Artists Who Inspire Me


I recently read Bold Expressive Painting, by Annie O'Brien Gonzales. One of the things she talks about in the book is learning from your "Art Ancestors." I could go on for hours naming artists from the past whose work I love, but when it comes down to it, the ones that speak to me the loudest are Georgia O'Keefe, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Gustav Klimt, and David Hockney. Each of these artists resonates with me for different reasons.

Georgia O'Keefe - Georgia O'Keefe once said "I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move." A funny quote, but she also said "When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not." and that one is the quote that rings true to me. When you take the time to look at a flower, to really look at it, to see all the ways that color plays on the petals, the way the graceful but strong stems hold up that giant peony flower, the way the space in between the leaves is as beautiful as the leaves themselves, it causes time to stand still. 

Gaugin. - Gaugin's use of color knocks my socks off. I went to see the "Gaugin: Master of Myth" exhibit at the Phillips collection a few years ago, and spent hours just absorbing those fantastic colors. His rich color reaches out from the canvas and grabs me. The way he uses rich, saturated colors and plays them against colorful neutrals inspires me every time. 

Van Gogh - Is there anyone who doesn't love Van Gogh? I aspire to one day be brave enough to chunk the paint onto the canvas the way he does.  Every time I stand in front of one of his paintings, it requires every ounce of will power in my body to keep my hands to myself, and not run my fingers over those textured surfaces. His color is more subtle than Gaugin, and I am trying to incorporate some of that sophistication into my own work. His work vibrates with unsuppressed energy, yet is controlled. It is full of motion, yet amazingly quiet and peaceful. 

David Hockney - I am particularly in love with his Yorkshire paintings. I recently watched the documentary "A Bigger Picture" about the creation of these works. The video has clips of him painting on a group of enormous canvases outdoors, in the wind, with his assistant running behind and holding the canvases onto the easels. This inspired me to bring my own paint and easel outdoors. In the past, I had only sketched and photographed on my outings with a local plein air group, but now I bring my easel and paints. Will I ever be brave enough to attempt a giant canvas outdoors in the wind? Time will tell. Until then, I am inspired by his bold brushwork and masterful color.

Gustav Klimt - As someone who made a career out of surface pattern design for many years, pattern is what speaks to me the most in Gustav Klimt's work. I am inspired by his use of geometric pattern and abstraction.  His work is full of fluid motion and graceful beauty, and I could stare at it for hours. 

Matisse - From the sun drenched Morocco paintings, to the bold linework and even bolder color, his energy, movement and simplicity inspire me. It is the simplicity that  I can learn the most from. With just a few lines or brushstrokes, he evokes the emotion and energy of a person or a place. This simplicity is harder to achieve than you would think. There is a fine line between simplicity, and  a painting that looks unfinished. I recently visited the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. I had been to the original museum many years ago, when I was in college, and this was my first time in the new building. There are so many wonderful paintings by Matisse there, but The Joy of Life and Seated Riffan are my favorites. I could sit and stare at them for hours.

There are so many artists that I learn from. I haven't even mentioned Wayne Thiebaud here, but he is an artist who inspires me as well. Every time I go to a museum, or pull out an art book, I learn something from every painting i see. However, these are the "Big Six" who have the most influence on me. I'd love to hear who inspires you - tell me in the comments!