Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. These amazing artists have offered to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the Featured Artist and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
TODAY’S FEATURED ARTIST: Peter Fiore
“If you paint with the idea that you may fail, you will always be a timid painter — constraining yourself to only go so far. That’s a slow death.”
Q: It appears that you spend quite a bit of time visiting the locations you paint, searching for a subject. What is it about a certain location that convinces you that the right subject will reveal itself? Have you ever invested your time on a location, or even a subject, you thought was right only to later find that it wasn’t?
A: I’m always searching for a motif that will allow me to explore light and color and emotion.
The location doesn’t convince me, it’s only after making studies and some smaller paintings that I know what any subject can yield. Once I’ve discovered a location that could yield something, I’ll go back and visit it many times — different times of day, different seasons and different weather. All have a tremendous impact on what that something can be.
I’m not looking for the final painting at this point, as in “this is what I’m going to paint”, but rather to learn a subject in greater detail so that I can create what I want it to be rather than what it is — a visual reorchestration.
Often, after spending a considerable amount of time on a painting motif, things just don’t go any further for a number of reasons. It could be that my ideas have shifted or it could be that another subject, another idea, manifests itself in a greater way and I’ll go down that road.
Q: When we first spoke to you about being a guest artist on the Blank Canvas series, you replied with “I’m in Newfoundland chasing down icebergs for a new body of work.” That’s probably the coolest reply we’ve heard so far to a Blank Canvas invite! Can you tell us about your trip, and what appeal icebergs hold for you?
A: My fascination with icebergs started with a slideshow I was giving to students at the School of Visual Arts in NY where I teach. In the slide show I included a couple of images by Frederic Church, specifically of his iceberg studies. I found these online and apparently they had been cropped. The cropped studies appeared with a very modern sensibility of design. They were portraits of icebergs, not grand vistas, but portraits and that intrigued me greatly.
Immediately, I thought what I could bring to icebergs was very much what I had done with my White Pine Suite. That the tree was a presence, not just an object. So I thought of the iceberg as a big graphic shape that would be a terrific vehicle for the exploration of light on these massive shapes — which meant that color could be limitless. The environment of the iceberg is paramount to it’s individual nature, it’s atmosphere is unique, therefore going there was a must.
The idea of Newfoundland as my destination came about with my research of Frederick Church, that’s where he went. He went to Newfoundland in 1859, one year prior to the beginning of the American Civil War, so I figured I would go to Newfoundland 159 years later.
It took me a few years to get this all in motion, do the research, and figure out my path. And of course nature had to do it’s part and cooperate.
Q: When it comes to the artist’s frame of mind you state that “comfort is paramount” and that you have an aversion to painting en plein air or outdoors – your studio is your palace. Do you see any merit to creating art under difficult or less than ideal circumstances? What are your thoughts about working from photos vs life?
A: My preference for studio painting comes from my long career as an illustrator. I started as a studio artist gathering references for an idea and then bringing it to fruition. It was always for a client, magazine, book cover etc.
It’s always been a natural process for me, but painting on location was never a part of that process. However, observation from nature was — and it remains tremendously important.
How you make the painting, under what conditions you make it, are totally irrelevant to what the final painting looks like. All that matters is the final painting. I just happen to choose my studio to work from.
For me, painting has to go deeper than just what something looks like and I can’t do that on location. There’s just not enough time. Working in the studio allows me a greater opportunity to bring more complexity to my painting. Texture is a built up process that takes time. The paint needs time for drying, and then I come back to abrade the surface, scratch, sand, glaze and whatever else I need to do to create the visual effect that I want — I can’t do that in the field.
I’ll make a music analogy, plein air painting is like a song — it’s complete and beautiful. A song has a certain quality it reaches on it’s own level, and I love all kinds of songs. But what I am looking for is a symphony — many more instruments, movements and layers, that have to take place over time. I’m not an hour or two hour painter.
Photos are invaluable tools to bring back to the studio. But unless you understand what you are looking at and the true nature of the subject, your photos are going to ring empty. A photograph freezes a moment, and life is not a frozen moment. You have to learn to go beyond the photograph, reorchestrate and create something alive.
The photography bugaboo is that too many artists copy photographs, and their work looks like painted photographs. Often even mimicking the surface quality of the photograph, which is flat and smooth, almost like they are painting glossy photos. That’s an easy trap to fall into. The photograph, to a fault, is held sacrosanct and we can compare every mark we make to the photograph. Somehow the photograph ends up acting as a religious icon, and it is not. It’s just an idea, a jumping off point.
