Read Between The Lines: 7 Stories About 7 Kick @ss Paintings

Steely resolves are no match for the indomitable allure of the internet, which is expertly designed to pull us in so so many infinitely entertaining (albeit unproductive) directions. Like a leviathan sky dancer at an outdoor festival, it looms over us, intent upon dangling its crayon-colored jazz hands anywhere within our field of vision. Attempting to focus on merely just one constructive pursuit – such as engaging in a deeper level of art appreciation – can be an exercise in futility. That’s because the cyber tubeman is always waiting in the wings for the perfect 24-7 moment to dazzle us with his inexplicably transfixing, spasmodically flailing nylon appendages and confusingly stilted (yet oddly undulating) robo-ragdoll moves.

Given the online realm’s myriad neon distractions that endlessly pulse, throb, and command our attention, it is rather remarkable that any of the artwork produced by today’s brightest and most original creatives still manages to rise above the cyber cacophony to ultimately meet our gaze. The least that we can do is give those precious beauties a few moments of quiet praise before scroll-scroll-scrolling along our merry way is. In our haste to move onto the next visual hit, however, we far too often deprive ourselves of the meaty subtext that rounds out the thoughtfully conceived, multi-layered dimensionality of some rather extraordinary art. Ahead, we journey into the hearts and minds of seven contemporary creatives whose intriguing anecdotes about a single piece in their portfolio remind us why summing up a painting based solely on its pleasing aesthetics provides us with just part of the story.

Tom Roberts // “Void Garden”

“I spend a great deal of my time on commissioned pieces, so in the rare occasions when I can focus on a personal work of art, I use it as an opportunity to experiment and play as much as I can. “Void Garden” is a perfect example of that. I’m fairly new to digital illustration – I’ve always been a pencil/paper type of guy – but it’s a lot of fun. It affords artists a great amount of freedom to move elements about and alter colours, which is exactly what I did with a previous edit of Void Garden that has a less defined palette.

I wanted the angel-type creature that is clutching its wings to look less human than what we’re normally accustomed to seeing. I was mainly listening to Cerberus by King Buffalo while manifesting this piece, which I believe was a good audible fit. The rest of the ideas in Void Garden arose during my creative process – I just experimented as I went along. 

Tom Roberts: “Void Garden” (Detail), Digital Illustration, 2022

My favourite element and last-minute addition was the hair. I thought it would be cool to create locks that appeared so vertical and straight that they almost looked as if they were flowing. I have the tendency to cram as many ideas as I can into a single piece. Previously, I had toyed with the idea of incorporating a hair waterfall dotted with stars into another illustration, but I think it really worked here.”

Tom Roberts: Website | Instagram | Facebook

Carrie Ann Baade // “Light and Shadow”

Carrie Ann Baade: “Light and Shadow”, Oil and Collage on Panel, 24 x 36 inches, 2022

“Thematically, all of the work in my recent Into The Mirror solo show – including this painting – revolves around the exploration of dualism, imagination, consciousness, and new levels of psychological inquiry. I captured various Rorschach-like, double images of myself using a camera positioned very close to the surface of an old mirror. In considering counterpoints such as good and evil or shadow and light, I grapple with how the true picture of reality has two parts – the physical body and the non-physical mind.

Light and Shadow started as a mind’s eye vision in which I’m wearing a suit of armor covered with rainbow-reflective stones encased in protective light! My hand is extended to shake the hand of my shadow self who is standing in front of me, which is an act of integration as well as an attempt to befriend that part of myself. However, while attempting to manifest my idea in oil paint, I wasn’t sure if I was painting my own work or if the painting – or even the shadow – was in control. I quickly realized that paint wasn’t a sophisticated enough medium to accurately capture the complexity, texture, depth and underlying meaning of shadows.

