Portraying the Land

Portraying the Land

JohnWissler– Written by Hannah Marks for FLL#36 • Portrait & Studio Photos by Bianca Cordova

“In my studio, I like to surround myself with things that inspire me,” John David Wissler says, likely noting the look of amazement that crosses my face as I take my first steps into his studio. Wissler’s studio, much like his own work, forces the eye to be constantly on the move—from the African masks hanging on one wall and the 19th century Russian Orthodox icons on another, to the bookcases filled to capacity with artist catalogues and his own sketchbooks.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“In my studio, I like to surround myself with things that inspire me.” — John David Wissler[/pullquote]Amidst the artifacts and objects stand Wissler’s easel and his finished works, bathing the otherwise dimly lit room in a warm light, as if the oil paints spread across the countless canvases and panels themselves emanate electricity. With the amount of his own pieces numbering near or over fifty, it is difficult to tell whether his workspace overflows into his personal collection, or vice-versa.

As we sit down and begin to discuss his processes and influences, I recall this initial statement of his, which I soon come to understand is reflective of the overall spirit of his work — experience shapes his output, and lies at the heart of his intent as an artist.

Wissler1An aspiring artist from a young age and formally trained at Kutztown University and Parsons School of Design, Wissler’s work is vast and uniquely intimate. Though he concerns himself largely with landscapes, it is rare to find an artist who treats each scene as independently as he does. Each work ranges in size, medium, and method of execution (plein air versus studio), as well as in treatment of color and texture.

A large-scale work on panel might exude a sense of quiet tranquility in its monochromatic palette and smooth shifts in tone, while a similar subject executed on a small sheet of paper may feature more aggressive brushstrokes and contrasting tones. While thick, impasto brushstrokes often characterize his works, do not mistake the sense of immediacy for quick execution, though Wissler pays careful attention to deliberately convey so.

Wissler4Perhaps the largest work in his studio is a large framed landscape, which, though having begun two years ago, is still a work in progress.

“I want the final marks to look as though they have just been freshly applied,” he notes. Each aspect of a work is carefully constructed, each element chosen specifically for its subtlety or starkness in relation to another. Even his chosen medium plays an integral part in the overall piece; his panels and papers are carefully prepared and often selected based on which ground color suits his subject and palette best. Wissler pays close attention to the interplay between subject and medium, and will leave areas of the surface exposed when he knows the ground color will lend itself nicely to the scene he is painting. If painting a scene meant to evoke an icy or snowy day, he may use a panel or paper with a slightly purple tint, which he can exploit to ease the transition between different tones of the same color. Similarly, he utilizes the coarseness yielded by a prepared canvas to heighten the nearly palpable texture and contrasting color hues of his larger scale works.

Wissler2This careful balance between the immediacy of his subject and the intimacy with which Wissler portrays it is maintained by his constant attention to memory and experience. Just as the weather conditions which he captures change, as does Wissler’s own environment and mood when he works, whether in the open air or back in his studio.

Though he travels prepared with paints and paper in order to react quickly to changing environments, Wissler is adamant in his opposition to using plein air works as preliminary sketches, to be used and expanded upon in his studio. Even his sketchbooks, which are filled with painted sketches measuring no more than a few inches, are not used as a strict basis for studio works. What he does so naturally and effortlessly is collect the whole experience, which he then harnesses to create a finished work. While painting in the open air, he feels somewhat obligated to capture a moment objectively; back in his studio, he is able to interpret and reflect upon his own experience to capturing an environmental occurrence in a more subjective manner.

Wissler3Though he avoids narrative scenes and instead concerns himself largely with land and seascapes, Wissler’s work defies a strict categorization as such. His often broad, sweeping brushstrokes, his masterful utilization of color, and his ability to capture feeling moments align himself with the great landscape artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the English Romantic artist J. M. W. Turner. However, whereas artists like Turner would have included small figural groups in order for his works to be classified and judged among the great historical works of his day, Wissler is able to suggest a narrative without the inclusion of direct subject matter or any such underlying agenda.

With low horizon lines that cloud clear subject matter, coupled with dramatic and abrupt tonal changes, Wissler allows the audience to construct a narrative on their own. A cityscape with hues of orange and red could suggest a calm sunrise or a peaceful sunset, a city struck by an environmental catastrophe or a manmade disaster. An ambiguous scene featuring subtle changes of whites and greys could communicate an icy winter’s day or a study of atmospheric changes. From Wissler’s portrayal of ever-changing environments and his own reactions to them, he lays a foundation on which the viewer can build their own.

Learn more at lancastergalleries.com/artists/john-david-wissler