My pulse quickens when I imagine the Barbizon School painters of the 19th century trekking southeast from Paris to make paintings of the Forest of Fontainebleau. I picture the forest with an articulated perimeter. Like the ocean – another imposing natural wonder – you exist either within it, or outside of it. My point of view in the “Close to the Forest” paintings is from the outside.
Approaching a forest triggers moments of intense anxiety, much like the unease created by a storm on the horizon or the stressful suspense of a pending athletic contest. Anxiety and anticipation are at their peak just prior to experiencing the actual event. That is not to say that stepping foot into a forest does or should relieve the apprehension. Poet Todd Davis, Professor of Environmental Studies at Penn State University’s Altoona College, remarked to me during a recent hike that, “Nature doesn’t care if you live or die.” I believe we recognize this, albeit subconsciously. Nature is a place for thoughtful, cautious and careful reverie.
I continue to place farm animals in my work, as they are convincing emblems representing the place I live, work and dream. I find them to be remarkable non-verbal storytellers.
The formal elements of painting provide another vehicle to convey emotion, narrative and mood. Shape – both graphic and fully rendered – and color both help me express the mystery and anticipation of standing before an enormous forest. As I am passionately attendant to art history, I have made direct reference to paintings of the past, such as Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners” (1857) and Barnett Newman’s “Zip” paintings of the mid-20th century.
I see parallels in the reverence and concern the Barbizon painters had for the Forest of Fontainebleau, as well as our contemporary society’s interest in, and efforts to save, our own natural wonders. In the “Close to the Forest” paintings, I convey through sign, symbol and metaphor the awe I feel when I imagine standing outside the mighty Forest of Fontainebleau.
As I was producing the “Close to the Forest” paintings, I realized I must study the idea of confronting a forest from a distance. While I had hiked and sketched numerous times in nearby state parks to become more intimately acquainted with the forest interior, I felt this study needed to be different in intent. I ultimately chose to make paintings of small stands of trees near my studio. I did not want to simply make plein air transcriptions of what I saw. Rather, I strove to make tangible the character, feeling and mood inherent in a forest’s dense perimeter. What resulted was this intimate subset of my process – eight small paintings titled, “Copse Series.”
~Craig Blietz – January 2017