Growing up in Lake Bluff, Illinois, getting a liberal education at Oberlin College and living in Sturgeon Bay have all combined to shape Lynn Gilchrist’s intellectual and artistic journey. A self-avowed “slow moving person,” she constantly balances her list of artistic accolades with a “geeky” (her word) side that demands unflinching critical analysis of her own work.
Balancing acts are part and parcel of Gilchrist’s personality and also of her resulting artistic output. Collegiate training in studio arts, coupled with the influence of an art history professor with a passion for the New York art scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, gave her a solid grounding in technique and an enduring appreciation of work by avant-garde artists.
Intellectual rigor and constant practice has taken Gilchrist from large, detailed pastel “sandscapes” to her current work as a plein air oil painter. Of the former she would face the easel and say, “Oh dear, this is going to take a really long time.” During this period, she had an almost adversarial relationship to her art-making; she would work from photographs, attempting to represent the composition as caught by the camera – even studying the pebbles on the beach to ensure she could capture the shape, color, shadow and reflected light.
Then, in a “transitional period,” Gilchrist switched to paper with a very toothy surface and soft pastels, both of which combined for thick impastos of color and a more painterly, less-detailed end result. Her painting subjects also expanded to include “alla prima” still lifes and the human form, as well as the landscapes she loves.
Now working on location with walnut oil-based paints because of their soft oiliness, intense color and strong pigmentation, her transition from detailed pastels is nearly complete: painting sizes are smaller so work can be completed quickly; compositions are less fussy and more spontaneous; and paper has been replaced by Masonite panels. The simple fact that the camera died now puts the creative act totally into Gilchrist’s own hands.
The disclosure that she “operates well under a deadline” is an asset for quick paint competitions and the general time pressures of plein air painting. New work is more colorful and fresh. She’s able to look at a canvas and say, “Let’s have some fun today!” For that lighthearted attitude, she thanks her friend and artist Liz Maltman, with whom she paints and shares ideas.
Gilchrist’s art is delightful. Informed by her knowledge of art history, her love of nature is evident, and her interpretations of personal experience with the scene draw viewers into the work. An uncanny eye for composition contributes to the depth she achieves. The balance between the joyful act of painting and her analytical internal voice is complete when she gets the “‘Oh wow’ thing. When it feels right, nothing feels better.”
Gilchrist is an associate at the Artists Guild, where she freely shares her knowledge of materials and technique as she “teaches all day.” She can set you up with the same materials used in her work or give you tips on using your medium of choice. You may visit her home studio during the Sturgeon Bay Art Crawl, Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20, 2011, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, or see her work May through October at Woodwalk Gallery south of Egg Harbor.
- Going out after work to paint the fading light of shorter fall days means “you have to get it done.” Painting gear is stowed in the car for rapid set up and, to accommodate her to-the-edges compositions, the panels are embedded in gator board “frames” that can easily be held by the easel. This fall’s “Sunset Series” captures the fast-changing light and dramatic shadows that provide opportunities to explore a more limited palette and extreme contrasts. Friends have called to say, “Oh, I saw a Lynn sunset today!” These eight-inch by ten-inch pieces have the immediacy of snapshots but also illustrate her facility with aspects of color theory. Cad red? Cad yellow? Quinacridone? She makes decisions quickly and, as a result, the pieces “sing.” Photo by Matt Norman.
- Her figurative work includes drawing portraits of her daughter and grandchildren and self-portraits, this one titled “Lynn on the Half Shell.” Evident here are the Botticelli basics coupled with whimsy and personal symbolism. The pose is from the 1488 original “Birth of Venus” (often called “Venus on the Half Shell”), but the details are all Gilchrist. The winds of Zephyr have been replaced by a standing fan, she is pictured in running gear holding a bird and a stick-legged sheep. In the shell are creatures from the natural world, including a tropical-colored leering fish. Because Lynn is fully clothed in this personal version, she has cropped out the Goddess of the Seasons holding the robe that would restore Venus’ modesty, leaving only a hand holding a mysterious sail. Photo by Sarah Doneff.
- When you have a need to paint, subjects present themselves. In this “interior landscape,” the eggplant adds a touch of whimsy as well as balance to the composition achieved through its color and form. Strong shapes may suggest Matisse, but the piece recalls Bonnard’s ability to inject depth and perspective into a seemingly simple composition. The objects are recognizable but the setting is ambiguous. Shadows fall to create depth but what do the objects represent? What is the surface over which the fabric is draped? These straightforward elements combine to create a tension similar to those experienced by the artist herself. Photo by Maggie Banks.
- Gilchrist says, “It’s been a struggle working in plein air. Sometimes there’s great accidental stuff and sometimes I get so off. I don’t always have confidence [in the work]; then I get all picky, the art gets bad and I overwork the piece.” This is a two-hour quick paint done in July 2011 near the Fish Creek town dock. (Quick paints are monitored so the artists work under pressure to finish a piece in a specified amount of time.) The playfulness of the color and brush work, the incredible depth achieved, and changes in scale of design elements are hallmarks of her current work. These are opportunities for color and composition; for example, the table may be proportionally small in realistic terms but echoes the color of the building and roof in the background. Another balancing act well done. Photo by Matt Norman.