By Mari Plowman, Contributor
The endlessly arguable question, “Does art mimic society or does society reflect art?” assumes a panoply of meanings through the masterful hand and eye of Alan B. Tuttle. With content—his vision of a specific aspect of nature or society—dominating each piece of Tuttle’s work, he begins the creative process by writing a paragraph or two in his sketchbook. Drawing from words as the preliminary figurative outline for a sculpture or painting, he targets his personal message behind the medium. His sights are set not on public applause or accolades, but on whether he has grasped the elusive bar that unifies subjective and objective meaning. Do observers see what the artist saw through his mind’s eye? “If so, then the piece is a success by the most important definition”, says Alan.
In “My Nirvana” his goal was to capture that mystical condition of rest, harmony and joy that is indeed the nirvana of a cool Adirondack morning at the moment the sun crests the trees; the moment to experience the freshness of new beginnings; a new day when the cool air makes the senses tingle and cleanses the mind to make way for becoming one with your surroundings.
Early in his self-taught career, Alan B. Tuttle was a young exchange student in Madrid with scant financial resources but a wealth of time to spend roaming the halls of the Prado and other famed museums throughout the city. He became intimately acquainted with the works of Velasquez, El Greco, and Goya among the many masters he visited time and time again. When he wasn’t studying their actual works, he read voraciously about the old masters and their techniques. He learned about, and then emulated such things as panel preparation; the application of ground gesso sanded between each of as many as thirty layers. He explored and analyzed each drawing for composition, values and accuracy before beginning to paint. At the time he had never heard of the Italian term Chiaroscuro, which literally translates as light and shadow and emphasizes the interplay of values without color. His treatment of these layers of light and dark gradually evolved into his signature approach to underpainting. Because of his inherent sensitivities, and because he understood the impact on us all, Alan intently studied how society was reflected through symbolism and subject matter. Perhaps it is the viewer’s impression of these earlier works, coupled with their often stern message, that cast his work as dark or dismal. His interest in social conditions revealing all aspects of the human state, whether on a grand or personal scale, and of the universe that surrounds mankind, remains central to much of his work today. Indeed, his interest has lead to noteworthy commissions portraying politics, religion and social agendas from his vantage.
The man and his method: From time to time Alan paints in plein air, occasionally dancing with delight between or during brush strokes! Most creations follow the same progression: Rapid thumbnail sketches set the composition. A detailed drawing is next, usually done from life on location directly onto the canvas. Then–and this is critical to the process–comes the monochromatic underpainting to develop the “values” of the work. Lastly, a progression of glazes builds form and color. “At times there can be dozens of layers of glaze application before I am satisfied”, emphasizes Alan.
Traditional, but never appearing to be tedious; executed accurately and painstakingly, yet frequently reflecting as much joy as sorrow; each layer of a Tuttle work seems to exceed the expectations that came before it. Alan B. Tuttle is a most deserving artist of our time and place. He is a man whose every fiber resonates through his enduring creations. His art continues to delight, chide and tantalize us by capturing an originality of premise and execution heretofore left at large by others.
The photos below show the process of painting “My Nirvana.”
Photographs Courtesy the Artist.
Other works and their process can be seen on facebook under Alan B. Tuttle. www.facebook.com/abtuttle.