Lynette Lombard is a local painter and professor at Knox College. Her work explores the landscape and feeling a connection to place and the natural world, translated through the medium of plein air painting. I have had the fortunate experience of being a student of hers for 5 years now, and get to see her wonderful way of viewing art and the world firsthand. Her paintings are thick and expressive, full of viscerality and imbued with feeling in each stroke. I enjoyed flipping the script and asking her questions for a change!
I started out by asking Lynette how COVID-19 has affected her art practice, especially as a professor during this time. She told me “After teaching remotely in the hectic early days of the pandemic in the spring, I felt such an urgency and hunger to paint. All term I had painted out my studio window and then at the end of the term I drove out to Green Oaks. I found being out in nature gave me energy and took me into a world of wonder and discovery. The isolation was liberating in the sense I had more time to paint, but COVID has brought a profound sense of loss and urgency into our lives and into my paintings. It has been an anxious time, especially during the elections, and throughout 2020 I lost a few dear friends. At times, the grief and the anxiety have influenced my work.” The effects of this tragic pandemic cannot be understated. As people intimately tied to cultural and political happenings, artists have always imbued the surrounding historical context into their work. It’s safe to say this is one of those times in which art is extremely important, as an historical record of both the events and feelings of this time, and a method of healing and helping. We are heartbroken to hear the effects of the pandemic on Lynette’s personal sphere of loved ones, and hope that her art is helping her to process the grief and anxiety experienced during this time.
Shifting now to the particulars of Lynette’s practice, I asked her about her process, specifically her methods during plein air painting. What does she look for in the landscape that captures her attention? How does she paint those interesting moments? “I look for places that move me, for a challenging complexity, a structure that is dynamic and a place where color, space and light evoke drama. I work mostly from perception, which opens my imagination as I work to capture several moments in time and in space. First I draw to understand the main visual structures I see. Then I begin to paint, at first descriptively, the image begins to take shape and build into a volumetric space, evoke feelings and the painting takes on a life. There’s an elemental embodied physicality that I feel with paint- pushing it one way then another, scraping it, feeling its mass, fragility and fluidity. This process makes me feel alive, out there experiencing the elements, part of something bigger than myself. I organize all of these multiple moments into one distilled image by bringing the painting into the studio and working on it, then going back out again.”
The importance of integrating drawing into an artist’s practice often comes up when Lynette and I talk. I asked her about her personal relationship with drawing and the dialogue it creates in her work. How do drawing and painting overlap? Why is drawing important? “I think drawing is at the core of my work. I’ve always been interested in structure-- the scaffolding or architecture that holds the whole work together. I find drawing so direct. All you need is a pencil or charcoal, an eraser and a piece of paper. It’s immediate and I can make changes quickly. Because drawing is about the bare bones of a painting, I draw initially from a motif or when I draw from one of my paintings when I’m stuck, I find clarity about what I want to happen. Drawing helps me see clearly.” I see this play out in her work, particularly in the big geometries and planes that move through the space in her landscapes. Drawing holds the other elements in her pieces like color, brushstrokes/marks, and shape together. I like Lynette’s remark about drawing being so direct, it’s a very bodily and visceral practice that’s felt, following lines and marks and feeling their movements. Drawing the landscape becomes a direct interaction with the terrain, the different planes corresponding to the ones we traverse, both with our bodies and our eyes.
The topic of drawing led us to discuss the visual elements that excite Lynette, such as line, shape, and color. “I see every shape as a force not a thing. I see big masses of sky with clouds tilting in one direction, while the trunks of trees move in an opposing direction and the land pushes up as the tree pushes down. I feel as if I’m juggling the interval shapes, the shapes of forms, directional forces, a deeper space, a shallower space- all these forces are moving in relation to each other. Painting is like a dance. Paintings never turn out the way you think they might and that’s a challenge and an excitement. I am painting the life forces at work poetically, visually and viscerally.” Lynette’s comment “I see every shape as a force not a thing” has helped me out in my own practice as an artist. Often, landscape artists think about shaping the experience of a particular place/part of nature as a form with color, light, and texture, not as a nameable thing. Shaping is about really looking and observing, seeing what is actually in front of you, and distinguishing the experience from preconceived notions. Juggling elements of a piece based on their different or similar forms, colors, shapes, volumes, etc. really is the exciting part--finding ways to relate and distinguish forms based on what you wish to accomplish in a piece.