Often the issue with plein air is the lack of quality light — many paintings are done in the middle of the day. While it captures that feeling of the middle of the day, for me, it’s not the most compelling light possible. The best light for me is early morning and later in the evening, when the sun is lower in the sky and has more color temperature. Very difficult to capture en plein air since those moments are extremely fleeting.
Q: Light seems to emanate from within your works, like your beautiful painting ‘The Chapel’. How do you achieve that?
A: ‘The Chapel’, in particular, exemplifies being in the right place at the right time of day.
I stood there at about 3 pm on a January afternoon waiting — the light was low in the sky. The light came through the trees creating a wonderful sense of depth and space. It had all the potential drama I wanted. The direction of the light was terrific but the color was flat — what I mean by that is it was all light and shadow, high contrast, devoid of color. That happens in photography, very little color because of the high contrast situation.
Back in my studio, I redesigned the picture and adjusted the value structure, infusing it with color to create what I wanted, rather than what I saw. Painting is not specifically about copying what you see — I’m painting what I want the viewer to see. There is no formula.
Q: You’ve spoken about the “presence” of the trees you choose to paint – how they serve as stand-ins for people and how their anatomy is the person. What does that presence feel like to you? How can our community of artists, with other subjects, use the same approach?
A: They can’t.
Another artist can’t feel exactly what I feel. You have to have a reason for the subject to become important to you. It has to have meaning in your life at the right moment, so that you can infuse that energy into the painting. Otherwise, you’re just making a painting of a tree.
That’s something that came to me after looking at trees for 20 something years. All of my mature works are in series. The reason for that is because I have a specific idea, something in mind, and I have a need to explore. That turns into a body of work.
I’m not a one-off painter, meaning I don’t paint one here or there and then move on to the next subject. That’s an empty path for me.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that “painters should be painting for people, not for other artists!” and “painting isn’t for technical excellence but to elicit emotion in the common viewer – light is more than visual, it’s emotional”. What are some practices you suggest for avoiding the ‘acceptance trap’ that so many artists succumb to?
A: Making a painting of a 19th century subject in the manner of a 19th century painter is not timeless, it’s just 19th century painting. This is a commercial choice — today, no more Sargents are being made by Sargent.
I suggest that artists paint in their time — meaning 21st century thinking. That includes all of art history, the 20th century and all it’s movements should come into play. I’m not saying you have to use it all, but you need to understand it. Tremendous things artistically happened in the 20th century.
For my painting heroes I look at Rembrandt, Vermeer, David and Ingres, Turner, Twachtman, Inness, Bellows, Hopper, Wyeth, De Kooning, Rothko, Jasper Johns, Diebenkorn, Chuck Close, Helen Frankenthaler, Brice Marden, Lucian Freud and Neil Welliver to name a small bunch. There are a lot more — that’s the point.
There is a lot of great work out there that goes beyond — as artists we always have to keep expanding our thinking and experiences.
For me, I’m trying to make eternal moments that transcend time.
Q: You’re a successful artist who’s traditionally done well in art shows – a couple years ago you won the American Art Collector Award of Excellence from the ARC Salon Fine Art Galleries. What have you done to achieve success, especially in consideration of your viewpoint that we shouldn’t paint to appeal to other artists (like show judges).
A: What helps to make one successful is trusting yourself, being true to your own voice.
Too many paintings are interchangeable from one artist to another. That’s the trap —that’s painting for commercial success. It’s very scary to buck the norm and try to make paintings that are uniquely yourself. Ultimately, that’s what stands out though. Sometimes it’s acknowledged by judges, but more often it is passed over. I have tons of paintings that have been passed over. No response is the worst response of all, and that far exceeds the successes.
The most famous painters create only a handful of paintings that are truly eternal. It’s staggering the way history shakes out.
Q: You began your White Pine series following a severe car accident in which you were injured. During recovery you were walking through the woods and noticed how your tree, which had previously been damaged by fire, had sprung back to life even stronger, and you’ve shared before how those tragic events became a powerful creative force in your own life. Can you describe that experience? How did that affect your art, and what advice can you give to other artists on leveraging adversity?
A: As a human being, adversity is not pleasant. However, if you look at adversity for what it is, it can be an element of potentiality. That means it can be anything, based on how you think about it and how you spin it.
Adversity can force you to be more creative, to work within it’s limitations. If you just continue to sit on the couch, that won’t happen.
