Alan Flattmann is one of those pastel artists whose work I’ve known since the days I really started to get into soft pastels. I included one of his evocative New Orleans paintings in one of my early roundup blogs. He always appeared to be a humble and unassuming artist despite being a highly accomplished one. When at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) I finally sat down with this well-respected and award-winning artist to interview him for my short videos series, I was delighted to find he’s exactly that. So it’s with great pleasure that I share Alan’s words and artwork in this post.
Don’t know his work? Here’s a teaser…
Before I had the blog over to Alan Flattmann, here’s a wee bit about him.
Alan Flattmann Bio
Alan Flattmann is a Pastel Society of America’s Hall of Fame Honoree and Eminent Pastelist of the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). His work is the subject of four books: An Artist’s Vision of New Orleans (2014), The Art of Pastel Painting (1987 & 2007), Alan Flattmann’s French Quarter Impressions (2002) and The Poetic Realism of Alan Flattmann (1981). For more information about Alan and his work, visit his website.
And now, here’s master pastellist, Alan Flattmann!
Early in my career, a newspaper columnist wrote in a review of my work, “the artist seems to have more gumbo in his blood than paint.” I think it was meant as a gentle jab, but I took it as a compliment. After all who doesn’t love gumbo? Putting humor aside, this was at a time when abstract expressionism and non-objective art were dominant in the art world and as a realist, I was an outlier.
I grew up in New Orleans. The city was my “place.” I went to art school in the French Quarter and my first paintings centered around, then as now, the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans with its backdrop of the meandering Mississippi River and its architecture of old French shutters, wrought-iron balconies and rustic brick walls.
To this day, the city remains a primary focus of my work. I take a lot of joy in rendering its intricate details. I also see the city scenes as atmospheric landscapes. The semitropical climate of the coastal Deep South laden with year-round humidity lends itself to creating theatrical settings with filtered light and changing weather conditions.
In addition, the people, the music, and the customs of the city have always played an important role in my paintings. Sadly, some of its colorful history, like the bustling French Market with its fish, fruit and vegetable stands, is mostly gone. I think I have lived long enough now to see my early paintings serve as historical accounts of what once was.
Considering all these factors, one could rightly conclude that New Orleans is my primary “sense of place.” However, there is no reason not to have more than one place as inspiration. Sense of place can be any place you feel a close connection to or understanding of.
In 1973, I was fortunate to be awarded a Greenshields Memorial Foundation year-long grant to pursue my artistic career. Most artists who win this award choose to study somewhere in Europe. I choose to go to the Caribbean Island of Barbados to paint. I was a long time fan of Winslow Homer’s paintings of the Caribbean. That was part of my motive to choose Barbados, but I also saw Barbados with its predominately black population, fishing villages, markets and farms, as a source of similar subject matter to my paintings of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana. To my delight, it was also a little bit like going back in time. Almost everything was done by hand with very little modern mechanization. It was truly an artist’s paradise.
Coincidently, it was in Barbados that I first became serious about pastel painting. I was primarily an oil painter and watercolorist up until then. In the process of painting some large watercolors, I began to experiment with small accents of pastel over the watercolors. It didn’t take long for me to become so fascinated with the pastel effects that I turned to pastel as my major medium of choice.
I continued to work on Barbados paintings for about a year after my wife and I returned home. After living in the Caribbean, New Orleans seemed too congested and hectic for our newfound life style. We decided to move to the small town of Laurel, Mississippi. I found a wealth of new material to paint in the countryside surrounding Laurel. My new subjects were dairies, farms, and country people.
I discovered a lot of the old traditions of country life were fading away and I tried to record them in my paintings before they were gone. Probably my favorite paintings of that time were my portraits of “Aunt Essie,” a wonderful elderly lady who made beautiful patch quilts. She lived with her bachelor son Ray on a small farm. Ray still plowed the field with a mule, and he raised chickens, pigs, and cows in the same way his father had for decades before.
