Artist Chris Langlois

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View majestic landscapes seen through landscape artist Chris Langlois’ eyes at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery,with works that portray the essence of nature – the vastness, the passage of time, and the powerful, elemental forces of the weather. Chris will also be presenting an artist’s talk and conducting a plein air painting day locally …

Hi Chris. You studied a Bachelor of Arts, Visual Arts at Newcastle, completed in 1990 – but what led you to study art in the first place?

At school, as a kid, all the subjects except math didn’t really interest me, and I wasn’t any good at math … I studied art and photography from Year 7 onwards and I enjoyed it; the more I played around, the more curious I became … I continued art for the HSC; my interests then became divided between painting and photography.

In hindsight, I was pretty naive as to what you were able to achieve as a painter or an artist; my only knowledge of a practising painter was that of my grandmother painting in social group … I was totally ignorant to the greater art world – its joys and bitter disappointments. My thought at the time was that going to art school was probably a bit crazy, but what else was I going to do? I may as well do something I loved and worry about the consequences later.

Your landscapes are simply epic. What is it about nature – the sea, land and sky that inspires you to paint them?

Space. Emptiness. Beauty. Isolation. Violence of nature. Vastness. Scale is important; doing what I do on a large scale, doesn’t work on a small scale. Space needs space; scale needs scale, anything smaller than three foot square becomes intimate, and the viewer wants/needs to be close to the painting. Larger paintings work both from afar and close up.

What are your favourite tools and media to paint with?

I use traditional oil paint, and applied in the usual way – that is, brushes, painted on linen. Paint is a very versatile medium; it does not dictate its aesthetic on the work, unlike other mediums such as computer and software based mediums (or to a lessor extent photography), which I personally find subtly impregnates a work with the software programmer’s signature. Painting is pure, simple and direct.

What’s the “usual” process for you when you begin a new piece of work … Do you paint outdoors, work from photographs, or memory?

I start a body of work with taking heaps of photos – thousands of them. I go on trips around the country looking for stuff and so on, building up ideas and material to work from and bring it all back to my studio. In my studio I go through it all on the computer, compose, play with the subject, play with colour, do variations of subject etc – all the stuff originally done by drawing.

Initially my landscapes were based on things that I had seen and experienced and brought back to the studio through memory. While working from memory helps reduce unnecessary detail, it also has flaws in limiting the amount of subtlety and information that is required to give an image its multitude of dimensions in colour, composition, tone, scale and so forth. So, I include photography in my process. Photography can be problematic, in that it can dictate and lead to dull and literal interpretations of your subject.

There are also paintings that I call sketches, and they are painted outside. They are entirely different to the larger works – intimate, to be viewed closely. It’s one way of throwing a spanner in the works, as it is counter to my usual studio practice – especially as I am used to working in a private and comfortable studio. I find it challenging and difficult to pull off. Working like this is the opposite to using a viewfinder to help compose an image; instead, you have all of the landscape in front of you, and you can’t fit it all into a tiny rectangle.

The challenge then becomes all of the issues of the whole painting process at once in a difficult painting environment. However, it forces you to look and study at the landscape and after several days of working out of doors, I become more aware of the colour and stucture in landscape, and that is what I’m looking to take back to the studio. The paintings are executed quickly, and the end results are raw and honest. Most of the sketches fail, but some do hit the mark and are resolved in the studio. I certainly have more to explore, and it will be a continuing process.

Describe the exhibition you’ll be holding at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery…

The exhibition consists of 15 large paintings, four digital prints and 50 small paintings or “Sketches”. All but one (one from the collection of Glasshouse Regional Gallery) of the larger paintings are from the last 12 months; two of those works were originally painted for the Gold Award, an exhibition of eight Australian artists (Abdul Abdullah, Peter Atkins, Del Kathryn Barton, Julie Fragar, Chris Langlois, Sam Leach, Abbey McCulloch and Imants Tillers).

All the large paintings are from a series called Weather Systems. I wanted to paint large skies, calm, violent, sort of normal, whatever took my fancy. They are cinamatic and verge on romantic. The tonal, or black and white images are a wink to photography and the Australian Tonalists (Max Meldrum). The paintings are what they are, and I think they really don’t need much explanation. They are generic landscapes that could be anywhere or nowhere, but are of course familiar to anyone.

Titles are non specific; the paintings are an experience, not a scientific desription of a place. I’d like to think the paintings are more like instrumental music that washes over you, rather that work that has a litteral narrative. I like music that I can see, and I like images that I can hear.

The digital prints are a start of a newish project just using photography. Simply, I am trying to capture images that have the aesthetic of paint.

You’ll also be holding an artist’s talk and conducting a plein air class while you’re in Port Macquarie. What do you hope to convey to participants?

To share my personal insights as an artist, talk about the work. With the plein air class, have a really nice day out painting, good food, talk about techniques etc.

Where can readers find out more about you?

I have a book that will be available, along with the catalogue that has been published for this show, that documents work from 2000 – 2013, with essays from curators Katherine Roberts  and Simon Gregg: $20.

My website: www.chrislanglois.com.au

Olsen Irwin Gallery in Sydney: www.olsenirwin.com

Gould Gallery in Melbourne: www.gouldgalleries.com

Thanks Chris. Interview by Jo Atkins.

See Chris Langlois’ exhibition at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery from November 20 until January 17.

Artist Talk: December 3; 5:30pm Cost: $15 and $12 members.

Plein Air Painting Day: December 5; 10am – 3pm. Cost: $30; $25 member. Bookings essential.

Visit: www.glasshouse.org.au for more info.

The Glasshouse would like to acknowledge Olsen Irwin Gallery for their support with this exhibition.

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