There’s a quote by John Ruskin on Larry Clingman’s website that seems to be much more than a mere platitude for our featured artist. Clingman takes the words quite seriously and they are reflected in his character, his life, and attitude toward his art…because of his realistic and modest assessment of each.
“I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own powers. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.”
“Sober” is also a word that is applicable…evident in his quiet demeanor and noticeable in the subdued tones found in much of his work, especially the landscapes. Clingman’s still life paintings on the other hand are an exercise in carefully orchestrated color harmonies and contrasts of value, size, shape, edges, and texture. Even here his color is somewhat restrained, resulting in paintings that emote a calm and peaceful emotion.
Clingman worked for many years in the advertising industry…first as a designer, then illustrator, then creative director, to finally opening his own graphic design studio. As a fine artist he is gaining well deserved acclaim. This November he has been invited to participate in the “2015 Collector’s Reserve Exhibition” at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK., and this week he’s having a solo show at Cherry’s Art Gallery in Carthage, MO. One goal he has set for himself and will eventually attain is to become a Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America.
It’s with pleasure that I bring you this interview with Larry Clingman.
Tell us about your career as a commercial artist and how you made the transition to the fine arts. My interest in painting actually started with the beginning of my commercial art education. I graduated from Southwest Missouri State College in 1972 with a BFA in commercial art. One of the principal commercial art instructors there was Bill Armstrong who happened to be painter as well as instructor. He introduced me to his work and we painted quite a bit at the college my senior year. He is really responsible for me being a painter today. He was so enthusiastic about painting. I was hired by a large advertising agency in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working there 8 1/2 years to their Senior Art Director position, then hired by a very progressive Graphic Arts Studio in Tulsa as Vice President and Creative Director for 4 years. I started my own business in 1987 specializing in illustration, retouching, and graphic design. In 1991 the digital revolution began its influence into the graphics art industry and I invested heavily in it. Larry Clingman Graphics offered specialty imaging services, primarily in illustration and image manipulation, working for many of the larger ad agencies in the United States. In 2004 I knew if I ever wanted to pursue my dreams, that Bill Armstrong started, of being a fine artist, I’d better do it. It was a hard decision to stop a commercial art profession that had been so very good to me, but I did it. I have been painting full time since then.
What is your definition of art? Artistic Individual Interpretation. And there are as many interpretations as there are artists.
How would you define your role as an artist? I am a visual interpreter and communicator. As an artist, a painter, I create visual records. If it all works close to right, the viewer gets to see what I am seeing.
“I try to communicate a positive, personal feeling about the subject matter in my work”.
You’re primarily a still life painter but also enjoy landscapes. Is there a different motivation and thinking process as your move from one to the other? To me, the challenge is very much the same in painting both still life and landscape. In still life painting, you are the designer. You carry the burden of creating your set up. A successful still life begins with a well designed set up.Then creating color harmony, value relationships, variety in edges and paint application, etc. I certainly think a painter who primarily paints landscapes can benefit from painting the still life and vice versa. The principals of painting pertain to both genre. I paint from a live set up for my still life work but view that set up as a small landscape in front of me. I look for compositional opportunities in the landscape which sometimes remind me of something I might set up as a still life in studio.
What do you hope to communicate through your work? A sense of style, professionalism and direction. A positive, personal feeling about the subject matter and the work in general.
When you’re selecting objects, and setting up a still life, what are you looking for? My still life work consists of combinations of contrasts. Contrasts in shapes and sizes, contrasts in color, contrasts in light, contrasts in textures, contrasts in edges, and on and on. I work very hard to keep the viewer interested. Sameness is something I try to avoid. It isn’t unusual for me to spend as much or more time setting up a still life than actually painting it. If something is thrown together and painted, it’s never going to escape the feeling of being thrown together with little or no thought, in my opinion. That being said, the challenge is to set up something correctly organized while still maintaining a somewhat unorganized look.
Put these words in order: Drawing, framing, edges, technique, concept, values, composition, and color. Concept, composition, drawing, values, edges, color, technique, framing.
Explain your painting process. I look for something interesting I want to say visually. A still life, for example, might play a big shape against a little one, maybe letting the smaller win over the larger one. If that is the direction I choose, the entire painting, it’s decisions in composition, values, and color will build to support that concept. As mentioned, a fair amount of time is initially invested in the composition/set up. When the painting begins it’s time to concentrate on how things are going to look, draftsmanship, establishing value relationships, edges, and color harmonies. All of these things are considered in the concept and wind up being executed in a good set up and then the actual painting process. I start by roughing in basic shapes and values for the entire painting then proceed by starting to tighten the focal point or focal areas. Everything I paint after that will, hopefully, not visually overwhelm those area(s). How finished a look I want will depend on the time spent in this back and forth refining of these areas and their relationships in the painting.
Do you have basic rules of composition that you always adhere to? I try to. Things I try to always consider in my composition: The composition supports the concept. A recognizable focal point or area. A clear variety of shapes that work in harmony but also discourage sameness. Being aware of the rule of thirds and/or the golden ratio which is pretty cool to build to. (But rules are made to be broken sometimes too).