I also was introduced to Reverend Robinson, the pastor of a small black Baptist Church in Macon, Mississippi. I photographed him while he preached and performed baptisms in a pond behind his church. He and many of the parishioners in his congregation became subjects for my paintings. During the five years from 1975 to 1979, rural Mississippi was my “place.”
My wife and I moved back to Louisiana in early 1980. I was getting itchy to paint New Orleans again. But a dramatic opportunity occurred. I was commissioned to go to Israel and Egypt in order to produce a series of paintings on these countries that had recently signed a peace treaty.
So in late 1980, my wife and I spent four weeks in Israel and two weeks in Egypt traveling around the countries while I sketched and photographed. Both places were incredibly fascinating. I can’t say I spent enough time in either country to portray the people intimately, but for the two years I worked on the paintings from my sketches and photographs, they truly occupied a sense of place in my mind.
I’ve also had experiences with other places that have given me great inspiration. In 1985, I spent six weeks painting, sketching, and photographing on the Greek island of Crete. There again, I was enthralled by the feeling of going back in time. Crete had an authentic old European culture with beautiful scenery and people with a deep devotion to their land and traditions. I was so taken with the island that I’ve been back six times to teach workshops and paint on my own.
In 1991, I became interested in the Central American country of Guatemala. It intrigued me that only about 1100 miles from New Orleans, there was a country with a culture so different from ours. The indigenous Mayan women and some of the men still wore traditional hand woven clothing decorated with brilliant colors and designs.
The people mainly lived in small villages and subsisted on farming and selling their weavings and handicrafts. The mountainous landscapes, colonial towns, and old Spanish culture added to the appeal of this country. I spent a month in Guatemala and went on to produce a large body of work from my sketches and photographs.
In recent years, I’ve focused mainly on painting New Orleans and landscapes near my home in Covington. However, I’ve also made many trips to southern France and Paris to teach workshops and sketch on my own.
I’m presently painting a series of Paris and French countryside scenes to show alongside my paintings of New Orleans and southern Louisiana for a future show. I feel a real kinship between France and Louisiana because of Louisiana’s French heritage.
During my workshop trips over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to paint other wonderful places like Italy, Croatia, Scotland, Ireland, China, Mexico, Australia, Bermuda and also great places in the United States. However, I didn’t delve into painting these places enough to consider them one of “my places.”
I continue to work in oil and watercolor, but I consider pastel to be my primary medium of choice. I tend to like the very soft pastels like Great American, Terry Ludwig, Schmincke, Sennelier, and Richeson best. Great American is my favorite and I have two sets I personally selected; a Great American 91 half-stick assortment called Alan Flattmann’s Master Palette and a 78 full-stick assortment called Cityscapes. I also have an 80 stick All-Purpose assortment of Richeson Pastels. All these sets are light weight and ideal for plein air or studio painting.
I work on a variety of pastel papers and sanded surfaces for plein air work, but all my studio pieces are done granular grounds that I apply to rag papers or Gator Foam Boards. The rough texture of the granular ground allows me to build up the painting in multiple layers without losing the tooth of the surface. The ground is a mix of 1/3rd FF pumice powder, 1/3rd acrylic gesso and 1/3rd water. I add a little acrylic color to tint the mixture and then apply it to the papers or boards with a foam rubber brush. For complete details, please go to my book, The Art of Pastel Painting.
In conclusion, a “sense of place” may have a different meaning for every artist, but it is always associated with a place we know and feel comfortable with. As a realist, my “sense of place” is also based on a fascination and fondness for a specific place that inspires me to capture and record it for posterity.
I don’t know about you but I’m just sighing with contented pleasure. I love seeing the evolution of Alan Flattmann’s work through the theme of place. I had no idea that he was soooo well-travelled, taking the opportunity to capture the sense of place in each locale.
And now we want to hear from YOU! Did you know Alan’s work before this guest post? If you did, were you surprised by anything? Do you have any favourite paintings? If so tell us which ones and why you’re taken with them. And please, if you have questions for Alan, do post them as a comment as I know he’ll be happy to answer them.
Oh, and that interview I mentioned above? You can find it here. (You’ll need to scroll almost to the bottom of the post.)
Until next time!