Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Gamba, 2009, oil/panel, 40" x 48", (click on image to enlarge).

I will be visiting New Mexico this summer.  My wife, Teresa Cullen, and I keep returning.  There is some special energy there that we both respond to.  The air, mountains and desert all combine to create a wonderful place for us.  

I love the brushy plants that grow on the plains.  There's plenty of sage and many other scrubby things to interest me. The way these plants grow presents me with a unique subject.  In my paintings based on these plants I try to mimic the unpredictable twists and turns of the many branches and twigs.  Below is an evening photo taken from the front of the house we rented last time we were in Taos NM.

(Below) The artist observing sage brush :-)


Ardistri, 2009, oil/panel, 40" x 48" (to be shown at Vancouver Bau-Xi Gallery exhition November '09, click on image to enlarge).

Over the years, I keep returning to this subject.  The single tree in a field holds a special place for me in terms of iconography.  It is said that ancient north European farmers always left a tree standing in the middle of a grain field to honor the god W┼Źden, (from where we get the day - Wednesday).  

In my travels I still see many fields where the farmer has deliberatly left a single tree standing.  Perhaps this was for cattle shade, perhaps some vague memories about good harvests and luck.  Nonetheless, I love the spacious feeling of the upthrusting tree set off by a field of grain or hay.  The two elements work together to create a spiritual sense, better felt than explained.

Getting a painting to communicate this special feeling is harder than one might think.  There is a matter of proportions, spacial devisions, atmosphere, color and texture. These all have to work, and then you need a little magic.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Balta, 2004, oil/panel, 48" x 48", private collection. (click image to enlarge) 

It's interesting and useful for artists to record their paintings and save the images.  I was encouraged to do this by my painting teacher (John Fox) when I was a student at Concordia University in Montreal.  One of my first purchases after graduating was a decent 35mm camera.

I shot slides for years and had binders of carefully labeled slide sets.  In about 2002 I got my first digital camera.  For a couple of years I shot in both film and digitally.  But since 2004/05 I've gone exclusively with digital.  Storing and organizing the images is hugely more efficient and useful.  For example, looking back at earlier work is a snap, no slide projector needed, no thumbing through binders.  The currently quality of my digital camera (Nikon D300 with a Sigma 17-70 lens) is better than any slide I ever took and I can use Photoshop to correct colors.

Today I was reviewing paintings from 2004 and came to "Balta".  I think this was one of the first big majestic sweeping tree forms to come out of my studio.  I still like it a lot and would be happy to painting something like it on any day.

The trees prior to this work were more integrated into the land element of the painting.  Below is an example from the previous year (Orionosus, 2003, oil/panel, 24" x 48").  The ease of backwards reviewing of my own work helps me understand how I am changing as a painter and what remains important.  For example, in 2003 my palette was muted and mono-chromatic. With the painting "Balta" a year later, I see color taking on a key role in defining the roundness of the tree shapes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Keshtua, 2009, oil/panel, 40" x 48".  This is an ad placed in Seattle's "Where" Magazine (click on the image to enlarge).  It's to announce my exhibition in that city.  The show opens on June 4th.  

This painting is an example of a blended approach to foreground and distance.  I am enjoying the use of aerial perspective with the foreground iconic shape.  I have set the view point as though you are sitting in a field of cut straw.

The bent tree trunk is a symbol I often use.  I like the curving support structure.  (I love bonsai trees too.)  Curving trunks are both aesthetic and suggest the ability to bend without breaking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Feather the Sun - Chia

Feather the Sun, 2005, oil/panel, 36" x 48", private collection.  The current focus on trees is actually an ongoing process.  Here is an example from 2005.  I introduced the hazy sun idea as a way of responding to the contra jour effects I observed on many evening bicycle rides.  The road home was from east to west, often with a setting sun in my eyes.  This made an impression on me and I began to paint suns into hazy ochre skies.

Ilse Grassinger, the director of the Durham Public Art Gallery, wrote the following lines in 2009 for a group show I was in titled Arboreal.

"Robert Marchessault explores contemporary sublime landscape in paintings that repeatedly foreground a single tree, stripped of non-essential visual elements and emptied of any human presence. Poetic and meditative, these trees are the quiet centre of being and a visual invocation of human self-awareness."

