Putting it Pleinly: An interview with Alix Hallman Travis

There’s a party at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery! Actually, there’s an exhibition called A Celebration of Community by painter Alix Hallman Travis, who recently had a talk with Carolyn. Read on, fellow party-goer! And just to be clear – Carolyn did this interview, but Maggie insists on being credited for the delightful pun in the title.

2. Parade_ Catskill Mountain Life, no. 6Travis

“Parade”

I’ll start with the proverbial “tell us a little bit about yourself” – when did you first come to the Catskills and why?

In 2003 while residents of Cleveland, OH my husband and I purchased a house in the Mid Catskills area of Margaretville in Delaware County to be nearer family that had a home here.  We were attracted to the area because of its beauty and I particularly because of the comfortable ease with which I could paint outdoors in the landscape.  I had just finished my study at the Cleveland Institute of Art and was an active plein air painter.  While I knew almost no one here I felt safe in stopping by the side of the road and setting up my easel—painting alone is not always possible in a large urban area like Cleveland.

You have a very interesting style, reminiscent in some ways—especially in your use of vibrant color—of the Bahaus Movement of the early 20th century. Can you comment on that?

While academically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Art Students League of New York, I am an intuitive painter; using bold colors and sweeping gestures because I like the way they feel and they just flow from my hand.  My gestures are large.  I have difficulty signing a check because my signature is too large for the space provided—

3. Fireworks, Catskill Mt. Life series, no. 7, oil on c with lights,Travis

“Fireworks” (oil on canvas with lights)

don’t even mention putting my signature in the space provided on a credit card receipt!

In both watercolor and oil I use large tools that fill my hand:  big brushes require big pieces of paper or canvas.  I use palette knives instead of oil brushes because I like their feel and the resulting stroke.  I paint quickly and instinctively.

Before the paint is chosen, quickly and instinctively applied there has been considerable forethought.  While my plein air watercolor paintings make up a body of work that stands on its own, all those summers of observation inform the oils.  That is they are the forethought and planning that goes before the fanciful oil paintings that reflect my mountain community.  I am not dealing with specifics.  Neither the watercolors nor the oils are faithful depictions of anything thing but instead are imaginative renditions of what I see or imagine I see.

I was a history major in college and viewing communities and their artifacts and arrangements comes naturally.

The first time I saw your work, I was instantly reminded of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, that quintessential silent film of 1920. Wickipedia describes the film as featuring “… a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles…” A compelling style, in my opinion. Was this intentional and, if so, is there a message beyond the image?

I am unfamiliar with the movie, “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” ; however, you are not the first to comment on my sloping lines and whimsical structures.  I feel I am more in the company of American scene painters, Thomas Hart Bennett, WPA mural painters and Reginald Marsh.  I am very attracted to the European painters that charge their landscape and figurative paintings with loose loopy lines like Chaim Sautine, Vincent van Gogh or Oskar Kokoschka.  I rather think they painted as they did because they viewed the world as moving and were too impatient to work to make a line straight.  They probably stood as they painted and their elbows moved up and down and around with each stroke.

4.The Feast, Catskill Mt. Life series, no. 8, oil on c, 52x44 in.Travis

“The Feast” (oil on canvas)

So, no message, just fascination and impatience.

Did it take you a long time to develop your style?

I have always painted in a manner and place in which I am physically comfortable.  I did not consciously develop a “style”.  Like my signature, the paintings are just mine.

What is your favorite book and why?

I gravitate toward historical fiction.  Pat Barker and Alan Furst’s novels on WWI and WWII have been at the top of my list for several years.  I eagerly await any new titles as they are published.

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A Celebration of Community, on display now at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery

Alix’s show will be is on display until June 19th, and the gallery is open Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm. See you soon!

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