Ultra Realism

Anchor Stone, 2002, watercolor, 21" x 28". Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Heart

Greg Mort

Karen Talbot

Rainbow Trout, 2009, watercolor and ink, 13" x 18"

Linda Heppes Funk

THE CANVAS – July 2014
By Jamie Thompson

Artists Greg Mort, Karen Talbot, and Linda Heppes Funk display striking precision, attention to detail, and patience in their work. By creating precisely faithful representations of their subjects, these artists celebrate nature’s inherent beauty.

Greg Mort

Greg Mort was born in Syracuse, New York, and now lives in Ashton, Maryland and Port Clyde. Primarily self-taught, Mort participated in his first museum exhibition at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York at age 18. Since then Mort’s work has been exhibited and collected internationally. His art is in the collections of such institutions as the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania, the Portland Museum of Art, the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Delaware Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the NASA Art Collection in Washington, D.C., and the University of Padova in Italy. In 1998 he was commissioned to create a portrait of Carl Sagan, which was acquired by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Mort’s book Voyages: Exploring the Art of Greg Mort, was published in 2007. He is associated with Carla Massoni Gallery in Chestertown, Maryland, and Somerville Manning Gallery in Greenville, Delaware.

He began creating art at a very early age, and his fascination with astronomy and nature provided him with many subjects to paint and draw. Mort begins a painting with a sketch, and then works from a three-dimensional model that he builds himself “to study the nuances of light and shadow.” But Mort notes that his images often come about unconsciously, in a dreamlike state in which he ponders “the relationship between space and time or the realms of the infinite and infinitesimal, which have intrigued me for some 40 years.” Detail is a vital component of Mort’s work, as are the composition and scale of the images. “My desire is to transcend traditional objective and non-objective persons, places, and things by portraying a deeper sense of dimensionality,” he says. “Not just to merely confront the viewer with a composition of colors and shapes on a flat plane but to set them adrift in a sea of believable depth and motion.”

Mort’s deep enchantment with the natural world and the universe shapes his artistry. The juxtaposition between the comfortable nostalgia of everyday life and the massive, mind-boggling realm of outer space is a recurring theme in his work. To borrow a literary term, Mort’s art has qualities of magical realism, in that strong elements of fantasy are rooted in reality. For example, in Stewardship III, the skin on a perfect apple peels away to reveal the sphere of Earth as seen from space. Mort’s work is mesmerizing, inviting the viewer to contemplate those same eternal mysteries that transfix the artist himself.

Familiar treasures from the beach form a meditative tableau in Anchor Stone. Mort is a self-proclaimed “unashamed collector,” who surrounds himself with natural objects such as these, which act as touchstones for cherished memories. These raw materials are given softness by Mort’s treatment of light and shade, and are especially evocative of Maine’s “drama and beauty.” For Mort, “the duality of the painting is symbolic of my contrasting fears and fascinations with Maine.” The ocean’s overwhelming power is capable of wearing down rock into a smooth stone, yet it is home to delicate creatures like the starfish. There is also a personal significance to the painting’s imagery: the stone and the rope are grounding forces, while the starfish symbolize loved ones.. “Anchor Stone represents our efforts to cling to place,” says Mort.


Karen Talbot

Karen Talbot hails from Maryland, and now resides in midcoast Maine. Although she was a teacher for 15 years, art has always been part of her life. After several successful exhibitions at the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, California, Talbot decided to focus on art full-time. She moved to Maine in 2012 and opened the Karen Talbot Art Gallery and Studio in 2013, where she exhibits her work and teaches classes. Her work can be seen internationally in art galleries and museums, such as the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History in California, and at festivals, trade shows, and fishing tournaments. Earlier this year Talbot participated in a residency through Youth Arts in Camden. She worked with a seventh grade science class at Camden-Rockport Middle School on the techniques of scientific illustration.

