Structures, Land and Sky Merge in Painter's Work
Practitioners of the visual arts see the world around them differently than most people. It is not something acquired through an undergraduate degree, although such instruction may well hone that perceptive ability.
Painter Lou Schellenberg recognized the gift in herself at an early age. “Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with buildings, how they are arranged within a space, how they block out parts of the landscape or sky,” she says, “and the contrast between what is nature and what is not that is represented in the buildings and land upon which they are placed.”
All of that is obvious when one looks at Schellenberg’s paintings. They are, essentially, landscapes. Elements within each one are recognizable, and the colors do not stray far from reality. But the subject matter acts as a grid on which her concepts of space, color and form rest.
Chestnut Hill (2013) is, perhaps, the consummation of the artist’s objectives. The rolling, bucolic landscape and structures placed within it at various locations and distances are ideal for Schellenberg’s modus operandi. It is superbly balanced, with the choice and placement of colors helping to knit it together. The painting is large, and its square format acts to reinforce the composition.
“My work is primarily done through observation, although I also invent compositions in the studio from studies, memory and the occasional photo reference. The studio inventions tend to be more abstracted, experimental and focused on formal elements,” says the Mt. Gretna resident.
“I love to work outside,” she confesses. “I think that my best work is done on site. I’m constantly looking for that moment of emotional connection. It most often happens outside. Even the conditions of the day, like the temperature, light and humidity, have an effect on the painting.”
One small en plein air piece, entitled Peach Farm (2013), is conventional in its appearance. Although the painterly brushstroke is evident, the planemetric abstraction is not. Says Schellenberg, “I may go back to this one, crop a section of it and produce something larger that contains more abstract qualities.”
“Working outside, I start with small, gestural studies or sketches,” says Schellenberg. “Angles, rooflines and the spaces between structures become visually important. I’m interested in the tension of a flattened space and an overall underlying abstract design more than a naturalistic landscape.”
After the rudimentary pencil drawing, the artist completes the sketch lines with burnt sienna oil paint. She then blocks in the dark values before starting paint application, which can be thin and thick. “I’m not simply filling in spaces with color,” she says. “Variety in texture is important to me, especially in the larger pieces.” Indeed, at first glance, many of Schellenberg’s paintings appear to be swatches of flat colors. Further examination reveals otherwise.
Growing up in Queens, on New York’s Long Island, may explain, in part, Schellenberg’s interest in buildings as a painting subject. But, after accepting a position as painting professor at Elizabethtown College in 1992, she found plenty of grist in places like Mastersonville, Schaefferstown, Bachmanville and Lawn.
Schellenberg favors no particular brand of oil paint. Like many artists, she tries to find the highest quality at the best buy. “I’m always looking for a good quality white,” she notes. Masonite, birch board and canvas are her surfaces of choice. She stretches and then primes the latter with numerous coats of gesso to achieve a smooth surface.
An exhibition of Schellenberg’s latest paintings is currently in place at the Lynden Gallery in Elizabethtown. The gallery is open Wed. through Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For additional information and images, visit louschellenberg.com.