Artist Palden Hamilton describes his paintings as “testaments of time spent…” and “souvenirs of experiences.” Born and raised in Baltimore, Hamilton attended the Gilman School, and received his B.F.A. from The prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued to study at the Art Students League of New York before moving back to Maryland, where he works as a commission portrait painter and teaches painting at Zoll Studio of Fine Art in Monkton.
In both portraiture and still life painting, Hamilton captures more than just visual moments, but the mood of those moments as well, allowing small pieces of a day to marinate until their existence is more fully appreciated. What better venue for presenting history’s visual souvenirs, than a 200-year-old farmhouse full of antiques? The expansive natural setting and curated pieces of history that make up Halcyon House in Lutherville are the perfect compliment to an artist looking to pay tribute to simple moments spent in beautiful places.
A show of Hamilton’s work opens this Thursday with a reception from 5-7pm, and runs through November 12. Curator (and co-owner of Halcyon House) Stiles Colwill worked with Hamilton to create a large collection for the show. After multiple studio visits and years of courtship and planning, over 50 pieces will be on display. Hamilton, traditionally a portrait artist, has broken into Plein Air painting in recent years (a centuries old french tradition of experiencing painting in the outdoors, working from nature itself), but has been celebrated for both. He spoke honestly about his work this week, amidst the chaos of last minute show planning.
What made you decide to break from Portrait Painting, and try your hand at Plein Air?
I’ve always been fascinated with people, and imagery of people: I still think that they are the most compelling subject in painting. I began painting the landscape because growing up in Monkton, I was always drawn to the outdoors. As a kid, I was always sketching natural subjects: Scrutinizing the vein pattern on a leaf, spending hours with a dead bird on the porch, generally trying to “connect” with the things of nature. I was overwhelmed by the vastness and ancientness of the woods outside my window.
I’m fascinated with the minutia and specificity of natural things (thus the paintings of Joe-Pye weeds, catalpa and lemon trees, goldenrod, etc…) as well as the large picture: The topography of the land, the geology, or the way light and atmosphere affect our perception of these things.
The process of capturing visual “truth” is largely technical, as the eye is a mechanical structure. But all things are observed through veils of memory, meaning, and other interventions of the subjective mind. Therefore, the resulting depictions can be to varying degrees traditional or explorative, emotional or detached, scientific or spiritual.
With portrait painting, you work a quiet room, with just your subject as the center of attention. With Plein Air painting, you yourself often become part of the viewing experience, as passers-by are able to watch you work, and your process is more exposed (for better or worse). Do you prefer one experience over the other?
I love the meditative atmosphere and consistency of light in the studio. There is that sense, though, of heaviness, seriousness about studio work. In art school (Chicago and New York) there was a feeling that being an artist was like joining the monk hood. When I started plein air painting, I was amazed at how happy, light-hearted, and well-adjusted the community was.
When painting outside, some people put on headphones to shake off curious passersby, but I still enthusiastically converse with people who show interest in what I’m doing. I love that people are interested in what I do.
Tell me about the work in this show – are all the paintings of native plants in this area? Any favorites in this collection?
Some of the plants (goldenrod, joe-pye, catalpa, rhododendron) I painted around here, which is mainly due to my insistence in painting from life. The catalpa, although it grows in this climate, looks like a tree from a remote rainforest, and I’m drawn to its exotic trappings.
Anything else you’d like to add about this show?
Stiles did a wonderful job curating this show. He made several visits to my studio, insisted in flipping through all my work (some of which was in storage racks), and entertained a diverse, and sometimes divergent, body of work. He breezed over some of what I thought were my stronger pieces, and picked others in which I had lost confidence. It was a refreshing piece of perspective for me. In arranging and hanging the space, Stiles made more sense out of the work, aesthetically and conceptually, than I ever could have.
The show therefor includes work in a variety of genres and a variety of media. There are large Klimt-inspired multimedia pieces of my wife, daughter, niece, and cat. There is a series of paintings of clothes piles: A fixture in my life, perhaps allegories of modern life, about being behind on things. And there are landscape paintings: traditional vistas, a surreal triptych, a painting of snow-plowed parking lots, all pertaining to my native Baltimore county, mundane yet magical, always inspiring in me familiarity and longing.
Please join Palden at New Work by Palden Hamilton Opening Reception: Thursday, October 13, 5-7 pm (show runs through Nov. 12) at Halcyon House, 11219 Greenspring Ave. Lutherville, MD 21093. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org