Talbot always begins her process with field research. She seeks out her subjects in their natural habitats, and sketches, photographs, and takes notes on the specimens. Using this information, Talbot then creates studies in the studio, sometimes creating several before embarking on the final painting. The final work begins with a graphite drawing and then, using pen and ink, she adds fine details. “While the fine artist in me is concerned with aesthetics, the scientific illustrator in me is focused on the details,” Talbot says. A watercolor wash is then applied, and to finish, Talbot uses a variety of media, including colored pencil and myriad paints. She often uses a dry-brush technique to complete the final detail work on the piece’s coloring.

Talbot is passionate about conservation. Growing up near the Chesapeake Bay provided her with “boundless opportunities to observe the natural world.” An appreciation for nature was instilled in her early on, and through her current work, Talbot aims to share that with others. “I hope that by sharing my experience with species and the ecosystems in which they live through my art, people who may, for example, have never held a brook trout in their hand, may still come to appreciate the need to conserve critical habitats for these magnificent organisms.” Talbot has worked with, and created art for, conservation programs such as Trout Unlimited and the National Resources Defense Council, in addition to local conservation organizations.

Trout is part of Talbot’s series California Trout, which she exhibited in Laguna Beach in 2009. The exhibition focused on the impact of introduced species on local ecosystems. The piece is a perfect amalgamation of Talbot’s concerns as an artist and an individual. It is an exquisite fine art painting, but it is also scientifically accurate and engages important ecological issues. Talbot explains that the species in the piece is genetically identical to a sea-run rainbow trout, or steelhead, but the particular fish in the painting was trapped above two dams in the Piru Creek near Los Angeles. The trout is unable to reach the sea, where it belongs. In Trout, Talbot has captured the essence of this living creature, not only enabling viewers to admire its beauty, but also compelling them to acknowledge the story behind the image. This is not just a painting of a fish – it represents an unexpectedly complex combination of science, stewardship, and aesthetics.


Linda Heppes Funk

Linda Heppes Funk has had solo exhibitions at such venues as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, the State Arboretum of Virginia, Delaware Center for Horticulture, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in North Carolina, and the Islesboro Historical Society. Her work is held in many private collections, as well as at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and the Shirley Sherwood Collection in London. Funk is a founding member of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) and served as its director for six years. In 2001 she received the Award for Excellence in Botanical Art. In 2012 Funk was artist-in-residence at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. She will participate in the exhibition From the Mountains to the Sea: Plants, Trees, and Shrubs of New England at the gardens from August 1 to September 30. Funk tutors private students at her Tenants Harbor studio, and has also taught at institutions such as the New York Botanical Garden, College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, and Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She is associated with Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle.

Funk works only from live specimens. “In the process of drawing and painting plants, I learn their secrets, their moods, their evolution,” she says. “These traits must be observed and studied in order for the flower portrait to be a true synthesis of the manifesting qualities of that individual or model.” She carefully examines the plant or flower and decides on her composition. Funk begins by drawing on tracing paper, moving to an accurate, highly detailed pencil drawing. That finished drawing is transferred to a sheet of handmade paper and then washes are applied. She adds more washes after each layer is dry, building up the color. She uses a dry-brush technique to render shading and additional details. “Working with plants and flowers requires patience, perseverance, and a certain amount of ingenuity in order to keep up with nature,” says Funk. “Their colors are often so dazzling and intricate as to be difficult to approximate with paint on paper.”

Tree Peony depicts a lush, brilliant blossom. The tightly packed petals erupt in mouthwatering shades of pink, in contrast to the earthy green shades of the plant’s foliage. Funk painstakingly worked at the painting for 10 hours each day over three weeks. She has created an image so accurate that one can almost smell the flower’s intoxicating aroma. Appropriately, the word “peony” means “beautiful” in Chinese. Funk explains that the peony is the traditional symbol of China, and is “known as the flower of riches and honor. It is considered an omen of good fortune and happy marriage.” When Funk finished painting Tree Peony she “gifted the plant, in its pot, to my friends to grace their garden and to shower them with good fortune in their new home.”

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