THOMAS SCHALLER EXPLORES HIS CURIOSITY AT THE WORLD AND RELATIONSHIP TO ARCHITECTURE THROUGH HIS INTERPRETED REALISM WATERCOLOUR PAINTINGS

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You describe your work as 'interpreted realism’, talk to us about why you classify it as such and what the driving forces behind your practise are?

The phrase “interpreted realism” relates to my idea that art should strive to do more than just depict, describe, or illustrate what the artist sees . I  am inspired by the real world, but I  feel that the real world is comprised of many things other than those which are readily available to the senses.  Out of sight, but just as relevant, are the feelings, memories, and elements of the  imagination that can be triggered by whatever it is I see. So I want my work to be a distillation - an interpretation - of how what I see makes me feel - makes me react.  I am inspired by reality, but my real inspiration is often something else beneath the surface of the visual.


"Fog on the Tiber" - Watercolor, Rome, 2015

 

Your primary medium is watercolour, and might i say beautifully executed, how did watercolours become your preferred choice and why do you continue to use them?

Thank you so much.  Why watercolor?  I suppose it’s because I think of it as the natural extension of drawing.  My mother said I was born with a pencil in my hand. ( For her sake, I hope that’s not true!)  But I have always drawn - long before I could talk.  In fact drawing WAS my way of talking . And in many ways, it still is. I was a painfully awkward and shy kid and I would escape the world around me my drawing worlds in my sketchbooks in which I would rather have lived. But drawing with a pencil is largely a line-based exercise .  I began to add color to my drawings early on as a way to model them and give them added life and dimension.   In watercolor, I am still drawing. But rather than just using lines, I am drawing with shapes of color, and with shapes of shadow and light. What I love about hand-done drawing and watercolor is the immediacy of it.  The hand of the artist is visible. You can see his or her mind and heart at work in the final painting.  There is a spontaneity, depth, fluidity, transparency, and life that animates the flat surface of the paper into three dimensional worlds of wonder. I’ve tried all other painting mediums and none seem so fully alive to me as does watercolor.  My favorite works in watercolor - by myself or by other artists - seem to be still wet when they are dry.  No other medium has for me such a clearly beating heart.


We Never Sleep - Watercolor, 2015

 

The oeuvre you’ve created features a distinctive colour palette, is this something you’ve done intentionally or a more organic process as a result of the visual sources you’re drawn to?

A good question.  Like most all painters, I love color.  And I always say that I can’t go into an art supply store without adult supervision as I’ll want to but every pigment I see. But over time I have found  that  color - appealing as it can be - can also be a crutch and a distraction. I am primarily a value painter. My belief is that if the value range in my work is off, no color in the world will save it.  So for a long while, I eliminated almost all color from my work until I better understood the importance of value.  As I gained better control over that aspect, I began to introduce color slowly. If I have a theory of color, it is related to my theories of painting in general. I work in trying to gain a resolution of opposites in my work; dark/light - vertical/horizontal - detail/simplicity - the man-made/ the natural.  So I choose colors for the emotional impact that complements can have: yellows/ violets - blues/oranges - reds/greens. All these opposites can resolve in countless ways that can have great narrative ability.   I tend to work almost exclusively in complementary tones and let them run together on the surface of the paper to find their resolution in magical ways. And yes, this is an approach that has just evolved over time. It was not planned. 


"Steps of Girona" - watercolor, Spain, 2015

 

In a previous life you worked as one of the worlds best architectural artists, what prompted the change and do you find that your practise now is influenced in any ways by your work as an architectural artist?

