Four Seasons: Artist Doug Graybeal’s ‘Still Here’ at the Art Base
What: Doug Graybeal, ‘Still Here’
Where: The Art Base, Basalt
When: Through Dec. 4
More info: artbase.org
It’s turned out to be a big autumn 2021 season for the Carbondale artist Doug Graybeal, who is opening his first solo show at the Art Base coming off of curating the extraordinary “Our Lands” group exhibition at the Aspen Chapel Gallery.
The “Our Lands” show was the culmination of collaboration with Aspen Valley Land Trust, which brought Graybeal and a group of locally based landscape painters onto properties protected and conserved by the nonprofit.
Running concurrently with that project, Graybeal – a longtime Roaring Fork Valley-based architect and artist – has been working on the new body of work “Still Here,” which opened at the Art Base in Basalt on Oct. 8 (less than a week after “Our Lands” closed).
The works in the show are closely observed but dreamy visions of local peaks and mountainscapes – Capitol, Sopris, the Roaring Fork River and environs – as seen across the four seasons. Here is Capitol in early winter with snows piling on yellow bands of aspen trees, there it is in spring with rock and green emerging, here is Sopris after its first snow of winter, there it is above yellowing fields in midsummer.
“The thought I had behind the show was that as I get older I realized that the environment around us is here and it’s never been anything other than the way a pioneer saw it,” Graybeal explained at last week’s exhibition opening. “Our reference to those mountains is that is they don’t change except for the seasons that’s our only reference of time to those things.”
So over the past year as he worked toward his scheduled Art Base show, Graybeal looked at these unchanging mountains from different angles and in every season as a ways to better understand and appreciate the permanence of the mountain landscape.
The 22 paintings in the show make use of Graybeal’s method combining watercolor and pastel on canvas, which manages to capture the vivid mountain views and their natural colors with a specificity that cameras somehow can’t.
He begins with a watercolor under-painting, Graybeal explained, uses his fingers to smear pastels in some places and marks it in other places to capture the many variations in shade, color and subtle contrast you see when looking at a mountain.
The style emerged, he explained from studying under the artist Georgeann Waggaman, who had used the method to create architectural renderings.
“You really just need to let the water do its thing,” Graybeal explained of the watercolor element of the work. “That’s how you get that special flowing kind of feel to it.”
Graybeal painted most of these new works – at least in part – en plein air, setting up his easel and doing his best to recreate what he saw in front of him. In some cases, the winter pieces in particular, he relied also on photographs. And he has included his sketchbook in the exhibition, opening up his process to viewers, showing black and white studies of shadow, establishing his light sources and focal colors, his key contrasts and, for each work, writing a short “why” statement for the image.
“I prefer to paint plein air because you can capture colors and a camera won’t,” Graybeal explained. “For instance, a shadow in the camera will come back black and you don’t see any of the detail, you don’t see the green in the grass reflecting in the light – whatever it might be, you miss those kind of things.”
“Still Here” was timed to open during what is often the Roaring Fork Valley’s most dramatic seasonal change, from fall to early winter as the first snows meet the last of the brilliant autumn leaves. It runs through Dec. 4.
“This is the perfect moment for this exhibition – when all of us are feeling the shift of seasons so immediately, and therefore, the impermanence of every moment,” Art Base curator Lissa Ballinger said when the show was announced. “Doug gracefully successfully leads the viewer through this exploration of landscape changed by the seasons.”
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