The word landscape comes from the Dutch word, landschap, meaning a patch of cultivated ground. Landscape, as a subject in painting, has a tradition reaching back over a thousand years and is most prominent in Western and Chinese art traditions. En plein air, a French term used to describe a method of painting outdoors, emerged in the mid-19th century and was made possible by the introduction of paint tubes and the box easel. These innovations allowed artists greater mobility and the opportunity to work outside in natural light.
The more recent innovations of geo-locational technologies such as Bing, Google maps…and some 24+ satellites orbiting the earth have inspired me to create a new approach to landscape painting that I call “Plein Aerial Painting”. My fancy French term for this…“vue du ciel”…which means “a view from heaven”.
In 2009, I started to use these digital mapping tools to render some of the places on earth that I love…places I spent time growing up…places that have inspired me…places that I know intimately that hold very special memories. I spend hours plugging in coordinates, zooming in and out to frame and grab just the right part of the earth that I wanted to paint. Then, like any other landscape study I do…I work my watercolors (like an oil painter) on my clayboard until I get things just right. This is a Edgemoor Club…a small, neighborhood tennis and swim club in Bethesda, Maryland, where I grew up. It is the home of some of the finest, hand manicured, “hard true” clay courts in the country and has been the destination for many world class tennis tournaments over the last 50 years. My mom started the first girls tennis team there in the early 70’s and my dad was a tennis hacker and tribal elder who served on the board for many years. It was very much our second home for many years. It is where my brother, sisters and I spent just about every minute of every summer as kids. We swam on the swim team, played on the tennis team, worked in the snack bar and forged friendships there that have lasted a lifetime.
The footprint of this particular patch of earth was the image I wanted to capture. Thankfully, I was able to grab satellite images of the club, with the original footprint, before it underwent a major renovation this past year in 2011. When my father, Duke Gaiser, was very ill in 2009, I made this painting with him in my heart and mind. I brought it to him in the hosptical and asked him what it was. I knew that it would read as an abstract painting to anyone unfamiliar with this landscape…but wasn’t sure how recognizable it would be to him. Within seconds he recognized it! I was delighted and amazed. When you find a place that you become a part of…it becomes a part of you. And that’s what this series of paintings is about.
Here’s another. This one is Robinswood Tennis Center, less than a mile from my home in Bellevue. Shortly after we moved to Phantom Lake in 2001, I started to play tennis again after many years away from the sport. Within no time, I found my home again on the court. This is the painting I made for my tennis coach who took my 3.0 team to the National Championships in 2010.
Mapping tools like Bing, Google Maps, Google Earth, deliver to us all a new locative literacy and the ability to create 3 dimensional images of a landscape from space…in realtime! How is it that we already take this for granted? I, for one, am so thankful for my “vue du ciel” and count my lucky satellites that I was born at just the right time to fold these digital tools into my palette. So, I’ll keep painting my views from heaven of the a patches of cultivated ground that hold magic for me.