvases?
LYNN That is one of the most frequently asked questions, and for good reason. The larger the painting the longer it takes to paint, of course. But the question points to something more important–the energy in the paint. My most successful work is done as rapidly as I know how to work, with as much intensity as I can generate. When I get tired I stop painting–I don't just slow down. The final look of the painting has an air of urgency that conceals the many hours of intuitive searching it required.
BRAD Your color suggests you avoid photographic reference. Do you ever paint in the studio or is all of your work painted in the field?
LYNN Painting en plein air is so much more interesting and advantageous that once an artist is tuned into it, anything else is a cheated experience. My wife would probably tell you that I am obsessed with it, but since she is also an artist and respected art professor, she understands! Photographs? I strongly recommend NEVER using them. However, photographic images, such as on a projected screen, can be helpful at times. What's the difference? To me, it's a big difference. A screen has a glow that increases the sense of depth and vividness.
BRAD The color in your paintings cover the full emotional and seasonal spectrum. I was surprised to note that you use a fairly limited palette since the color in your work is certainly not limited. From photographs and videos I’ve seen it looks like you use a warm and a cool version of primary colors.
LYNN I use the ages-old Academy Palette of two reds, two yellows, two blues, and two whites. Painting on location demands making critical decisions about what is essential and this palette is as simple as one would dare. And it is astonishing at how many variations can be mixed with so few colors!

BRAD You obviously love texture. How did you discover such an amazing repertoire of textural marks?
LYNN Texture is such a profound part of our world. What keeps me fascinated with the process I use is the interplay of simulated and actual texture. When I happened upon using a cement trowel–and working to perfect a high degree of realism with it–that was when my career got under way. Brushes must work very hard to achieve what a hard edge can do in minutes. The range of possible textures allows the physicality of the world to be emphatic–something that is philosophically important to me.
BRAD In the combination of your portable studio, your use of trowels, and the scale of your work there is something refreshingly authentic and harmonious about your process. I’m assuming the trowels give you more flexibility somehow. How did you come to use cement trowels? 
LYNN I had used trowels off and on throughout my training in the usual manner–in service of a convenient under painting. In the spring of 2000, I was on my roof repairing a leak with roofing cement and a small trowel. I found myself dabbing and scrapping and really enjoying the process. The next day I grabbed the trowel on the way out to do a small study of trees. Within minutes it was apparent that this was what I had been searching for. That summer I did one hundred small paintings, of which I kept twenty-five. Of those, I chose one as an application for representation at a local gallery. The director asked for four paintings to show on a trial basis. They sold very quickly, so eight more were requested, and those sold, and so on.
BRAD Have you abandoned brushes?
LYNN I don't use brushes but in rare instances. The trowels I use are shaped narrow to allow for easier cleaning–which is a constant part of the process. I usually begin with a large eight-inch blade, and gradually trade down to smaller as the painting progresses. The final phase is to use the small painting knives for the finer details.
BRAD Your compositions have an intimate feel as if the viewer is ensconced in nature rather than being a distant viewer. You often focus on pattern and let overt linear composition recede into the background. Do you have any unique guiding compositional principles? How much of your compositional process is intuitive and how much is the result of an intellectual process? Do you follow any traditional compositional method?
LYNN Landscape paintings are philosophies encased in compositions. This really is a very complex, critical question. I avoid using the Golden Section and prefer focal points either in the middle or on the edges because they allow the space to be read simultaneously as a flat abstraction and as a recessional depth–something that helps me understand the paradoxes of life in general. That paradoxical experience is also emphasized in the illusion of space and the thick texture of the paint.
BRAD  Is sketching a part of your compositional process?
LYNN My process is completely wet-in-wet, so no, I never sketch. Searching to find a form and space in wet paint is always an exhilarating way to work. Through countless hours of practice, one can enter a level where great risks yield great rewards. In painting that level is wet-in-wet.
BRAD With your concern for pattern and the scale of many of your paintings abstract elements seem a large part of your work. Is abstraction a conscious effort?
LYNN A scene before me is information, and my thoughts about it is imagination. Those two are negotiated throughout the session. But I try never to forget that I'm making an interpretation called a painting first, then a record of what is there. As a result, I take great liberties with the scene. And it really doesn't take much of a scene to generate a painting. It would be a shock to some to see where some of my best paintings were done.
 The most original and interesting compositions are intuitive. Working quickly allows access to the intuitive, and since it is of paramount importance, I begin there. It is only at the very end of the experience that I slow and resolve awkward areas.
BRAD I love your work and appreciate you taking time from painting to share your ideas and methods with the readers of Thick Paint. Many thanks!
Brad Teare–June 2014

All images this blog entry copyright © Lynn Boggess 2014. Painting: 28 February 2014, 46 x40"


  1. I've always liked Lynn's paintings and have been curious about his plein air approach. The portable studio is quie inventive. But I'm surprised to see that he works on such a small platform - not much room to step back when you want to evaluate the painting's progress! Thanks for interviewing him and also adding video of him in the field.

    1. HIs work is amazing and I love the fact that he paints exclusively outside. I think that is what really gives his work authenticity.

  2. Love his work, first time I heard of him. He sure uses lots o' paint. The scale of his work and the tight quarters make it more of an accomplishment to me. Very interesting interview.

    1. I was thrilled he provide such a great image for the interview. You can clearly see his rich application of paint. Seeing how much paint he lays out on his palette was an education in itself.

  3. Sweet post! I hadn't heard of this guy before, great inspiration here! I am dumbfounded by the mountains of paint.

  4. Amazing stuff! Thanks for bringing this artist to my attention. Love this blog, I'm always inspired by your posts.

  5. Yes, Lynn really piles the paint on, and it startled me so much that I wrote to him to talk about that. He generously responded by saying the plein air painting means buying 200 ml tubes of paint, at least for him it does. I'm surprised that he doesn't buy it by the bucket. And his platform is jaw-dropping. I just retrofitted my Soltk Pro easel to have more shelving and more support, which makes it heavier, but it's still the traditional outdoor set up, while Lynn almost builds a room on the spot and then takes it down at the end of the day! Whew! My old body can't do that kind of heavy lifting anymore, but I still prefer painting a little larger canvas when I'm out there in the winds and wilds, which means a lot of packing of equipment up & down rough trails to rivers and mountain meadows. And I'm going to carry as much stuff as I can manage, including more paint, if I can afford it.

    1. Have you tried the Take-It-Easel? It's a variation of the old Glouchester easel. I like mine for large outdoor painting.

  6. Brad, I meant to ask about the "two whites" he uses, did he explain that in your interview? I assume he meant a cold and warm white that he pre-mixes but maybe he was referring to Titanium & Zinc.

    1. I'm assuming that you are right, especially since other whites would not be traditional. With the exception of Lead White as a possibility.


Thanks for your comments!


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