Snow is a magical subject for a painting. The landscape, blanketed in white, takes on an otherworldly appearance. Using surrealism, unorthodox colors, and unusual materials, David Vickery, Linda Murray, and Jill Valliere present snow scenes in nontraditional ways.
Vickery lists a who’s who of “great realists with a naturalist bent” as influences, from Edward Hopper and the Wyeths to Vermeer and Velasquez. Vickery cites their ability to be “inspired by and transcend everyday subject matter” as particularly significant. Like the artists that inspire him, Vickery is fascinated by the meeting of nature and culture. “I guess the search for meaning in our lives requires an equal balance of both nature and culture: the world we find ourselves in and the world we create,” he says. Vickery paints from photographs that he takes while going about his daily life. In the studio, he carefully rearranges the images into finished paintings, composing balanced works that filter his own reality through the creative lens of the artist. As a result, his paintings are at once grounded in familiarity and charged with strange beauty.
Snow Covered depicts a bizarre, glowing mass amid snowy trees at night. Is it a phenomenon akin to the Northern Lights or an alien visitation? In fact, it is a small spruce tree wrapped in Christmas lights. “One night we had a heavy snowfall that completely covered the tree, making it look surreal, like a gum drop or something that landed in the backyard,” Vickery explains. He heightens the surreal quality by loading the tree with “pure, direct-from-the-tube color,” in brilliant contrast to the shadowy background of dark, snowy trees and the night sky. In this painting Vickery achieves a wondrous sense of mystery.
Murray had artistic inclinations at a very young age. Growing up in rural Maine, she would spend hours sketching. Although she had a passion to pursue art, she was not able to attend art school until her 30s. “Because I waited so long to go to art school I felt that every class was precious,” she says. While attending UMA, she “found inspiration in the work of surrealists Oscar Dominguez and Max Ernst, who used a technique called decalcomania, where plastic material is applied to wet pigment, a technique I now often use.” Her interest in surrealism and unusual techniques informs her preference for water-soluble media like watercolor and acrylic. For Murray, these materials facilitate a spontaneous creative process. “I regularly begin my art without any preconceived notion of its subject or outcome and allow it to evolve in an organic way,” she explains. She starts each work with a wet-on-wet method, manipulating the pigment and deriving inspiration from the ever-shifting shapes and colors that arise. “I love the challenge of pulling the image together from these chaotic beginnings,” Murray says.
To create Snow Fields, she began with acrylic paint on a wet canvas, using a credit card to move the pigment, allowing it to run down the canvas in dramatic rivulets. To fine-tune the spontaneously formed composition, she used a brush. Murray’s use of bracing, acidic hues of yellow and green to contrast with blue and white is unusual in a snow scene. The palette, in combination with Murray’s loose, abstracted handling of the paint, lends Snow Fields a dreamlike quality. She gathers inspiration from her memory and imagination, mining the subconscious for intriguing subject matter. “The resulting images always seem to explore something just out of sight, whether it is below the water, under the snow, or goings-on in a subatomic or celestial world,” Murray says. “They allude to nature’s workings that happen without our assistance or awareness.”
“I am inspired by the way the natural world calms the soul,” says Valliere, whose luminescent landscapes provide serene escapes from the bustle of everyday life. Admittedly an “excitable” person, Valliere says that she sometimes misses out on life’s beautiful moments. “However, when I accidentally catch a glimpse of a striking landscape, an unusually powerful sky, or simply the interaction of color, a sense of peace takes over,” she says. “I naturally feel myself slow down.” Striving to capture that peaceful quality in her work, Valliere searches out what she calls “surreal moments,” unexpected glimpses of beauty that compel one to stop and reflect.
Catching the Drift encapsulates one of those surreal moments. “I was a passenger in the car on a snowy day as this scene quickly passed by the window,” Valliere explains. “I picked up on many little bits of warm light coming through the dark mass of the