Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Slaves to Nature

Today, on my last day in the Catskills, I’m painting an ordinary view of a typical Catskill stream. This will be reference material for a future Dinotopia painting. I’m trying to paint exactly what I see without relying conventional landscape formulas. The T-shirt I’m wearing is from a very small, semi-secret organization of plein air aficionados. We call ourselves the “Slaves to Nature.” The group arose in response to the notion that painting in this way is somehow slavish copying. (It also arose from the desire to have cool t-shirts.)

Of course Nature makes a slave of nobody who loves her. But she does punish us in other ways. Take the sunlight-diffusing umbrella, for instance. Over the years, sudden gusts of wind have blown it over and buckled the delicate wires. This was the last time I used it before it died.

The final painting is in oil, 8x16 inches. In the photo you can see the real scene directly behind it for comparison. The weakest part of the painting is the area on the lower right where I tried to improve on what I saw by compressing the forms. Whistler once said “Nature is nearly always wrong.” The Slaves to Nature disagree. We hold with the Russian philosopher Chernyshevsky, who said, “Art is fine, but Nature is always better.”


Unknown said...

Hello Mr. Gurney,

This blog is such a wonderful idea! It is so generous of you to show us what inspires your amazing works of art. It certainly is in the same spirit as Arthur Denison's journal, and I really enjoy reading it :)

I also fall into the same category of "slave to nature", and I feel that is it a distinction to be worn with pride. I wholeheartedly agree with your Russian philosopher! And naturally, the desire for cool t-shirts is a powerful motivator indeed.

Safe travels!

Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying reading about your process as an artist. The photo comparison is really appreciated! That umbrella reminds me of those photography umbrellas. ;)

Amy Stegner said...

Just found this today, and I absolutely love your blog! I've been a fan since the first book, and it's fantastic to see your other paintings and what inspires you.


James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody for your kind words.

Right now the focus of the blog is outdoor painting and sketching, but once the book tour starts in October I'll be taking it on the road. I'll be visiting about eight different art schools and four movie studios on the tour, and I hope those of you who are artists will enjoy getting a backstage peek.

Anonymous said...


This blog site of yours is a wonderful idea! Artists are so often isolated from each other and the communities around them, and this brings us all closer together. Being a "slave to nature" was an insult hurled at realist painters when I was in art school. But as an artist seeking truth, I'd rather be the slave of an infinitely mysterious, powerful, and beautiful mistress than to the shallow, passing fashions of human culture!

from a fellow slave