Sumac During Fall, 2015
oil on linen
It has been too long since I have managed to get up to Valley House Gallery, just north of I35. I don’t know why, because just about every show has something that gets me thinking. Even though the summer heat was beating down, I still had to walk their sculpture garden. But I wasn’t really there for the garden. What attracted me were the paintings by Jim Stoker.
If you have read much by me, you know that landscape art isn’t a typical subject I tackle, mostly because the traditional styles tend to lack inventiveness and innovation. I can appreciate a great landscape by the masters, because in context, they were doing something emotionally interesting and intellectually stimulating for the time the artworks were made. It seems few today can capture that same expression without feeling nostalgic or derivative. I believe Jim Stoker manages to create landscape paintings, while keeping the work fresh and lively.
Part of his success is process. Stoker starts off spreading confetti paper over a primed canvas. When I first learned that he used cut paper, I of course thought of Matisse, but that momentary thought left me when I also learned he dropped paints over the canvas, let the surface dry, and finally removed the paper. This left speckles of white areas. When anyone drips paint, Jackson Pollock always comes to my mind, but Stoker seems to spread out his paint systematically making an even distribution. Instead of fractal dance gestures, Stoker’s work looks more akin to a Pointillist. Just like a Seurat painting, the eye does the blending of colors, rather than the paint. However, Stoker isn’t like Seurat, because he isn’t using a single small brush to dot up his painting. What is great about Stoker is that you might be reminded of these masters, but he avoids a direct comparison. Now that the background is complete, he paints a loose grouping of plants and/or rocks. Look at Guadalupe River: Clammy Weed Wildflowers Gone to Seed, this work distributes rocks, small green plants, and three red bushes in seemingly perfect harmony. Many of these paintings have just the right amount of balance and pattern to unify the piece into a harmonious symphony of color and shape.
Stoker and his wife are passionate about hiking and seeing nature. It is clear to me, through his paintings, that he is not a casual observer in nature, but rather someone that wants to capture the essence of his experience of nature. Nature is not clean, clear, and static, but rather messy, speckled, and filled with movement. Stoker gives us exaggerated colors, wild color contrasts, and copious amounts of pattern to make the paintings feel a little unreal. Yet, Stoker makes the unreal feel essential and I can image that maybe if you calculate someone’s emotions in that moment in nature you might get something similar to these paintings.
This is the last weekend for Jim Stoker, so go see this show of amazing paintings. You will be wowed by his process and happy to see an artist make landscape and nature painting in particular, relevant.