The work of Atlanta, Georgia-based artist R John Ichter presents the world in an unusual light. The vivid hues present in his paintings are unrealistic, but potent in their ability to sway the viewer. Strong colors and the contrast between them, as well as the black canvas underneath, portray a strange and visceral world. His are not the natural landscapes of yore—they relish in unreality.
"I'm a cross between fauvism and impressionism," Ichter tells SFR. "I'm often taking a scene—I make all the landscapes up—and using colors that you wouldn't ordinarily seen in nature. … My paintings are all about color. I just love really colorful work, so all of my work is about the color and doing something exciting and unusual."
Ichter's self-assessment of his style is accurate, and there are clear elements of both artistic schools. But while impressionists like Monet tried to compose through the use of light, they relied upon the light intrinsic to the natural world. Ichter, instead, pulls from the elements of fauvism, which itself uses strong colors with impressionist-like textures. His paintings tend to be more elegant and defined, however, using smooth shapes and surfaces.
"Impressionism is a style that attempts to give the impression of something," he says. "I don't want to take a picture, I want to add something to it."
In "Feels So Right," aquamarine clouds drift in a lime-green sky and the trees are a textured blue with shades of midnight and slate. The ground is a lively melange of blue, green and orange, but still there is a pervasive darkness. All subjects have a black outline, which comes from the canvas itself.
"Before I started to paint, I used pastels on black canvas," Ichter recalls. "When I started painting, I painted the canvas black because that's what I was used to. I just let the black of the canvas do the work."
This gives Ichter a distinct style and conjures parallels to stained glass. Thick outlines become subjects in and of themselves, both connected to and independent of the landscapes they frame.
"A lot of the time when I'm doing these paintings, I first decide what I want the sky to be. I base everything on what flows well with it," Ichter says. "The truth is, as I'm painting, I make it up as I go along and I'm trying to tickle my own eyeballs."
Ichter also makes what he calls "three-dimensional" paintings: replications of koi ponds that consist of innumerable layers of clear resin. They looks realistic, and match Ichter's philosophy of emphasizing color. The fish themselves are the centerpiece and flush the ponds with orange, blue and white. He took inspiration from contemporary Japanese artist Riusuke Fukahori, who is renowned for pioneering the technique within ceramic and wooden bowls. Ichter's, however, depict the environments in which the koi dwell, such as rocks and algae, which adds flair and realism.
"It jut fascinated me but I couldn't find any information how to do it," he says. "So I figured it out myself. It took six months of practice, trying things out and failing—then I finally got it."
Whether it's his paintings or his floating koi fish, Ichter depicts nature in a way that accentuates its visceral beauty. Outside of the studio, he's an avid mountain cyclist and a frequent visitor to Santa Fe, drawing inspiration from the wide horizons and towering clouds. The majestic elements of nature fitting against one another is a proper fit for his kind of work.
"I consider myself always working. I'm always filing away interesting ideas," he says. "A lot of times I'll be driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and I'll see some cloud formations. Fifty miles later I'll see some cottonwood trees. When I get to Santa Fe I'll paint based on what I see."
R John Ichter: Color Them Wonderful
Opening Reception: 5 pm Friday Oct. 19. Free. Through Nov. 9. Gallery 901, 555 Canyon Road, 428-0279