The only thing that matters is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient, but personality endures. ~ E. Hopper & Stephen C. Datz
You’re a plein air painter. You like mobility. Sure, your studio is your personal creative sanctuary, but the outdoors is where it’s really at. Your work is selling, you’re represented by fine galleries that market your art well, and your shows sell out. On top of that arts trifecta, you have admin and marketing skills. You’re organized and erudite. You can write.
What more could there be? What more could your galleries want?
What Medicine Man Gallery wanted of plein air painter Stephen C. Datz was a really big show. And by “big,” the gallery meant LARGE scale works. No small canvases. BIG. As in, there’s no way you can haul these canvases out into nature because they’re the size of a small drawbridge-big.
In addition to being an artist, Datz is the former president of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters (of Plein Air for the Park in Grand Teton National Park ), a group of about 40 artists situated around the country that comes together annually to paint the West. About two years ago, as his tenure was wrapping up, the owner of Tucson, Arizona’s Medicine Man Gallery, Mark Sublette, asked Datz to create a show comprised completely of large-scale works.
Canyons, Buttes and Beyond opened January 17th; the largest work measures 36 x 72 inches.
Datz is a painter whose heart lies with creating plein air works that fit on small easels; he cut his artistic teeth on easily handled, mobile, plein air painting. But when a painting’s price tag is $20,000…well, much more careful planning is imperative. Creating such a work and transporting it to a gallery a few states away pretty much flies in the face of a dedicated plein air artist’s instincts.
The pace was absolutely glacial ~ Stephen C. Datz
“Paintings this size call for weeks, even months, of effort,” says Datz. “Make an error and you lose a costly canvas and, usually, a lot of time. If that happens close to a show’s deadline, there’s almost no chance of making it up. So, each painting requires patience, patience, patience. Practicing this kind of patience is one of my great struggles. And if you have to ditch a canvas it can set you back in all kinds of ways.”
Then there’s the issue of technique. Technique requires patience, and Datz says that years ago he was much slower to complete large-scale canvases because he worked “wet-on-dry,” meaning that he waited for a layer of paint to dry before painting over it.
“The pace was absolutely glacial. I had interesting results, but working that slowly is not how I roll. That process vexed me, so I began working wet-on-wet, which is the plein air process, but that has its own challenges. It’s a ticking clock, and some colors dry faster than others, so you have to know which do and take it into account as you plan the painting. Even then, paints can dry even quicker than I expect, so a paradox is set up that requires working quickly AND slowly in order to be able to solve issues to my satisfaction and not rush,” recounts Datz.
Additionally, Datz’s brushwork is unmistakable. Though his canvases look worked by a palette knife, Datz is a brush man. A math and geometry sharpy from an early age, Datz is educated in graphic design and layout. “Painterly” never felt right to him, and a few years into his career he discovered several artists whose work encouraged him to exercise his own, angled voice: Edgar Payne, William Wendt, and Ed Mell.
“In their work, particularly Wendt and Mell, I saw elements of line, geometry, an angular style and sensibility,” the artist recalls. “Wendt in particular used very blocky brushstrokes in a lot of his canvases. I bought every book containing images of his work that I could get my hands on.”
Wanting to bring his own voice to the canvas, and because his work was being received positively by collectors and galleries, Datz moved forward. Paraphrasing Edward Hopper, Datz maintained the mantra: The only thing that matters is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient, but personality endures. And as he’d learned in a workshop, nothing should be on canvas by accident. Every brushstroke should have a purpose. Every stroke should count.
Datz also counts gallery owner Sublette as a huge influence; he liked Datz’s geometric approach and his “fondness for vivid color.” He counseled Datz to follow his instincts, and the artist did.
“I’ve never looked back, and I’ve never been happier in my work,” confirms Datz.
Large works can be spontaneous, says Datz, but where a “problem” in a spontaneous small work can be fixed with a brushstroke or two, the scale of larger works dictate that problems arising organically from spontaneous painting can instead take days to resolve. That equates to a lot of paint and painting time. Problems associated with large works also tend to preoccupy Datz until he solves them.
“I’m mentally chewing them over constantly. And stubborn problems tend to erode morale. That little pessimistic voice in back of my head begins to cackle: ‘You can’t paint! You should just walk away and spare yourself losing more time.’ On and on. But it’s imperative to push past that voice and keep your end result in mind.”
Certainly any creative person working in any medium can relate to that niggling little voice. Thank goodness we’ve got an optimistic, experienced voice that helps us over our mental speed bumps.
And that studio work? Datz plans on doing more, but he’ll keep warming up by driving around the countryside, “looking at cool stuff,” and painting organically in the moment. He’s doing something right, because at this writing, all but one of Datz’s paintings for Canyons has sold.
Hear Datz talk about his painting “Convergence,” pictured above, here: https://www.medicinemangallery.com/medicine-man-gallery-antique-native-american-western-art-collections/stephen-c-datz-canyons-buttes-beyond/stephen-c-datz-october-sky.html
Visit Stephen C. Datz’s website: www.stephencdatz.com
View works from Canyons, Buttes and Beyond, on exhibition at Medicine Man Gallery through February 7, 2020: https://www.medicinemangallery.com/medicine-man-gallery-antique-native-american-western-art-collections/stephen-c-datz-canyons-buttes-beyond
The National Museum of Wildlife Art (NMWA) announced a new outreach initiative, Bisoncast, that will allow remote wildlife art lovers to connect with NMWA via online technology and video. Working with Mountain Mind Media, NMWA educators are currently working on an initial Bisoncast episode: The Slipperiness of Fish. This first installment promises to “explore what artists and anglers have in common,” and support those theories with an examination of William Merritt Chase’s (a proponent of Impressionism, aka plein air painting) Still Life, Cod and Mackerel.
“Each Bisoncast episode features a closer look at select artworks, and considers cultural and historical influences, current relevance, and connections to the natural world. The Museum’s unparalleled setting within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem gives a breathtaking context to the artistic interpretations and clarity to timely environmental challenges,” writes the museum.
Plans are to launch Bisoncast this coming April. Visit the museum at www.wildlifeart.org