“There’s not a moment of your day that you are not affected by an artist. Art is an integral part of our lives. Art is a principle way of communicating.”
–Dean Renwick Field
Art is a conversation. The viewer steps into a relationship with a painting based upon a variety of visual factors which unfolds into an emotional or intellectual dialogue. The conversation begins when viewers pay careful attention to the visual impact manifested by shape, color, space and other elements. This spring, students, faculty and guests at Cairn University benefited from an opportunity for such conversation from not only viewing works of art by painter Dean Renwick Field, but also directly engaging with him while gathered to celebrate his work. The New Perspectives exhibit created an opportunity to dialogue, commune, and be changed by the presence of beauty, providing teaching moments among my freshman students.
A native of New Jersey, Field’s career in the arts integrated a variety of creative disciplines from architecture to graphic design to international aviation marketing to fine arts education. In addition, he is also a pianist and former pilot. Yet what strikes me the most about meeting him is the single driving force behind his work—an insatiable drive for excellence and a fervent desire to touch the human spirit. His view of the world and sense of calling flows through the canvas. His values are expressed in effortless simplicity. Everything about his work and person exudes quality and careful decision making, knowledge and balance, and humility and praise for the God whom he diligently strives to serve.
Prior to the reception, I took my Arts & Culture First Year Program students down to the gallery to prepare for the artist’s visit. Their only assignment was to look, and take the time to truly notice and experience the work. There was a noticeable change of pace and noise level when they entered the exhibition space, in stark contrast to their usual hustle and bustle. My students moved slowly, frequently pausing in front of the paintings Solitude and The Walk. Field’s works invited and nudged them to calmly explore, sit, and reflect—to be cared for.
New Perspectives exudes a calming sense of security and quiet authority. Field’s paintings depict the complex beauty of nature in a seemingly simple design. In two of his paintings, This America and Cheyenne, images of just a few positive shapes and soft gradations call the viewer to consider the negative space and asks us to complete the narrative or potential idea. Dean hints at the narrative, providing the viewer clues for consideration. Through Cheyenne’s colors, composition, and even title itself, Field respectfully brings to attention the relationship between stately expressed elements, the call for stewardship of nature, and Native American culture. A white moon is perfectly balanced on the white horizon line that nearly disappears just before it swells upward, forming a rise of the land. I challenged my students not only to consider Dean’s methods in composing this work, but its communicative invitation to the viewer to care and stewardship.
Their thoughts directed our attention to This America. Field’s handling of the interplay between the midway negative space and land mass with a stout and nearly square geometric framing embodies the spirit of freedom and unbridled enthusiasm. The proud red, white, and blue hints of Rothko’s color psychology, gently glows within as an entire dwelling. “Do you feel anything?” I ask them. “Do you care?”
Other works demonstrate Field’s painterliness—his illustrative bend to realism and his connectedness to the human viewer and the natural world. The Twig generates a thoughtful visual conversation as the barren tree protrudes ever slightly into our space and the leftmost rock form layers toward the viewer in front of the other carefully crafted boundaries. The space sinks backwards following a directional force led by the dove towards the subtle rays breaking through the looming yet controlled clouds. I walked away from the piece wanting to sit on the ground at the roots of the tree.
At the artist reception, Dean ended his brief introduction with a simple comment, “I paint for the idea that it may make you stop and think for a little bit. The care of a human being is art.” That single expressed statement put words to the earnest hospitality viewers experience in the presence of Dean Field’s work. At the end of the night, one of my students, Maggie, approached the artist and came back a few minutes later inspired and challenged. “His advice and encouragement motivates me to be wise with how I spend my time, skills, and life,” she remarked. That brief encounter between the artist and an impressionable college freshman is the reason why we at Cairn don’t just show work, but also create the space for dialogue with it, the artist, and each other. If you’re near Philadelphia, keep your eye out for future artist visits on our campus. If you’re not, find galleries near you which host their artists, grab a few friends, and take the opportunity to dialogue with the artist, their work, and each other.
Photo Credit: David Steininger.
Location: Connie A. Eastburn Gallery, Cairn University, Langhorne, PA