Personal PANORAMAS

By Carstens, Rosemary | Southwest Art, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Personal PANORAMAS


Carstens, Rosemary, Southwest Art


Kevin Courter's serene paintings are majestic and intimate all at once

WHEN PAINTER Kevin Courter creates his stunning portrayals of the California landscape - from the coast to the Sierra Nevada mountain range - he draws upon an abundance of inspiration that he has accumulated over a lifetime. "As a kid, I roamed all over this area. Now, when I'm out driving around looking for subject matter for my art, I'm always reminded of how blessed I am to have grown up here."

Born in Palo Alto, CA, and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Courter has decades of nostalgic memories to inform his California visions. As a boy, he fished and hunted with his father, three brothers, cousins, and uncle, and he often rode his bicycle out to the nearby marshlands with friends. His years spent observing the region's evolving countryside imbue his paintings with deep, personal knowledge that shines through his work. A piece titled AT LAND'S END [on the cover], inspired by Point Lobos near Carmel, is an excellent example: One senses the artist's presence as he gazes at a limitless sea stretching to the horizon. With windswept Monterey pines and rugged headlands protruding from the foreground, the view seems to beckon the viewer in, just as it has beckoned the artist throughout his life.

Mostly self-taught, the 46-year-old Courter has always insisted on finding his own way to his present mastery of craft. His high school art teacher, Bill Rushton, guided him with a light hand, something Courter deeply appreciates. "Many teachers try to shape you to paint as they do," he says. "That's not what I wanted. I wanted to develop my own signature, my own method, one that would reflect what interests me in each composition." Today, Courter constantly studies paintings in museums and galleries. When he spots an effect he admires, he rushes back to his studio to work out the technique for himself. Rushton and Courter still see one another, and his former teacher continues to mentor him. In the late 1990s, when Courter made a dramatic transition from very detailed wildlife and landscape paintings to his current, more painterly style, it was Rushton who helped him through the process.

In many ways Courter's landscapes pay homage to self-taught painter and prominent lithographer Russell Chatham, who was also born in Marin County, and also to the renowned tonalist Arthur Mathews. Mathews was one of the founders of the American arts and crafts movement and had a significant influence on the evolution of California art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "I admire the simplicity in these artists' compositions, how they edited out extraneous detail," says Courter, referring to both Chatham and Mathews. "It allows the viewer to take part in the making of a story, to let his own experiences flow into the painting-something I strive for in my own work." But Courier's work is never derivative; it is always uniquely and powerfully his own. He has taken the concepts of tonalism - working in closely related values to create mystery and mood - and the challenge of distilling a scene down to its critical components and combined them to create his own signature style. "It's important to me," he continues, "to get rid of 'noise' and capture the character of the moment. And I'm constantly trying to grow."

Bill Hill, owner of New Masters Gallery in Carmel, CA, discovered Courter's work about six years ago. "I saw right away it was exceptional," he says. "He was about 40 years old, but the quality of his work was as if he'd been painting for 50 years. His work makes you feel like you are in a museum's early California artists' wing- it's that good. I immediately recognized his innate talent, and he's become one of the top painters in the gallery, winning several awards and becoming nationally known."

Reflecting recently on Courter's increasing success, Mark Smith of Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, TX, pinpointed the artist's "iconic sense of nature's majesty. …

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