When I was about seven,  I told my parents that when I grew up, I was going to move to New York City and become an artist.  Well, along the way, I also became a registered architect.  I have always loved design and buildings, but it turned out to be the images of architecture that I most love.  It is in such drawings that the first rush of creativity and imagination  are glimpsed - and that is where my passion lay. So after about a year in NYC, I began to have the “starving” part of being an artist down, but having been turned away by dozens of galleries and having sold exactly zero paintings, that was about it.  So I began to seek work as an architectural illustrator. But I told myself I would only do that if I could have it my way - by using the medium of watercolor  - as had so many of my heroes of the 18th and 19th centuries.At the time, it was not being done and so I was very fortunate in finding a great deal of success . I was so honored to have met and worked with so many of the great architects of our time and had the opportunity to draw and paint some astounding projects and buildings.Over time however, it became clear that I was stifling my own vision in service to others.  I still loved design, but wished to make room for my own vision to take root. But while I did many,  I had never exhibited my personal paintings or entered any competitions . So in the year 2010, I decided to take a leap into the deep end and try to make an artist out of myself. But transitioning from an architectural artist to a fine artist  was not as simple or organic as I had imagined it might be. It has been one the most difficult - but also personally rewarding things - I have ever attempted.  When painting images of other’s designs and visions, it becomes easy to hide your true self behind a veil of technique and the ideas of others.While I appreciate that it may be different for everyone, I believe that one of the greatest achievements  for an artist is in finding his or her own style - the unique voice - that no one else can possibly have. I was quite surprised to discover that I did not have that. Or rather I did, but it took a number of years, a lot of work, and a great deal of emotional soul-searching to even begin to discover what it was and the the willingness to put it on display for others to judge.But my previous work is not shunned or forgotten.  I  am very proud of it. I gained boundless experience and skills during my years as an architectural artist that I can now bring to bear in my more emotive, more personally expressive work.


Night in the City - Watercolor, NYC, 2015

 

You’ve also created 3 books! What was it like as a process and would you ever create another one?

Yes, I’ve had two books published.  Architecture in Watercolor ( Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1st Edition and McGraw Hill, expanded and revised 2nd Edition) : a history and modern overview of the use of the watercolor medium in the graphic depiction of the built environment .The Art of Architectural Drawing : Imagination and Technique (John Wiley and Sons) : an examination of the creative impulse: non-verbal visual languages and the natural human instinct to draw. And I am currently at work on a third book The Architecture of Light ( F&W Media / Northlight Books) to be published this coming year. It is an overview of my evolving philosophy of painting and a retrospective look at the past five years of my own work as it transitioned  from the more commercial to the more purely expressive.I have also been fortunate to have been asked to contribute to any number of other books over the years.  I do love to write.  It helps to order the apparent occasional chaos of my own mind  and to clarify how I most accurately and honestly feel about this life we all share. 


“Changing" - Watercolor, Berlin, 2016
 

Travel has been a big part of your life, which is reflected in your works, is there anywhere you’d like to visit to be inspired by and of the places you’ve been thus far which has been the most inspiring and influential in your practice?

Since I was a kid I have always been very curious and restless. I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and always longed to move around - to  see as much of our amazing world and the disparate people in it as I possibly could in the time I had.  I wanted to have by teachings and my belief systems challenged .And I wanted to see if the flights of fancy I had in my sketchbooks had any rival in the “real world” . The answer : yes they do! But I understand hat I have been fortunate and that not everyone has had  - or can have - the opportunity  to see as much as others.  So I tell my groups - in all honestly - that travel is not a prerequisite for being a good painter.  Great as it may be, you do not have to journey to exotic lands in order to do a good painting. A good painter can find worthy subjects in his or her own back yard or kitchen counter.But I suppose I enjoy feeling a bit off kilter, a bit "not at home".  Something in it fires my imagination and makes me question my own beliefs.  Out of this questioning almost always comes an examination that results in an artistic growth for me.  Of course I love the beauty of nature, but it is in cities that I feel most alive. They attract me greatly. The changing light, their various energies, cultures and customs, arts and architecture, industries, colors, noises, smells, foods, and  of course the myriad patterns and  surprising beauty of the countless lives being led there. These hold endless fascination for me. People - what they accomplish - the lives they lead in all their joy and sorrow - make me want to paint endlessly.  I long to go to India and Africa. There is so much there I’d love to experience while I can. And every year , I spend time in Italy.  Rome in particular is a city that I can never visit enough . And when there, I’m always reminded of a quote  by Heraclitus  : "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river, and he's not the same man "


"Fountain of the Four Rivers" - Watercolor, Rome, 2016

 

TO SEE MORE OF THOMAS’S WORK VISIT thomasschaller.com

INTERVIEW by HANNAH SMITH 

 

 

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Great interview Tom!

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