Artist Brian Adgate has probably done more traveling than anyone I’ve ever met. He captures landscapes on canvas of the places he’s visited www.brianadgate.com. However, he has also collected people, experiences and an understanding of humanity. Read on and find out why I call Brian, “The Landscapist.”
MICHAEL: Hello Brian. Your work is very calm and soothing. I also love your use of color. It's almost as if you're re-arranging different blocks of color to create different compositions and genres. Is this your intention?
BRIAN: For the most part, my work is calm and soothing as I believe landscape is the one place everyone can go to find inspiration and solace in the world. It’s something we all have in common. I have been fortunate in that I have seen most of the world having lived on or visited all the world's continents with the exception of Antarctica. In my Iceland series, I have worked with different blocks of color to be sure as you mentioned. I spent a week in Iceland and got to travel outside the capital city into the country. What I was struck with was how the earth appeared alive; a living organism so to speak active with geysers, rushing water and volcanoes as well as the glaciers confirmed this for me. It also looked as if the planet hadn't changed for millions of years. There are no trees. The Icelanders say that if you get lost all you need to do is stand up. But the fact that there are no trees struck me and added to the primal quality of landscape also the fact that the whole of Iceland was geothermic, heated by some inner life. I began to play with this idea in my landscapes of the country. I began to layer my landscapes. In my Iceland series, I thought of the inner molten core of reds and yellows played against the cool blues and greens of the surface of the landscape. I work my landscapes also. I use cold wax which I mix into my oils and use the brush as well as the palette knife as I paint. This creates the layered look in my work as you mentioned, the blocks of color. I suppose that explains the minimal look of my work as I strive for the essence of a landscape.
MICHAEL: How have you managed to be so well-traveled? That sounds like a great gig. What have you learned through travel that you wouldn't have learned otherwise? I find this such an interesting concept because as you know, many people spend their entire lives in within a one-hundred mile radius without ever leaving.
BRIAN: The truth is Michael I've been lucky and I guess in the right place at the right time. When I was younger and right out of college and looking for a teaching job in art, I found the Australian Government, to be specific the State of Victoria. They were looking for teachers in all subjects. They were willing to pay my way over and I was tax exempt for two years and in the immortal words of Michael Corleone, "It was an offer too good to refuse" so I took it. I lived in Australia for 5 years and traveled in Australia as well as Southeast Asia. I saved up enough money to take a year off and when I decided to return to America, I took the long way home through Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Nepal and India. What I learned through travel as far as my artistic life is concerned was how varied the earth is. I began to look at the work of landscape artists such as Sidney Nolan, the great Australian painter; the endless, intense blue skies, the deep umber and ocher of the earth and the gentle green and white of the eucalyptus trees. Growing up and studying art in New York City, this was a revelation to me. How an artist sees the landscape and chooses to interpret it was also as open as the landscape itself and varied from country to country and from artist to artist.
MICHAEL: Of course, cultures and landscapes vary, but what have your travels taught you about people?
BRIAN: There is much more that we have in common than we have that separates us. That may sound like an oversimplification, but I believe it to be true. Just to give you an example, I was at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and all of a sudden my camera stopped working. A complete stranger walked up to me and asked me what was wrong. After explaining the situation, he asked me if I had extra film. He noticed that I had a 35-mm camera. He said, “Here use my camera and take all the pictures you want and give me the camera back when you are done.” He walked around with me and I got to know him somewhat and because of him I have some great pictures in my home. A simple story to be sure but I have others. The other side is true also; there is a great deal of evil in the world; murder, war and genocide. We all share that. Fortunately, for me I have not been exposed to that. For the most part, people all want the same things in life: health, the dignity of a job and the love and respect of friends and family.
MICHAEL: Interesting. Since cultures and topography vary, have you had to vary your approach to capturing different landscapes on canvas? Is it always a matter of taking a photograph and painting from the photo?
BRIAN: I never paint from a photograph. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I used to paint from photographs when I was a photo-realist, but that is not the way I choose to work now. My approach is to fill sketch books with landscape designs, essentially pencil drawings. Later, I return to them, look at them and add some color to the ones I think hold promise or remind me of a certain place or ones that illicit some response within my mind or memory. It is a more intuitive approach. I begin to try and work out a dialogue with what I am starting to put down on canvas. There’s a lot of give and take which is the opposite of photo-realism or even realism for that matter.
MICHAEL: I suppose that your landscape paintings are kind of like journals or documentation of your travels?
BRIAN: Yes, to a large extent that is true. I also from time to time enjoy working in series which helps me to remember places or to interpret them in a way that is not photographic. Capturing mood, capturing color and atmosphere; these are far more important to me than what the place actually looks like.
MICHAEL: Do you know many other artists? I'm finding that many artists are essentially loners. What do you think about this?
BRIAN: Most artists I know have a small coterie of friends who they trust and whose opinions they value. The artists I share a building with are like that. We all know each other. I think the idea of the lone wolf artist is overrated and romantic. Most artists are quite social and willing to talk about their work. Naturally, like any person involved in a creative endeavor, an artist like a writer or musician needs to spend time alone to be creative, but making art is about sharing your experience and emotions with others in the long run.
MICHAEL: Where are you living now again? How does your home environment inspire you? If you could live anywhere else in the world where would you live and why?
BRIAN: I live in the greater Boston area about eight miles south of Boston. I love being in a city environment and on a subway line. Boston is not a large city like New York and I enjoy the advantage of being able to get into the city quickly to visit museums and galleries. I have a studio set up in my home which is where I work, as well as a studio with other artists where I work on commissions when I get them. I also work there too. If I could live anywhere in the world I suppose it would be Boston. I used to think New York City, which is where I grew up was the place because of the galleries and museums, but with the Internet, location doesn't seem to matter that much anymore or at least it is getting less influential.
MICHAEL: Where do you think contemporary art is headed and where does your work fit? Is this a concern for you?
BRIAN: I don't have a clue where contemporary art is heading. “International Post-Modern Eclecticism” is where we are now I suppose.
MICHAEL: International Post-Modern Eclecticism. You’ve just summed up every art fair I’ve ever attended. Love that.
BRIAN: Installation, digital work and computerized images - it's all up for grabs. But no matter what, there are still people who will paint and who will sculpt and who like the tactile qualities of applying paint to canvas or working in wood or metal. There will always be landscape painters and artists who interpret and paint the earth. That's the way it is now and that's the way it was in the work at Lascaux and Altimira. My work has a lineage and I'm a link in a long chain so no I'm not too concerned about where my work fits.
MICHAEL: Very cool. Thanks Brian.
To find out more about Brian Adgate’s work, check out his website at www.brianadgate.com.