KHFA exhibition archives

Charles Field: From the Figure Into the Landscape

January 21—March 4, 2023
Opening reception Saturday, January 21 from 5:00-7:00 pm
Artist will be in attendance

Essay by Susie Kalil

Forty seven years ago, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts tapped New York sculptor Christopher Wilmarth to select art for the 1976 Texas Painting and Sculpture Juried Exhibition. Out of 850 entries submitted, Wilmarth—whose poetic, sensuous sculptures of glass and steel were in the vanguard of American art—chose just 26 works for the exhibition. He wrote: "An Artist must be honest and honesty isn't easy. . . . A true story comes only from imagination and experience. No one else can tell it but the teller. History is layers; a gift with these conditions: help yourself—but add your own." As Wilmarth knew, popular artists come and go, but there is a degree of aesthetic literacy that can't be faked.

Ireland, 2020, oil on canvas, 8" x 20"

Accordingly, his selection for the prestigious Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Award was Charles Field's painting Reclining Figures #2, a pair of nude women with elbows jutting out and feet pushing into the viewer's space, posed on a red sofa against an emerald green background. Sourcing the works of Bay Area painters, especially Richard Diebenkorn's cool, loosely made figures, Field felt more affinity with figurative painting than the pure abstraction and urbanity of Pop Art during his grad student years, or the heady Conceptualism that dominated the 1970s art scene.

As conveyed by the series of nudes from the period, Field's great strength is his ability to integrate the linear and painterly, the Classical and sensuous in a single work. Elegant, shallow modeling against areas of purposeful distortion, fine finish against purposely crude brushwork—the knit skin of surface, form and color does not preclude a sense of the hand in motion, searching. In all of the figurative paintings, Field's color sense—blue, cream, pink, green, crimson and gray—is unerring, bold and lush. His visceral understanding of the expressive range of wiry and gamboling strokes unpacks a vocabulary of forms—breasts, legs, genitalia—that hover on the border between material and immaterial. Field's brushstrokes swell into colored shapes which are then pared back and coaxed into newly found volumes. The vulnerability and ambiguity of these figures and their sexual suggestiveness create a seductive and luscious atmospheric depth that draws us in.

Field has always been an artist of tenacity, deeply conscious of the tradition he works in and the homages to other art that it entails. His aim is accurate. When asked to relate the transition from figure to landscape, Field pinpoints the moment: "While I was painting from a Vermeer in my second floor studio, on a hill side west of San Antonio, I noticed fantastic skies passing my window. I moved my easel to the window and began to paint the sky and the city moving relentlessly our way."

That tension between nature's vulnerability and endurance remains an undercurrent of his landscapes, ranging from the vast space of West Texas, the Gulf, New Mexico, the Northern California Coast, Nova Scotia, England, Ireland, the Tuscan Hills and the Aegean Sea.

Hayroll, 1980, oil on canvas, 17" x 35"

Kirk Hopper Fine Art is honored to present Charles Field: From the Figure Into the Landscape, a selection of some 40 paintings and works on paper, spanning five decades and providing a welcome opportunity to follow Field's long career. Their fine qualities of light, craft, surface, form and space blow fresh air into the lungs of an audience seeking the wholeness of visual expression.

What makes Field's plein air and studio works so gripping? He is impressively skillful, an artist firmly in control of his means. Field's work is grounded in real time, perceived and understood, rendered with a disciplined intensity, which is guided by instinct and personal need.

It is clear that Field works on at least two levels: constructing a painting in which shapes, colors and spaces form a set of unique relationships, independent of subject matter, while at the same time capturing and preserving the physical and emotional overtones aroused in him by visual experience. Field brings a vast panorama closer to human scale so that it may be examined in a new, curiously intimate manner. In the Summer Sky (1979) paintings, the color expands and rises like warm air. For the Taos landscapes, Field layers a fluctuating ground of earthen tones and wet-on-wet strokes, transforming the surface into a field of dynamic energy. For The Island, Ingonish, Nova Scotia (2001), the land mass is solitary as a sentinel, floating in a roiling blue ocean. Strange chromatic shifts across the sky and water not only suggest the form and texture of the season, but also its lingering light and atmospheric sensations. Field transforms the scene, its look and feel, plucked from the environment, into poetic stanzas of pigment and gesture.

Field's landscapes have an immersive quality that partake of a dreamlike, wandering or searching trace. He expects full participation, even demands that we imagine, fantasize and use our eyes to explore his marks—loving glides, painterly swirls, brisk brushiness, blocky forms suggesting shore and trees. The strokes are scintillating and rhythmic, dematerializing solids with freely applied swaths of lush greens and pearly grays, shot through with delicate opalescence. Field takes an unabashedly beautiful lavender and hazy yellow, or an intense burning orange and makes them float as if they were as light and ethereal as air.

All are modest in scale; they appear effortless, comforting, astringent and freshly found. He offers up essences, like alluring discoveries brought to us with outstretched hands. Field's images have antecedents in the scudding clouds and unified light of Constable and Turner. The ecstatic physicality of Van Gogh's bustling strokes have impacted Field's art, but so too have the seemingly slower ponderings and vacillations of Cezanne's organic planar geometries. Devoid of human presence while at the same time soliciting viewer engagement, Field's landscapes embody the Romantic vision of nature as a space that transcends everyday human concerns even as they invite us to regard ourselves as a larger whole. What quickens it all is the feeling of being extraordinarily alive to the moment. The philosophical questions that emerge from these compositions deal with the mystery and enigma of our existence, our solitary state in the world, our limits in space and time, our desire for the infinite.

A beloved and respected professor for nearly four decades, Field taught at Western Illinois University, the University of Texas, University of New Mexico, and University of Texas at San Antonio. Throughout, he demonstrated a sense of place that is extroverted and outward-looking, a response to natural beauty without irony, that inspired succeeding generations, including nationally recognized artists Melissa Miller, Carol Ivey, Janet Krueger, Mary Baxter, Carolina Flores and Wendy Edwards.

Charles Field is a Fellow of the Ballinglen Arts Foundation, Ireland, and was honored as the San Antonio Art League's Artist of the Year in 2005. He is represented in numerous public collections: The AT&T Center; Austin Museum of Art; Ballinglen Foundation, Ireland; El Paso Museum of Art; Illinois State Museum; McNay Art Museum; McGraw Hill Publishing; USAA: University of Texas at San Antonio; and University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas.

Dawn, Dalmatian Coast, 2011, oil on canvas, 9" x 12"