Q&A with Utah landscape painter Douglas Fryer

Douglas Fryer’s landscapes range from timeless imagery painted with serene clarity to atmospheric scenes with an edge of mystery. For his solo exhibition, Beyond the Fences at Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe, the Utah artist reveals nature’s complexities with visions that are at once harsh and beautiful, peaceful yet wild. I interviewed the artist to learn more about his painting process, inspiration, and visionary approach to the landscape.

Douglas Fryer,  Sage and Spring Willows on the Sevier River , oil, 12 x 30 1/4 in.

Douglas Fryer, Sage and Spring Willows on the Sevier River, oil, 12 x 30 1/4 in.

Q&A with Douglas Fryer

Your landscapes are often atmospheric – as if you were looking at the scene from a moving car. Why do you choose to interpret the landscape in this way rather than a more traditional rendering? 

Douglas Fryer,  New Snow , oil, 14 x 12 in.

Douglas Fryer, New Snow, oil, 14 x 12 in.

Any method of rendering becomes an extension of the artist’s way of seeing and becomes the convention he uses to interpret and represent things that are in the world or in the imagination. Our eyes always see things in a state of relative motion and relative abstraction, but our brain functions in a way that tricks us into thinking everything is still, solid and compartmentalized. Also, I believe our culture has become desensitized in a way, and we tend to think things look real only if they look photographic, but paradoxically, photos have little to do with how we really see things. The camera does not discriminate, has no value system that tells it some things are relatively more important than others, and the camera has far less sensitivity to ranges of light and dark. Our binocular vision can see around objects and edges. While I focus on one subject, all others become blurred. The camera can crudely mimic that, but only if we set it to do that, and even then it isn’t the same. There is also the element of the passage of time and our movement through space as part of our reality. We are very rarely static and are never able to focus on all things within our range of vision at all times. Sometimes I want to express the idea that reality is more fluid, and though my eye and mind may focus on one thing in a scene, in reality all else is soft, interpenetrating in motion. 

All that being said, at other times I like to render things in a way that implies solidity, clarity and timelessness. So all the rules I just mentioned become subordinate to other rules that are better suited to that purpose. 

Tell me a little bit about your painting techniques.

Douglas Fryer,  Mountain Storm , oil, 12 x 9 in.

Douglas Fryer, Mountain Storm, oil, 12 x 9 in.

The blocking-in part of painting is a very active, energetic and intuitive part of the process for me. It establishes the theme and gesture of the painting.  I tend to get a lot of paint down quickly. I want to make general, broad choices of value and color. Even though I am painting shapes and planes, I try to push edge into edge, using a generous amount of paint. I use a lot of different tools at this stage, and I will quickly move from trowel to knife to brush and then back again - going as far as I can with one stroke and one tool, then switching when I feel the need. I try to get a wide variety of marks and passages of color temperature and value. I will use a 4” trowel, a painting knife, a flat bristle brush, a soft synthetic brush and a sable sometimes back and forth from the start to the finish. As the painting progresses I get more specific, but at times I try to broaden and simplify by taking detail out.  As I work in layers in different sittings, I use additive and subtractive methods to create the marks and patterns that give the surface character, and aid in extending the variety necessary for the vision I have for the work.

What are the factors that draw you to paint certain places and subjects?

Although I am always tempted to paint scenes that would be considered “idyllic,” my attention usually tends toward locations and subjects that most artists would reject as un-picturesque.  These usually offer more to me as potential for something meaningful. It is difficult for me to make a scene that is already beautiful any more beautiful without tending toward sentimentality. But a scene that is a little less stereotypically lovely often becomes fascinating in a different way, and through close observation, interpretation, and the painting process I can suggest the importance, the significance of the place. This is what becomes beautiful to me, and hopefully also to the viewer. 

Douglas Fryer,  Gentle Breezes , oil, 8 x 8 in.

Douglas Fryer, Gentle Breezes, oil, 8 x 8 in.

What is your ideal scene to paint – that image or specific landscape you spot that makes you want to grab a brush and start working. 

The concept of the ideal scene is elusive and puzzling, but it starts with an internal feeling of thrill and excitement of pictorial and compositional potential. The scene has beauty, but with an edge, an element of harshness, wildness, mystery, complexity and unity. That image can be a location on a road just outside of town, or it can be from my travels in a distant place. It can be from any season, and any time of day. It can be a place I have studied with intensity or a place I have glimpsed out of the corner of my eye as I drive down the highway.

What do you hope to convey to the viewer through your work? 

I hope viewers would feel similar to how I feel when I create the work. I try to be contemplative and reflective. I strive for a sense of peace and unity, but with recognition of the edge, the mysterious complexity there is in nature. Importance and significance can be found in the simplest of visions and choices, and in unexpected locations. A painting is the encapsulation of the artist’s frame of mind, his craft, his values and his imagination. Hopefully the viewer shares in these, and the painting gives expression to his point of view as well as that of the artist.

View Douglas Fryer’s Solo Exhibition, "Beyond the Fences", on display at Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe from December 8 – December 15 and browse his available paintings here