Wow!!! Below is a review on Lovetts Gallery's blog about my recent painting that I shipped to them late last week, I am speechless!
A Little Rusty
Robert Louis Caldwell doesn’t paint anything he hasn’t seen in person. “Every time he's been to the gallery, he goes out taking reference photos,” says Jack.
In fact, he’s been saving for a trip to Africa.
“Robert has been raising funds to take his trip to Tanzania in four or five weeks. He was hoping he would be able to raise enough funds to go for 14 days,” says Jack.
“He had to shorten his trip. He’s never been to Africa. That’s a monumental trip for any wildlife artist. He was so committed to going that he shortened his trip so he could go no matter what.
“When he returns, he’ll be working primarily on African safari paintings, because, again, he’ll only paint what he’s seen in person.”
Until then, however, he’s working on more local subjects. On a trip to Lovetts Gallery in 2010, he photographed a counter weight to an oil pumpjack. He was drawn to it, no doubt, because it was covered in rust, which happens to be one of his favorite subjects.
“He’s known for incorporating architecture and man-made elements into his paintings,” says Jack. “He likes to show the point where nature and humanity meet. Normally, there’s a man-made element in his paintings.
Which brings us to Weighted; it features the aforementioned counter weight, as well as a Carolina wren, which is native to Oklahoma. Weighted has just arrived in the Gallery, and Jack and Waylon say it is one of Caldwell’s best works. Incidentally, it’s one he worked on during a show at the Gallery.
“He worked on this painting live in the gallery in March, which was his third show with us,” says Waylon.
The moment Weighted was removed from its packing material, Jack and Waylon knew it was a special work.
“It simply is one of the top three best paintings he’s ever produced,” says Jack.
“It’s interesting,” says Waylon. “We’re experts in what’s ‘good’ art. And you could say, ‘that’s entirely subjective.’ But when you’ve looked at enough art, and you’ve been around enough art, there’s like a physiological reaction to a piece of good art. Robert has painted dozens of pieces over the years we’ve known him, and they’re strong. They’re technically and compositionally strong, because he’s a good artist. But even a good artist doesn’t hit a home run every time.
“A great artist still only produces a handful of amazing pieces in any body of work. This is one of his.”
Artists are not usually the best judge of the sellability for their own work, the same as how writers are typically not the best editors of something they’ve written. It takes an outside perspective, sometimes. In this case, Caldwell is happy with the painting.
“This is the type of piece I love to create,” he says. “Texture, texture and more texture, as well as the play on positive and negative spaces. This painting had some really difficult ups and downs to it, and that’s why it took so long to complete. On Caldwell’s blog, he details the physical and emotional toll the work took on him, as well as what drew him to the subject matter in the first place.
Even though Caldwell shot a lot of reference for the work, you might notice that it is not what we would call "photorealistic."
“He’s not trying to fool you,” says Waylon. “It isn’t actual rust. He’s not painting this to look like it is coming off of the board. It’s something I can’t explain. There’s a translation into his vocabulary, and so it comes out different.”
Waylon believes that translation occurs via Caldwell’s process. Each of his paintings he renders entirely in graphite before applying paint to board.
“There’s something that transitions from the photo to the graphite drawing, and then from the drawing to the painting. The further you get away from the photo, the more it’s filtered through his internal prism. That’s what makes Robert’s work unique. He’s not trying to be a hyper-realist, but he’s not trying to be impressionistic either. He loves the play on light, but he’s painting tightly."
In short, a photograph of a thing is just that. Caldwell imbues his paintings with the truth of a subject as filtered through the eye of the artist.
Weighted is currently on display in the Gallery, but Waylon doesn’t expect it to hang around long. If you’d like to see it, swing by. We’d love to talk art with you.