Chia, 2005, oil/panel, 60" x 48", private collection.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I've done a lot of paintings of trees and bushes.  These are often full frontal presentations.  These two little paintings are examples of recent work that is examining distance.  I've been working on a number of pieces (some in progress as of this date) that use aerial perspective as a way of presenting distance.  The effect of air on color is interesting me right now.

Mont Mere, 2009, oil/panel, 10" x 10" is on its way to Santa Fe NM where it will be shown at McLarry Fine Art (225 Canyon Road).  In this wee panel I use three things to lead the eye back.  Haze, a winding road and a dark frontal mass of trees.  I hope the fresh brush strokes keep the little piece lively and a delight for viewers.

Mohegan Valley, 2009, oil/panel, 12" x 12" is part of a five panel set heading out to Santa Fe. Like Mont Mere (top) it plays with space and distance.  The use of overlapping, softened edges and haze build the sense of distance.  The spirit of these small works is intended to be relaxed and playful.  A teacher of mine at university (the painter John Fox) once told me that "charm" is something very hard to get in a painting.  We looked at a number of 19th century works that had charm and tried to figure out where it comes from.  In the end, we decided that it was a reflection of the state of mind that the painter was experiencing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Artistic Evolution - Looking Back

The Dry Hills, 1981, oil/ply, 48" x 51" is part of the Brandes Collection.  I've uploaded this image along with some other older works to help readers see that my interest and approach to landscape painting goes back more than 30 years.  My current stylistic treatment is the result of an ongoing examination of landforms and a long track through various methods of presenting my ideas in paint.
After graduating from Concordia University in 1978 with a BFA.  I moved to Toronto to begin my career as a painter.  At the time I was impressed with the work of Paterson Ewen and other Canadian painters who used a vigorous approach to their canvases.  The idea of "alluding" to something ("allusionism" was a term used then) appealed to me.  It permitted a good deal of playfulness with the paint and textures while always referring in some way to the things depicted.  Colors could be exaggerated along with marks and movement.

Hazy Morning in Haliburton, 1980, watercolor, Brandes Collection.  This is another allusionary painting based on my early visits to the regions north of Toronto.  At the time, I was unfamiliar with the area and was excited to discover it's many visual pleasures.  These were turned into art works later on in my studio after long drives and hikes.  The process of working from memory began very early in my career.

Working from memory was something that emerged as a result of a commission from Via Rail Canada in 1980.  I was provided with a bedroom on a sleeping car and traveled from coast to coast.  The commission required 5 paintings representing the five regions served by the railway.  I quickly adapted a fast sketching technique looking out the window of a moving rail car.  My notations were minimal and I found that I needed to almost use my eyes like a snapshot - this is because the scenery changed every second.  I learned during that exciting summer how to summarize the key elements in front of me.  I figured out how to quickly understand what made something "interesting" from a visual point of view.

Western Hills, 1980, 22" x 32", oil, Brandes Collection.  This example shows the point at which my work was most abstract.  I reached a state where I was working totally from an emotional/visual perspective.  The application of paint and the marks/texture were based on the energy of a place remembered.  Color was critical.  

I found, however, that there was something about the forms in nature that I was missing.  I mean, the three dimensional forms and volumes of things like trees, rocks, hills and so on.  I had received a fairly classical training as a student and had drawn extensively from the human model.  I had great appreciation for the solidity of things. And while these early allusionary paintings really got into the energy of things seen, the mass was not addressed on the flattish picture plane.

Missing too was the sense of air and space that provides a counter-point to the landscape.  I was missing the "emptiness and form" thing.  This realization set me on a path of discovery.  I spent years working out a way to present these things on a surface.  There were plenty of bad paintings along the way and my galleries were pretty supportive even though these paintings eventually were returned unsold to my studio (often to be sent to the dumpster).

Kosh Kah Nu, 1989, oil/panel, 16" x 20" is part of my own collection and represents the beginning of a mature style.  The painting was executed rapidly with brushy strokes.  It did start to get the relationships between land and sky, as well as the tonal aspects that are so important to my work now.

The sense of air and atmosphere carries this little composition to a reasonable finished state.  The restrained palette was a change from the earlier pieces.

Umberlands, 1993, oil/panel with collaged canvas, 13" x 23", Brandes Collection. My evolution was not a straight line.  In this work, I take some of what I was figuring out regarding space and tried to play with it against a Sean Scully style barred abstraction.  This painting represents many many attempts to synthesize the influences on my own emerging vision.  Does it work?  Actually, I think so.