Work of the Week – Night Scene by Neil Welliver
by Parker Louise Bobbitt
This week’s Work of the
Week is Night Scene by American landscape artist, Neil Welliver.
Some things are more complex than they may first appear. While Welliver’s Night Scene appears to be a simple landscape, the intricacies in the process and finished wor are clear with deeper exploration. Just as you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you can’t always trust first impressions of works of art.
Night Scene is a visually stunning work that is full of deep colors and subtleties. In this somber landscape, the wood grain characteristic of wood cuts is visible throughout the sky and lake. The buildup of ink around the edges of this work are also indicative of its medium. Through a limited palette and powerful composition, this simple work holds your attention.
While Neil Welliver is primarily known for his large oil paintings of landscapes, Night Scene is a smaller woodcut. Woodcuts are made when the artist carves the negative space of their design into a piece of wood. Following this step, ink is rolled over the now upraised details and the woodcut is pressed onto the paper, leaving an image that generally contains the grain of the wood. Night Scene was made using 9 separate woodcuts and 13 colors laid over and around one another.
Neil Welliver was born on July 22, 1929 in Millville, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Philadelphia College of Art, Welliver studied under Burgoyne Diller and Josef Albers while earning his MFA at Yale where he later taught. Welliver moved away from the Abstract color field paintings he had learned in school into watercolors of small towns and, finally, the realistic landscape paintings for which he is famous. When beginning a work, he would hike into the woods with 70 pounds of equipment to create full size sketches for his works even during cold Maine winters. “Painting outside in winter is not a macho thing to do. It’s more difficult than that. To paint outside in the winter is painful. It hurts your hands, it hurts your feet, it hurts your ears. Painting is difficult. The paint is rigid, it’s stiff, it doesn’t move easily. But sometimes there are things you want and that’s the only way you get them.” In 1975, Welliver’s house and studio full of work tragically burned down and the next year, both his daughter and wife passed away in unrelated instances. Having undergone many tragedies throughout his life, Welliver continued to paint until his death in Belfast, Maine on April 5, 2005.
Through the use of 9 woodblocks and 13 colors, Welliver created this simple, monochrome landscape that intrigues viewers to stop and look. He achieved depth, somberness and intricacies that become distinct through exploration.
Artwork above: Neil Gavin Welliver, Night Scene, 1981-82, Color Woodcut on Paper, 14 x 16.25 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by 2012 Collectors’ Circle members Frances Myers and Mary Powell, 2012.46.65.