I build my paintings using naturalistic detail (leaves, pond ripples, duckweed, stones, clouds, and trees (sometimes frogs, fish, and birds). Juxtaposition and distance determines the degree of abstraction or realism in each painting, along with the accidents and impulses that inevitably happen in the studio. The more closely I look, the more abstract the patterns become.

TM9273 Drifting Past November 42×48 oil on panel

TM9669 To Start Again, and Always 30×54 oil on panel

Praise Poems and the Landscape

Praise Poems – that is how I think of my paintings. Like a poem, they are constructions, records of observation and leaps of imagination.

As to how I create my paintings, naturalistic detail forms the vocabulary (leaves, duckweed, stones, clouds, and sometimes frogs, fish, and birds) while juxtaposition determines the degree of abstraction or realism in each painting. The more closely I look, the more abstract the patterns become. Similarly, swirls of pollen and duckweed on a pond’s surface can feel abstract, even when the sun is casting clearly defined shadows across the surface, and the surrounding woods can be inferred in the leafy, dancing shapes in the shadows. I see realism and abstraction as points on the axis of proximity.

I work to master the accidents that are possible when techniques collide. My early study of printmaking, then watercolor, and finally oil painting opened me to new ways of seeing and recording the natural world. I let the medium inform the approach and final result. I know it is at the intersection of these three mediums that my best impulses reveal themselves.

The landscape is a layered event, both in terms of time and interactions. So are my paintings. The first layer, based on monoprint techniques, uses a soft rubber roller and thinned oil paint to set a value pattern and textures evocative of my subject. At this stage, I am interested in strong contrasts and bold “accidents.” I push the wet paint around with scraps of plastic bags, spritz with solvents, blot, blur, re-roll, wipe and scrape in defining lines. I use anything at hand to create an interesting abstract pattern, one that is sympathetic to my subject.

When the underpainting is dry, I use oil glazes to modulate the color, then bring into focus the major shapes using soft watercolor brushes, soft rubber rollers, and primarily transparent or semi-transparent pigments. I look at the patterns in nature and seek to interweave that information with the abstract gestures found in the first layer of paint. It’s a question of balance – letting the underpainting integrate with facts in a respectful way. Successive weeks, or months, even years of painting, drying, glazing, repainting and more drying yield a view that speaks of the passage of time and inevitable change.

Recently, I have begun exploring a more intimate subject on a smaller scale – neighborhood gardens. Painted on the scraps of panel leftover from larger projects, these focused views still employ monoprint, watercolor, and oil techniques. They are also praise poems – odes to hope and everything that can be renewed .

Teri Malo

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