I’ve spent my entire career painting images that appear to be collaged – insisting to onlookers, ‘No, I really painted that!’ This is the first time, however, that an element in my painting truly is collaged. My dark patchworked figure is composed of shadows taken from approximately 20 other paintings, including a da Vinci! As for the suit of armor worn by my gilded self, I referred to Robert Morris’ photographs of incredible jewel covered skeletons at the Waldsassen Basilica in Germany. The final jeweled armor in my painting doesn’t match what I imagined, but I hope one day to get closer!”

Carrie Ann Baade: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

J. Henry // “Sine Metu”

J. Henry: “Sine Metu” (Tribute To Hans Sebald Beham), Oil on illo board,  25 x35 inches, 2021

“This painting wasn’t ever supposed to see the light of day. It began as a little exercise I started during the COVID-19 lockdown which involved creating my own color interpretations of master drawings. This was originally a study of an engraving by a historically unsung artist and craftsman of the German Renaissance and Reformation period, Hans Sebald Beham, titled The Lady and Death. As time progressed through COVID-19 weirdness, emotions were high and I steered it into a different direction than I first intended. Being that Beham’s original piece was something of a memento mori during the second wave of Bubonic Plague, that overarching theme remained pretty intact.

Hans Sebald Beham: “The Lady and Death”, Engraving, 78 x 51 mm, 1541

I primarily work as a painter in the theater industry of New York, so like most other folks at the onset of the pandemic, I ended up with a good chunk of time on my hands. I was so accustomed to being tethered to deadlines, so allowing this study to become more of a personal piece by meandering between point A and point B was a luxury that I fully indulged in.

I made a lot of changes to Beham’s original composition. Most notably, I didn’t want the relationship between the main figure and death to be fear. In the past several years, many of us have become well acquainted with death, but after being exposed to it over a sustained period of time, fear can often give way to a peaceful familiarity…something that doesn’t loom over us as much as it walks with us, even in the most mundane part of our day. So, while the technical title of this piece is Tribute to Hans Sebald Beham, the personal title – inspired by the wisdom brought on by Jameson Irish Whiskey – is Sine Metu.”

J. Henry: Website | Instagram

Mary Carroll // “Haunted”

Mary Carroll: “Haunted”, Oil on Panel, 24 x 20, 2020

“In the spring of 2019, a friend sent me information about a house for sale. She said that it reminded her of one of my paintings, and I could see why. And just like that, my husband Nate and I took on the formidable task of renovating that altogether abandoned and deteriorating farmhouse that was built in 1760. Odd things began happening, though, including a door slamming without rhyme, reason, or wind. Upon inspecting the situation, we discovered a few gallons of water poured over the center of the dining room table – running over the edges and pooling onto the floor – yet no apparent water source. No leaking pipe, no spilled pitcher, and the ceiling above was bone dry.

Various times while lying in bed, I could hear a series of eight or so footsteps cross the attic over my head. Although my bedroom was on the second floor, I could occasionally hear a rhythmic tapping on the window next to me, yet when I’d turn the light on, the tapping would stop. The moment I’d turn the light off, the tapping would once again resume. Then I’d turn the light back on and it would stop. Over and over again.

Eventually, my husband and I started to experience these incidents together. Just one month ago, in fact, we were fading off to sleep. We were both immediately roused by the distinct sound of a lady’s sneeze come from the bedroom across the hall. Even the Border Collie mix lying at our heels lifted his head, and then quickly disappeared into the dark to investigate.

These incidents inspired me to do a painterly exploration of a haunting and contemplate what the existence of a spirit must be like. Their ‘life’ is obviously different from what we have. If a ghost is a being that hangs around – trapped in a purgatory of sorts – then maybe they are, sadly, haunted, too. That’s what I address in the narrative of my painting – that there are two worlds, both haunted. I wanted my muse to seem suspended in this place where spirits live, her hair uplifted as though she’s somewhere without gravity. She’s in a place that has a different pulse than our own. The backdrop imagery in this painting – the same wallpaper that covers the walls of my own hallway – is emblematic of our earthly life, whether human, animal, or flora. It separates the two bedrooms where we initially heard a female entity sneeze.”