Often in my classes with Lynette students are assigned obstructions. The idea is to shake up your habits, and get you moving outside of your normal routine to add something new or fresh in your work. Obstructions are particularly helpful when you feel stuck in your practice. For example, if you consistently use green in a piece, you might be assigned the obstruction of using its complementary color, red, instead. I asked Lynette how she keeps her practice interesting. What are things you do to switch it up if you fall too much into patterns? What are some obstructions you set for yourself when necessary? “Each painting provides a different set of problems. The psychological frame of mind I’m in makes me receptive to different points of view. Sometimes, I paint looking down into the valley, or I prefer to look up at the craggy tops of mountains, or I want a dense intimacy, or an expansive openness. I switch the complimentary colors so a green field becomes red. And I also paint at night. I switch from painting to drawing. I have so many ideas for paintings I can’t keep up, but at times in the winter for example, I make drawings from artists’ works that influence me. In doing this I see how certain artists create a diversity of rhythms and complexities and manage to unify the whole painting.”
Speaking of these artists Lynette draws from, I asked her more specifically about her art influences in her work. “Soutine, Constable, El Greco, Courbet, Joan Mitchell, Marsden Hartley, Jane Culp, Auerbach and my husband, Tony Gant. Soutine, Mitchell and El Greco’s rhythms are wild and so intelligently integrated into the subject matter of a painting. Courbet and Constable have a beautiful sense of weight and this is also true for Auerbach, especially how he handles paint as a visceral material substance that shapes the volume of what he paints. Hartley and Culp are so specific about the planer solidity and volumes of what they paint in the landscape. Tony Gant has the most perceptive and unusual insights and has a great eye. I often think paintings can move us across barriers of time and are alive today, albeit in different ways from when they were made. I always say to my students that we all have art families we are part of, and that we connect with them across time because we share sensibilities. My former teachers have also been my guides- Nick Carone, Andrew Forge, Frances Barth in the US; Basil Beattie, Harry and Elma Thubron and Bert Irwin in England. And my friends- artists, writers, translators, theater directors, architects, poets and myriad friends who make me think about things in a new way.”
After speaking about those who taught her, I asked her about how teaching others informs her work. “Teaching is unpredictable, it demands a clarity in terms of explaining an idea or a series of complex ideas. I am always challenged by my students, I like the dialogue I have with them, the exchange of ideas and experiences. I do bring my experiences of painting to the classroom, but I try not to bring the classroom into my practice. However, there are times when a student’s work or a conversation with a student speaks to me and makes me rethink an idea in my work. There can be a back-and-forth at times, a reciprocity, between teaching and my own painting. Making my own work throughout the term keeps me in touch with the frustrations and challenges that students encounter as they make work. I think all art making and teaching has to involve a sense of discovery. As an artist and a teacher, I work to stay connected to current artists and to discourses around historical works as well as contemporary practices.” As her former student, I can attest to the importance of this dialogue between professor and student. Lynette is particularly adept at bringing an enthusiasm for discovery in art, engaging students to use their art-making tools as extensions of their bodies that will help them bring their experiences into a visual medium. I am constantly amazed and interested in her point of view, the ways her mind moves in response to students’ work, how she situates herself in the experiences students portray through their work, and the clarity of language she brings to those felt experiences. This is particularly powerful because she invests time in understanding students’ point of view, and deeply cares about what they want to say through their art.
Finally, I asked Lynette what experience she hopes viewers have with her work. “I hope my paintings will take viewers into an elemental experience of being in a place. I hope they’ll feel the spirit of a place. Hopefully, a viewer will recall places they remember and feel connected to something larger than themselves. There’s an urgency to painting the landscape today. I feel as if I’m painting the nature we are losing. My paintings become memorials. In the long run, I think landscape paintings can offer a feeling of recognizing that place matters and where we are shapes who we are.” The best parts of experiencing any kind of art is sharing in the artist’s point of view, and finding how we as the viewers can relate and bring our own experience to the work. Through her dedication to depicting a felt experience, and being empathetic towards the subject itself, Lynette’s paintings achieve the sense of wonder and experience of place she hopes to achieve. How truly wonderful!
If you want to view more of Lynette’s work, stop by our gallery space and check out her website by clicking here.
Thank you Lynette for this wonderful interview! I hope you enjoyed reading!
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