Some of your paintings have a dominate color key, how do you determine that and maintain it? Many of my earlier works have had a dominate low color key, and some still do. I was pulled in that direction because, when the painting was lit properly, the power of the light in the painting seemed to be compounded. The image began to become somewhat dimensional. I loved the look. I also noticed low key dominance with a boldly painted focal point read very strongly across the room. When I would show a prospective buyer paintings done this way they often mentioned the power the visual power of the focal area. I am painting more in a middle key now, but still can’t resist going back often to a low key, high key focal area painting. Determining and maintaining the color key is helped by a good set up. Setting up with a key in mind makes it much easier to maintain and dramatize the effect when painting, however, you have to be consistent in realizing the effects of color saturation, value, and chroma as your eye moves from high key to low key situations in the composition.
What colors are typically found on your palette? It depends. I took a workshop with a great artist named John Pototschnik once, and he really reprogrammed my thinking regarding color. I used to just put out some warms and cools and paint a painting. What got mixed up seemed close enough and pretty good. But, in that particular workshop, I discovered color shares an investment every bit as important as any other decision an artist makes in their painting. I think some beginning artists feel there is a distinct palette that lends itself to more successful paintings. That is not true, in my opinion. Some artists put out a large variety of paint on their palette then feel obligated to use it all in their painting. Again, I don’t agree. I look at what I’m going to paint then make a choice of color. I still put out probably more options than I will use, but I quickly try to establish a harmony with colors that will work with one another and support my idea of what I’m trying to say visually. I noticed early on good landscape artists are masters at color harmony and pleasing color relationships. Still life paintings offer the artist a chance to turn the volume up a bit, but still, too much of a good thing can quickly hurt instead of help. But, to answer the question, my general palette might have lemon and cad yellow, cad orange, cad red medium, yellow ochre, indian yellow, raw and burnt umber, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, indigo, phthalo blue, ivory black and titanium white. Rarely all at once though.
Do you always work from life? From still life, yes. From landscape, both reference and life.
What is the most difficult part of painting for you? Every part of it is difficult. Identifiable concept and consistent technique are constant challenges. I’m never satisfied. There’s so much to try and get right and so many opportunities to get it wrong.
“Artist individuality just does’t happen. It develops over time”.
How does one find their individuality as an artist? I listened to an interview once by a famous country singer who began his career sounding amazingly like Elvis. He defended his vocal similarity by saying at that time if you were going to find work anywhere you needed to have a sound similar to the one and only. When asked if he felt guilty about it he said he may have sounded like the king, but there was and would always be only one Elvis. As it turned out his own vocal individuality came about and he wound up having a very distinctive and award winning voice of his own. I can think of several artists whose work looks similar to others. Their individuality is where they want it to be, I guess. However, if you want to establish your own identity you must paint your way to it. Your style will slowly emerge and any similarities will dissolve with time. You will use a lot of paint and canvas getting there, but it will happen. Painting is a science that must be learned. It is not a haphazard thing. It takes time, motivation, and study. A good painter understands this. As these principals are learned and followed, the artists style and individuality will develop, as well. It just doesn’t happen. It develops over time.
What are three personal character traits you possess that are important to your career as a professional artist? I am dedicated to my profession. I am open minded to learning, changing, and improving my work. I have a strong spiritual faith to help guide me.
What’s a typical workday look like? I generally spend some of each morning working on the business side of things. That’s everything that has to be done other than painting. My wife Kathy helps me with this, as well. Afternoon and evenings are painting only. I really try to avoid multi-tasking while painting.
What’s your opinion of art competitions and how do you go about selecting paintings for the shows? I like art competitions. For instance, I’m a member of the Oil Painters of America. I enter their national and regional shows each year. The shows are juried for admittance. They are not easy to get into. I know I must put my best work forward if I want to have a chance to get in. It keeps me focused and goal oriented. It has also taught me to accept rejection. I don’t get in every time. Far from it. No one likes rejection, but it is a part of this business. I think all artists have paintings they think are stronger or weaker than others. I send the best I have at the time, based a lot on what I have discussed above. I’ve learned to realize, however, a judge’s decision is based on their opinion, not mine. What one judge accepts or rejects might well be the exact opposite with another.
What’s the most important advice you can give a wannabe artist? Be humble. Push your ego aside and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Dedicate yourself to your work and realize most professionals have spent years to get where they are. Take workshops. Learn the fundamentals and practice them in every piece of work you do. Don’t be afraid to ruin a painting by trying something new.
If you could spend a day with any three artists, past or present, whom would they be? Wow, there’s a lot more than three! Mark Boedges, C.W. Mundy, and Barbara Courtney Jaenicke.
Tell us about your upcoming show. The show opening and reception will be at Cherry’s Art Gallery on the square in Carthage, Missouri, Friday evening, August 14th at 6 p.m.. It will represent some of my most recent works, both landscape and still life. Of course everyone is invited to the opening or to drop by the gallery anytime to see the new work.
Thanks, Larry, for your willingness to submit to this interview. I know the readers of this blog will appreciate it.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE