Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Visit with Master Painter Albert Handell

"Breaking Water Along the Taos Ski Basin"
12x24 oil by Albert Handell
(one of the new paintings Albert shared with me)

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  As most people know, Santa Fe is an art Mecca.  For artists and art lovers, it provides a tremendous opportunity to quench one's thirst for experiencing good art.  Over the years, I've seen galleries come and go and artists pass in and out of fashion.  But some artists have thrived and continue to florish there.  One such artist is master painter Albert Handell.  (Here's what Fine Art Connoisseur says about him.)

Albert Handell
(all photos by Trina Stephenson)

I've gotten to be good friends with Albert and his wife, fellow painter Jeanine Christman-Handell.  So despite a winter storm warning and four inches of snow already on the ground, Trina and I drove the slushy streets to Albert's studio.  The studio is adjacent to the house, and both are what you'd expect from a Santa Fe artist, adobe pueblo-style plus a dooryard filled with chamisa, now snow-capped.  Jeanine was sweeping the snow off the steps for us, and Albert had already warmed up the studio.  Verdi was playing on a little music box.  On two easels were two oil paintings, one quite large and older, one that Albert was re-working, plus a smaller, new one.  When I inquired earlier about a studio visit, Albert sent me a text that he was "painting as if on fire." I could tell.  Paintings, both framed and unframed, were stacked against the vertical storage cabinets, which were also filled.  (I last visited Albert's studio in 2007.)

Albert wanted to show me some new work that he was proud of.  That's one of the many things I like about Albert.  Though humble, he is not to shy to share with you his latest efforts, which are always beautiful.  Some of the pieces were destined for the upcoming Oil Painters of America exhibition, others for other shows.  The work was so consistently superior that I asked him if he ever made a bad painting.  He laughed and said, "They just don't make it to the frames."

Although he does a great deal of his work out on location, like most plein air painters he recognizes the necessity of being in the studio.  Lately, he's taken to using a large computer screen to work from.  He took me on a tour of some of the photos he's been using as references and then showed me the paintings.  It's always fascinating to see how a master takes a scene and changes it for a painting.  He also shared with me some of the spots where he took the photos, taking time to write out the directions to them.   Albert is incredibly giving with his knowledge.

Albert's pastel palette

Albert's oil palette
Referencing his comment that he was painting "as if on fire," I told him that it must feel great to still have that kind of energy and interest at this point in his career.  Albert will soon turn 78.  "It is!  I'm painting better than ever.  I'm painting looser.  I'm focusing on the important parts of the painting and leaving more of the underpainting untouched."  Albert likes to start his oil paintings with a big brush and large, transparent passages; then he moves to the knife and works on the center of interest, paying special attention to "lost and found" edges.

There's a great deal more I could write about our visit, which was brief.  The snow was still falling in large, lazy flakes, and the forecast was for lowering temperatures and heavier snow.  We had to get to Albuquerque before the roads got bad.

Handell Studio

I'm looking forward to seeing Albert and Jeanine again in Palm Springs in a few weeks for a mentoring workshop, and then again in April 2016 in Sedona, when he will be back in my area for another mentoring workshop.

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