Paulette Thenhaus is in the business of color, emotion, and nature. Her work seeks to evoke feelings of happiness and comfort, something she thinks isn’t given enough weight in the art world today. She is committed to and passionate about painting landscapes in the midwest, which certainly shows through her pieces! I was fortunate enough to have a phone call with her about her process and other projects she has in store, I hope you enjoy it!
Initially I asked her to tell me about her plein air practice. For those who don’t know, plein air literally translated means “open air”, and refers to landscape painting on site, or on location. This kind of painting means you are at the mercy of the weather, temperature, and other natural elements that can influence a piece. For this reason, every plein air painter has their own tricks and specific methods when going out into the field. I asked Paulette about hers, and she told me about the materials she uses and the time frame in which she paints. She primarily uses acrylic paint, as she likes how quickly it dries and enjoys the immediacy in seeing the final product. Because of it’s quick-drying nature, this also means that Paulette is outside for an hour to an hour and a half painting with short, open brush marks. Most of the time she completes the paintings out in the field, but if need be, she’ll bring them back to her home studio to finish. She normally brings smaller canvases out into the field, typically sized at 16 x 20”. She told me she likes to try and put the temperature, textures, colors, and scent of the location in her paintings, wanting it to feel as real as her experience in the place. The smell aspect is particularly important to her, and to communicate it through her paintings she relies on color, texture, and brush marks to translate the aromas.
These elements of color and texture change based on what season she’s painting. During the warmer months, Paulette is able to stand outside with her composition and paint, but during late fall and winter she tends to paint from the view of a window, tucked inside her house or car. Before settling on a composition to paint, she walks around the site for a bit, observing what sparks her interest. She typically goes outside to paint when she’s feeling positive about the day, as she prefers not to paint when feeling negative or grumpy. Her interest lies in making people happy, upbeat, and positive while looking at her paintings. This is achieved through her color combinations, particularly her use of complementary colors that have high contrast and make the pieces pop, immediately drawing the viewers’ eyes to the piece, much like the immediacy with which she paints the scenes. She wants to create paintings that are easily felt and accessible for all to enjoy and bring a positive experience to.
The complementary color combinations also reflect the season and (some) the time of day. She noted her painting "Dusk" as an example, directly reflecting the time with soft grays and blues. Then there are the paintings done in the bright sunlight, which use more saturated colors. Every now and then she makes a night painting, and likes to paint in a variety of weather. In particular, she is interested in what happens when natural elements find their way into the painting, as they directly reflect her experience outside-- they help the painting remain “in the moment” of its creation.
Paulette’s goal with these paintings is to recreate the experience of being in the place and not rendering the place as it’s seen. She referred to Van Gogh’s paintings as inspiration with their emotional saturation: each brush stroke and color represents his feelings being in the landscape, the light and temperature reflective of his experience as well. Like Van Gogh, feelings and colors decide her compositions, what she “sees and feels determines what she paints.”
We talked a bit about some non-landscape pieces she has made, specifically the big gold piece hanging in our gallery space called "Autumn Glow". For this piece and several others, she created stencils before applying paint. In the case of “Autumn Glow” she spray-painted gold over the stencils, which was superimposed over a pink-hued fall scene, a scene whose composition was created entirely in Paulette’s mind. Her goal was to make both the gold and the autumn scene peeking out from behind the leaves, which inspired the creation of the composition. In general, Paulette’s pieces really do glow-- her color combinations catapult me to a world filled with rich light and textures, an upbeat, dream-like space. Not a bad place to rest during the craziness of the world right now!
Paulette is currently working on self-publishing a book titled “Drawing From Life, Adventures of the Midwest.” She was inspired to write this book due to her experience in New York as an artist, when she entered a cowboy piece into a juried exhibition called “Is there Art in the Midwest?”, poking fun at what New Yorkers thought of midwesterners, and responding to the title of the exhibition with “is there nature in New York?". We remarked that there is indeed a lot of art in the midwest, as the landscape inspires people to depict the rich beauty here.
We hope to have access to Paulette’s book once it comes out, and are thankful to be a space where she shows her wonderful pieces!
If you are interested in Paulette’s work and want to see more, check out her gallery page on her website, which you can access here.
Thank you for reading!