This painting embodies autumn. It makes me think of tromping through the woods on a muddy trail through a carpet of colorful dried leaves, with my dog. The tips of my fingers and ears cold, breath puffing.
Because this experience of being under trees has filled so many moments in our lives, people often tell me my paintings bring back memories, from childhood or camping trips or some beautiful place they’ve known.
This is one of my early forest paintings, created shortly after graduating from Goucher College with my degree in studio art. I believe it was included that year in my first solo show in an arts center.
So titled because of the one-point perspective illusion of the trees converging towards each other as they reach towards the sky.
I’ve always loved this effect when standing in a shady forest, of glowing yellow-green light peeking through the spaces between the trees, coming from a nearby sunny clearing. On the ground, in between the deep black shadows of the tree trunks are patches of warm light–the pink/orange browns of pine needles and rich wet earth.
I like that this painting is like a rainbow—red-orange at the bottom, yellow-green in the middle, and blue-violet at the top.
One of my goals is to create an image detailed enough to achieve realism, but still loose and playful enough to convey artistic creativity within the medium. I want to create not just a beautiful image of the forest, but also an image full of interesting colors, a variety of rough and smooth textures, both vague and sharp distinctions between forms.
This painting shows the experience of craning your neck to look straight up above your head.
At the crown of the giant sequoia tree, the branches are splayed out–close up, this makes a beautiful abstract pattern of shapes and colors. When you back up and look at the entire image, it says, “tree.”
The painting continues around the deep edges of the heavy wooden panel. In person, the quality of the materials and the texture of the painting add to its beauty. I’ve loved getting back into more large-scale pieces this year! The time put into it becomes worth it when I see the completed painting.
I created this work to be displayed in an exhibit at a local arts center, one of the solo shows I did during my first year out of art school.
It was the first time I had intentionally decided to work in a series, to test my long-term discipline as an artist. This is one of my very earliest “Looking Up” paintings.
Over the years that followed between then and now, I would paint this theme relentlessly–trees in summer, spring, winter and fall. In more recent years, redwood forests. My style would continue to develop and shift over these years, but this perspective of looking up into the treetops would become one of the most consistently repeated themes in my work. Today, I am still just as inspired by and enamored with painting this perspective.
It is a winter scene, with a cold blue sky, a solitary bird soaring above the bare branches of the trees. It gives me the feeling of a lung-ful of freezing clean air, my blood flowing on a brisk walk through the woods, with the crunch of leaves and ice underfoot. This feeling goes along with mental clarity, as naturally, you are taking this walk to clear the cobwebs out of your mind–to get a fresh perspective. Hence the title, “Stark Clarity.”
(In private jokes, I also call this painting “The Dead Hiker.”)
Here is “Spring Thunder,” painted in 2006. It’s a lush, happy, rainbow-infused painting.
In painting this landscape, I was intently focused on the theme of light-versus-dark in the sky, but unlike some of my stormy skies from the previous year, this sky, while full of action, also has a calm and gentle mood.
A warm, healing rain washes over the trees in the middle distance on the right, while the tree on the left is still standing in full sun.
The far-away tree tops high in the sky are represented by thousands of tiny shapes, dots of light and color strewn together. It gives a sense of movement, and the twinkling of light as it filters through the many tiny shapes.
These two paintings are among the rare ones I’ve kept in my personal collection. Both were done from photos taken on a trip to Italy in 2005 with my husband. Both include a self-portrait.
Here is me hanging out with the old, tired, resident dog (who must by this time be long gone…I wonder if a new dog lives there now?) at the Hotel Sant’Angelo on the beautiful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples:
We spent a lot of time walking the steep hills of that little island, all the way down to this little inlet with natural boiling hot springs, and all the way back up along narrow winding roads with impenetrable walls of foliage and tall fences that come right up against the road. It’s a very vertical place, full of salty breeze.
And here is me with my husband outside the train station, having just arrived in Venice, looking out at the Grand Canal, sun gleaming everywhere.
I’ve been working on these four paintings for the past month! Here I was, back in July, working on the backgrounds.
In my new Lotus paintings, I create the backgrounds by dripping layers of thinned oil colors over other colors.
Artist Cedar Lee working in the studio, July 2017
While I let this stage of the paintings become completely dry, I went on a road trip with my family to see the Grand Canyon and other wonders of the West. When I arrived back to the studio, I spent the first week of August painting lotus flowers into the foregrounds.
After waiting for them to completely dry again, my final step was to coat them in resin. Here, you can see a quick video of that process. The result is the paintings have rich, hyper-saturated color, and their surfaces are smooth, glassy, and reflective.
This one is called “Acceptance.” I placed the flower with its open petals towards the bottom of the canvas, positioned to soak up all the golden light flowing down from the top.
It is a positive, almost basking sort of acceptance: accepting the bountiful gifts that life brings, which we sometimes can’t see unless our minds are open to accept them. However, it could also mean acceptance of whatever comes–the peace that comes with detachment from desire. The flower is saying, “Yes. Bring it on.”
You can see how mirror-like the surface can be in certain lighting–here, the painting is on the wall of my studio, and it’s picking up a clear reflection of a bottle of oil medium sitting in a patch of sunlight near the window.
The paintings can be displayed individually, but I love them as a set as well. I chose to show them to you all at once in one blog post, because I created them all alongside each other. Four separate individual paintings, but also one cohesive art endeavor.
They could be displayed all in a row, or in a grid of four, like this:
Lotus paintings by Cedar Lee
Lotus paintings by Cedar Lee
These paintings will be on display along with my other most recent Lotus paintings at the Portland, OR art gallery Eco PDX, in September.
This sky is a war of raucous forms butting up against each other. There is some kind of wild movement going on, a movement of clouds and a movement of light as the sun bursts from behind those sharp magenta/violet shapes.
I was painting that year with a lot of quinacridone pigments to get these intensely saturated, almost neon colors. Again I’m back to the theme of light, bright, (neon!) up against the deepest, moodiest darks.
Compared to the intensity in the sky, the deep shadowed hills of the land, with their hints of swaying grasses and green trees, is serene, sleeping. The big silhouetted tree on the right looks a lot like some of the trees in my, at this time, yet-to-be-imagined Tree of Life series. I love to see how certain stylistic choices I made so long ago have come back into my work again and again since, while others were temporary, serving their purpose to help me express what I needed to at that time.
I did this painting on a poorly stretched canvas, and ended up removing the canvas from the stretchers with the intent on re-stretching it later. That never happened, so I gifted the painting, un-stretched, to a friend during the purge of a move. She hung it like a wall tapestry. Maybe it got a new home at some point.