Also, a way to move on to a new subject is to just start making things. Make 2 things, then make 3, and then you go to 4 and 5, and you start to have the relationships of paintings and possibly a body of work as opposed to having just one offs.
Q: You once said that you aren’t afraid of failure, and the only real regret is having not tried. How has that belief affected the progress of your painting, and why would that be important for other artists to understand?
A: Success is allusive for even the greatest artists.
If you paint with the idea that you may fail, you will always be a timid painter — constraining yourself to only go so far. That’s a slow death.
The most important part of painting is making the painting — the journey, the discoveries, the excitement and the challenges of what the painting can be. Often, a painting can wane on me and then I have to work very hard to get the excitement back. Once the painting is created, it becomes an object. The process is now gone.
The painting process is the excitement for me, the fuel for being an artist and the reason to make the next one. Once the painting is created, what’s next? I have to do something to create the excitement for myself and that’s what fuels the next paintings. That’s how the icebergs came about.
Q: I’ve heard you say that it’s a misconception that artists are flighty – rather, “artists are some of the smartest people (you) know.” Why do you think that misconception exists?
A: Hollywood, TV, teach us that artists are always on the edge — they’re feelings are out of control and they are so emotional that they can kill someone or themselves within seconds.
Irresponsible. That’s crazy.
What you have to understand is that no one needs a painting. The idea is to make a painting that someone wants, and that takes a lot of intelligence and self determination, a high level of craft, and a tremendous amount of work.
Artists are highly informed people — philosophy, literature, science, art, music and history — all of these things are part of our world and you have to have a grasp on these things to internalize those elements to create your world. Nothing great ever comes in a vacuum. Art is cultural, it’s thinking, it’s passion, it’s education, it’s intellectual. I am trying to create the poetry that goes beyond the surface.
Thanks Bill , for a great interview! I always enjoy these. I really identified with Peters process.
You’re welcome Kathy! Peter’s style and philosophy are after my own heart and I love the enthusiasm and passion he puts into his art and words.
Excellent peterfiore… Almost my work and statements are similar… Kindly visit my GB page ..fauzia Khan art… Many thanks Bill inman
Wow! Best interview to stay motivated and put into words how we must all be feeling while we create. It’s also how i feel when i go to museums and galleries and view pieces that touch me.
I agree Debbie! Makes me want to paint all day every day with gusto. I was at the Prix de West Show at the Western Heritage Art Museum yesterday and felt awe, inspiration and motivation all at the same time.
Thanks, Bill, for the great interview. Peter, I really appreciate your emphasis on the combination of intelligence and emotion in your paintings. Great information!
You’re welcome Kathleen – I am grateful for the generous spirit in the professional artists I know and meet. I am in full accord with Peter when he talks about artists being some of the more informed and intelligent people he knows. Art is tough and requires much more than simple serendipity and relaxed thinking. I believe much of the intelligence of artists stems from our natural curiosity and wonder.
I am mesmerized by your paintings. Your colors are spectacular. I have loved treesall my adult life and have painted many trees. Your trees are alive. I listened carefully at what you had to say. I will try to be more jexpresive in my work. You have touched my soul. Thank you so much. Jeanne Lachance
Wow, so great to hear you were touched and motivated by the interview Jeanne! Peter is a wonderfully articulate and expressive artist in word and paint.
When you can make someone have tears of joy looking at your paintings you know you have dipped your brush into their soul. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you Linda for sharing your kind words – I am grateful the interview touched your heart.
So enjoyed this interview, the opportunity to capture a glimpse of Peter’s creative process. Breathtaking body of work. I am inspired!
Awesome to hear Kim! I love to see how other artists work as well. We never know when something we learn will help take our own art to a higher level.
Thank you for this interview! I love to paint both outdoors and in the studio; its nice to hear why other artists prefer studio painting.
I agree Petra! I just got back from painting for several days outside at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and loved it. I also look forward to the concentration and focus that come from a quiet studio with stable lighting and weather. I find I paint with a lot more bravura and emotion when I’m out on location because of the changing light and weather and I can then bring that back into the studio to help my paintings have more life to them. That’s why we each need to find what works for us.
Inspirational words. Makes me want to rethink the way I paint. Going to get my camera out and “focus” on a subject that speaks to me. Thanks Peter.
Great idea Ellen. Quang Ho told about going to Virginia for the first time during the fall. He went out to paint and was overwhelmed. So, he put his paints away and just sat there taking it all in and observing the colors and beauty. He also took a lot of photos before he left.
Thank you, loved the interview and your amazing paintings.
