“Allure”, 24×36, Oil on canvas, Castle Gallery, Fort Wayne, IN. Winner of Best Figure Painting at the NOAPS 2017 Best of America Exhibit.
The relaxed pose of the model in J. Russell Wells’ painting “Allure” belies the careful planning that has taken place in the composing of the work. When looking closely, one first notices the repeated shapes of the figure and the sofa. The model’s arms are placed to draw attention to her face, and from there the viewer rhythmically travels through the composition. The values are lightest near the face, while the rest of the painting has been subdued. The colors are almost monochromatic with the exception of the figure: a strategy often employed by Sargent in his paintings. Then there is the model’s expression; thoughtful, almost indifferent, caught in a reflective moment.
The inspiration for Wells’ work came from a series of poses, during which the artist played with different lighting while taking photos. The photos revealed the shots that best expressed the initial concept, and from there the painting was created. As J. Russell states: ” She (the model) understood that every part of her posture, from her fingers to her toes, was important. Having a great model is always inspiring.”
“At Her Vanity” 40×24, Oil on canvas, R. S. Hanna Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX.
Wells has always been interested in art; from Rockwell illustrations to automotive caricatures, and as a young boy he would often copy these images. He later majored in studio art with an emphasis on printmaking, painting, drawing and sculpture. After university he developed his skills in oil painting, and worked on commissions for Interior Designers in Chicago in portraiture, landscapes, large-scale abstracts and sculpture. Music has also been an important part of his life; he played trumpet in a 14 piece jazz band for 25 years.
“Free Bird”, 30×40, Oil on canvas, Collection of the artist
J. Russell’s introspective nature often leads him to create narrative works. He starts his painting session with quiet reflection, often reading scripture, praying or writing down his thoughts. His studio is a sanctuary, and his paints and brushes the precious instruments of his inner self. With the music in the background, he will set up his tools while the model relaxes into her pose, and then the work begins. He is careful to remember his initial concept, and whether working from life or a photo, he keeps that concept in the forefront. Other notions may surface, but they play a secondary role to support the initial narrative.
“A New Day”, 30×40, Oil on canvas, Collection of the artist
His working process begins with a pencil or charcoal drawing, similar to a notan, to help discern the values and composition. He usually paints with the direct technique, and at times will use an indirect technique to alter the temperature of an area and add interest. His palette consists of Titanium white, Brilliant yellow pale, cold black, Canton Rose, yellow ochre, raw sienna, thalo green, Kings blue deep, violet grey, flesh ochre, (a type of Terra Rosa), Madder lake deep, transparent oxide red, and sepia from a variety of paint manufacturers. He uses an oil primed canvas by Raphael or the Gamblin Ground on canvas and board. His tools range from fine brushes, ink brayers, silk screen squeegees, to fingers and rags.
J. Russell likes to experiment as well. He looks to new ways of seeing, mark making, and design. He studies the masters, the current artists and contemporary works, as well as music and poetry. He takes one or two workshops every year from an artist whose work he admires, one that differs from his own techniques: “there are many creative expressions, that if one is open to learning from them one might find cross-over into their own work.”
“White Roses”, 16×20, Oil on canvas, Private collection
Wells is inspired by artists of the past with a wide range of styles; from Van Gogh to Sargent to Pollack. He is also inspired by contemporary artists such as Vincent Desiderio, Casey Baugh, Jeremy Mann, Alyssa Monks, Gerhardt Richter and Antonio Lopez Garcia. His most important mentor is his wife, Janice, who “believes in me and encourages me. She is also my greatest critic.”
Wells cautions artists not to take themselves too seriously; “Paint somewhat detached so you can make decisions void of attachment.” If an area of a painting becomes precious, you may well have to wipe it out if it competes with the overall message of the painting.
To view more work by J. Russell Wells, visit his website at www.jrussellwells.com
To view more work from the NOAPS 2017 Best of America Exhibit visit www.noaps.org/events
Written by Patricia Tribastone, NOAPS Blog Director