Mary Carroll: Website | Instagram | Facebook

Hannah Flowers // “Growth”

“I’m intrigued by the idea of the human body nourishing flora and fauna – finally giving back something in death after taking so much in life. I like to imagine that my muse would be delighted that her remains are entangled in blossoming new growth and plucked apart by such a sweet little bird. That might sound a bit grim, but to me it is playful and lighthearted. I’ve always enjoyed discovering amusement and beauty in what some might consider disturbing or morbid subject matter. I’m exploring this idea in greater depth for my December 2022 solo show at Roq La Rue Gallery.”

Hannah Flowers: Instagram

Dan Zollinger // “Temple of Medusa”

Dan Zollinger: “Temple of Medusa”, Digital Painting, 20.5” x 28”, 2021-22

“My passion for painting goddesses, gods and other mythological entities – either existing or self-imagined – is what drew me like a moth to a flame to Century Guild’s international competition challenging artists to create a visual testament to Medusa’s victory. Upon learning that I was among the various artists invited to contribute a Medusa-themed piece to their upcoming hardcover fine art volume, I thoroughly immersed myself in any and all existing depictions of Medusa that I could get my hands on – sculpture, paintings, drawings, prints, literary references, etc. – until I felt a degree of internalized connection with this mythological giant.

Century Guild encouraged participating creatives to run with their own vision, imposing no boundaries other than depicting Medusa as an ultimately victorious Goddess rather than the disembodied figure that we generally see in traditional art. That mirrors my preferred approach, which is to create the physical dimensions of the piece and then just paint with no set plan, scribbling around shapes, tones, and colors. In stark contrast, the commissioned book or editorial illustrations I work on generally begin with a sketch that then requires art director and/or writer approval before I can take it through to completion. Oftentimes, that can lead to a compromised, watered-down version of a work of art.

I took my initial vision of Medusa to near completion, and although it was a fairly strong piece, I came to the sinking realization that I wasn’t happy with it…at all. I wanted my final contribution to be very special, so – with the deadline looming – I made the decision to scrap my nearly completed painting, and begin anew. While working on the second incarnation, I was struck one day by an energy that seemed to emanate from it. When a piece feels “right” and you’re so excited to build on it, that vibe sustains and drives you to create your best work. I am proud to say that my final crimson gowned goddess is now on the cover and inside of Century Guild’s forthcoming Temple of Medusa fine art volume. And yes – limited edition and open edition prints of my painting will be available for one and all😉!”

Dan Zollinger: Website | Instagram

Linnea Strid // “Eye Can’t Beelieve It”

Linnea Strid: “Eye Can’t Beelieve It”, Oil Paint on Canvas Paper, 33 x 25 cm, 2022

“In an effort to heal from the traumatic experiences in my past, I’ve spent many years depicting vulnerable and broken humans in my paintings, which have been a mirror of myself. I’m in a very good place today, so art has truly been my savior.

In the past, I was accustomed to adhering to so many strict, self-imposed painting rules. In recent years though, I’ve become inspired by my toddler’s positive and joyful outlook on life, which has caused me to approach my art in a more playful and experimental manner. It’s been very liberating to try different things that facilitate my growth as an artist. Much like the way a child paints and draws, I’m interested in incorporating different elements in my paintings that are purely impulse based.

As for the visuals in this specific work of art, I incorporated some of the decaying flowers that were part of a birthday bouquet that my husband gave me. Bees used to scare me, but I’ve since come to understand just how remarkable they are and how we need to rally around them. I’ve gotten into the habit of first completing the central figure in my paintings and then determining what background elements I’ll include. In this case, the bubbles – aimlessly floating around with no real purpose or goal – serve as a stark contrast to bumblebees who are singularly focused on pollinating.”

Linnea Strid: Website | Instagram | Facebook


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