Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Poetic Landscape: Douglas Fryer

Douglas Fryer paints pensive contemporary realist landscapes inspired by the agricultural valley where he lives with his family in Utah. His work avoids the formulaic by drawing not only upon what he actually sees but also upon strong underlying abstract design as well as what he thinks and feels about the land and the people who live and work on it.

Nearly all of his paintings balance hard-edged ("hand-hewn" might be a better word) marks and lush, atmospheric passages. 

He uses photo references when he paints, but seemingly only to supply a basic armature which he modifies in the design phase and ultimately abandons to allow the painting to emerge on its own terms. He builds up his surfaces with layers of loose, diluted paint alternating with thicker, later-stage impasto passages (very often found in his expansive foregrounds) often applied with a large putty knife or hand scraper. The paintings display significant contrast, between light and dark, soft and hard edges, atmosphere and texture, neutrals and chroma.

Although he claims he's mostly interested in abstract design, content is clearly important to him as well. He isn't interested in making "pretty pictures," he says, which he defines as paintings that are beautiful because they're of beautiful things or paintings with only sentimental value. In place of the obligatory sun- or shadow-washed barn, he gets something of the reality of rural life into his pictures. It's as if his work is a way of entering into a conversation with time, mindful of the generations past and present who've farmed America's isolating plains and valleys.

"What I strive for in painting," he says, "is what I suppose a poet strives for in the arrangement of words. My role is to arrange elements in ways that inspire contemplation and healing. I hope my work is a concrete statement about my sense of beauty and meaning."

How does he accomplish this? He evidently has a feel for the rough-edged rural life of farming families and ranchers and translates that into his paintings through stark contrasts, an earthy palette, and deliberately rough paint handling - he untethers conventionally separate elements, like foreground features and shadows or the branches and foliage of trees against the sky, rendering them as literally rough-edged forms.

Yet, I'd say his paintings aren't really about "place" so much as they're an intuition about a certain relationship between humans and the natural world.

The elements of civilization, nearly always present, often blur into elements of the landscape such as trees or grass, sky or snow. They're usually ramshackle, possibly abandoned yet persistent in their presence, both merging into and at odds with their surroundings.

As a result, his paintings gain emotional energy from what he puts into them via color (an earthy, limited palette high on contrast and soaked in atmosphere), paint handling (loose, scratchy rendering that channels the grittiness of the scenes themselves), and composition (his narrow formats and wide, abstractly designed foregrounds suggest a beautiful barrenness, and his barns and ranches, with their sometimes meagre, yet tenacious presence, often seem like ramshackle matchbox settlements in a land indifferent if not hostile to them).

And yet, all the “actors” in his paintings, whether it’s buildings, trees, mountains, busted fences or domesticated animals, hold each other in a precarious interrelationship; he doesn't paint "humanity in harmony with nature," nor does he paint humanity humbled by the sublime or the impersonal forces of nature - he paints a moment in the wrestling match between them.

A closer look at one of his paintings reveals that his trees, roads, barns, meadows, clouds, silos, grasses, and animals all depart from what the eye's lens alone would register, all with the intent of painting, as he puts it, what the camera can't capture.

There's a schmaltzy gallery video that shows him painting here, and his main gallery, with lots of fairly high res pictures of current work, is here. The below paintings blow up nicely for a closer look if you click on them.

Framed version of the above. Nice (connected) darks.

Finally, for more images and a deeper dive into how Fryer works - his palette, design approach, working methods, and color theory (hint: as in  our last artist, Corot, the foundation is values over colors, with healthy doses of the wonderful neutrals in nature), visit this link to an interview here.

To hear a podcast in which Laura Cassinari King interviews me on my thoughts about Fryer, visit the "Artists of New England" website and click the podcast link right here:


  1. Thank you for the post, I enjoyed reading about Fryer, and seeing his work.

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