Some artists believe that in order to become an expert, you must paint the same subject over and over again — think of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or Monet’s Water Lilies. Others believe that experimentation is the key to learning. June Stratton falls into the latter category. Over the course of her career, she’s changed her focus several times, from landscapes to anti-war art to her current work featuring ethereal female figures.
Stratton, whose latest work is on view at Robert Lange Studios, moved to Seattle in her 20s where she was exposed to the city’s thriving arts community. She was drawn to realism, but the style was passé in the 1970s.
While her colleagues were exploring expressionist art forms, she was learning to paint landscapes in a reductive manner, a style that involves reducing an image down to its minimalist core. She also studied other landscape works, including the monochromatic paintings of American artist Mark Tansey and the tonal landscapes of renowned Hudson River artist George Inness. It was a long process.
“It took 10 years to figure out how to combine the benefits of working reductively and add multiple thick layers of opaque paint,” she says.
In 2005 she moved to Georgia and opened Savannah’s Whitney Gallery, named for her grandmother, which she ran for eight years. Managing the work of other artists while she was trying to develop her own work was challenging, but it allowed her to try her hand at different styles. “I went through many phases after I moved from Seattle to Atlanta and tried to explore everything while teaching myself to paint,” Stratton says. “I realized that if I’m not learning I’m not being creative. There’s always something more to learn.” This month, you can see where that learning process took her thanks to her latest collection, Interplay, on display at Robert Lange Studios.
Interplay features a series of figurative oil paintings in silver leaf that weave together female subjects and nature. Butterflies, flowers, branches, clouds, and even flames are intertwined with the figures in a way that brings to mind the characters in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream or even Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The images are dream-like and ethereal. Small windows are featured in many of the paintings and are meant to suggest a different way of seeing the world. In “Earth and Sky” a pair of twin sisters, dressed in shimmering, sleeveless gowns, lean against one another in pensive poses, clutching small, rectangular transparent windows. Stratton’s skill in rendering drapery is on full display in this timeless, other-worldy image.
Of course, these other-worldly images are based on very real people, and in the case of “Earth and Sky,” twin girls. “I take hundreds of photographs,” Stratton says. After that, she uses those photographs as the inspiration for her paintings, beginning with a drawing and working organically to create multiple layers of silver leaf. The silver leaf imparts a camouflage-like effect to the figures that emphasize the sensation of movement and aids Stratton in her exploration of the impermanence of beauty. “Beauty doesn’t last,” she adds. Be that as it may, the twins in the Interplay exhibition will remain as beautiful as ever.
The two girls are also featured in the large scale painting “Falls,” is an homage to filmmaker David Lynch and his acclaimed series Twin Peaks. “The way Lynch overlays nature with his subjects through distinct lighting effects and lustful color saturation are intriguing to me,” Stratton says. “As in film noir, I illuminate feminine figures in mysterious environments to embody a sensual and deep inner spirit.”