Thank you Sher, so glad you enjoyed it!
I was so thrilled to see that one of my favorite painters was featured in your blank canvas interview. Peter Fiore makes beautiful magic in color and subject. Thank you, Bill, for asking spot on questions of Peter. I learned a lot and plan to follow Peter’s advice to paint for myself and paint with experimentation.
So great to hear Margaret! Peter’s use of color is spectacular. I was excited when Peter agreed to share his insights with our community, especially while out observing icebergs.
I am in love! Having always been enamored with trees, I am just stunned by Peter Fiore’s work! I had never heard of h8m, but I want to see more! Thank you, Bill, for introducing us to these magnificent paintings! I will check him out further! You are really expanding my mind.
Wow, that is awesome to hear Judy! That was one of the main reasons we started this series – there are so many incredible artists working today and we want our community to get to know them and learn from their successful career experiences.
Thank you for this interview, Bill.
And thank you, Peter Fiore, for sharing not only your beautiful work but such personal insights with us!
You are welcome Janyce! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
Very helpful interview, now heading out for a fresh look at the trees in my neighborhood…
No doubt Dave! Makes me want to close up my computer for a few weeks and go exploring – and then come back and paint.
Thanks Peter, at last an artist I can completely agree with, I was beginning to feel I was in my own little isolated bubble. I to don’t want to paint out doors, and accept the usefulness and limitations of photography. The process and trials and tribulations of painting, along with the pure joy of a painting developing into something you connect with. I really appreciated your insite into your work and am truly inspired by your work and cogent thoughts. Many thanks. Big thumbs to Bill for introducing us to your work👍
So glad we found an artist you resonate with Peter! I started painting outdoors in the mid 80’s, but I love being in the studio as well where I can fully focus on the nuances of the work without any distractions. Now you can feel even more confident with your feelings about staying in your studio and not needing to go outside just because someone else says you should. Follow your own instincts.
I really appreciate Peter’s knowledge and his willingness to share his thoughts and methods. I don’t like plein air because I can’t capture what I want in the amount of time I have outside. So, I work with my photos in my studio, and go beyond what is captured in the picture – also throw in some imagination. So, thank you for letting me know I’m not “crazy” to want to paint that way for myself.
Thank you Jody for sharing your thoughts! I believe art is an individual pursuit – we shouldn’t feel pressured to do what someone else says is the ‘right’ way when our heart is guiding us somewhere else. Our community has thousands of artists that are confined to their homes or live in places that limit their options. I paint outdoors because I love it – I also know plenty of professional artists that I admire like Peter who do not paint plein air. Follow your heart and have fun painting.
Peter Fiore is the most amazing painter, teacher and friend, and I feel blessed to have met him and consider him my Mentor, as I have taken his workshops numerous times over the last four years. He is so full of information and inspiration, and I am forever changed after having met him and his wife Barbara, who is also an artist (she makes incredible, whimsical touching sculptures in clay) I am so lucky t have seen his work up close and have just been in awe at times of his masterful personal way of capturing and expressing what he sees and feels. Can’t wait for my next workshop!, and to see this epic new body of work of his take shape!
Thank you Diane – sounds like a great workshop to take! I too am excited to see what magic he makes with the icebergs.
Fantastic words of wisdom Peter, not just on art but also on life! Thank you Bill for the interview. I am so fortunate to have painted with and learned from Peter, and hope to again in the near future!
Another testimonial for Peter’s workshops – thanks Lynn – I will have to see if I can squeeze one into my schedule. Most professional artists I know like to take a workshop with another professional periodically to keep our own art progressing – it’s also fun to talk shop with someone else who wears the painter’s journey battle scars.
First of all than’s for motivational thought. I am running on same platform since long and worked on many Oil and acrylic paintings. I love art and artist. Your thought is relay help us to boost our knowledge…
Wow! Painting is my dream! Love to see all the possibilities! Thank you for making life so much richer!
Excellent questions and really passionate answers! Great interview ! Peter said so many things that I want to remember but what comes to mind now is that he said even the great painters also fear failure . Also that no growth or development will just happen by sitting on the couch . All together an interview rich in content .Thank you so much Bill
i feel overwhelmed with the emotion of studying a tree, an area in the forest,…just any place out in nature as a child i would spend all my free days off of school.or chores in the woods behind my home…at a stream or rock formation …i can relate very much with Mr. Fiore….he has inspired me and brought my happiest of times back to the front of my memory i shall now use them to influence my future art work…thank you so much
Loved this interview! Now to shake of my timidity!