LOOKING AT “Spirit in the Sky” by Brent Lynch puts the viewer in a magnificent setting. The painting, a diptych, is large, four by eight feet, and the vista shows Long Beach near Tofino. The sun is setting over the Pacific Ocean. A slow swell moves across the calm sea. Golden light from the setting sun reflects in the glassy ocean and catches fire in the clouds. Narrow bands of showers skirt the horizon. Their vertical lines lift our eyes into the swirling blue above.
The big sky is turbulent, alive with stormy colours and twisted cloud shapes. This eerie expanse of blue-green infinity roils with winged creatures, Olympian gods and dragons descending. The mysterious celestial show captures our attention and we wonder: Will the clouds coalesce into thunderheads and spawn great sheets of lightning? Or perhaps sweep our way, pelting us with wind and rain? It’s easy to understand why “Spirit in the Sky” brings to mind the lyrics of Norman Greenbaum’s 1970 hit song: “Going up to the spirit in the sky, that’s where I’m gonna go when I die...”
“Spirit in the Sky” by Brent Lynch, 48 x 96 inches, acrylic on canvas
Lynch found himself humming tunes and recalling poems as he painted his recent series Under the Big Sky, on exhibit in Victoria in October. The memories and emotions kindled by these songs and poetic words worked their way into the paintings. “A good painting is like a metaphor,” he says, “it suggests a link to something else, but leaves the meaning totally open.” At 65, Lynch’s formative years were the late 1960s and early ’70s. Many of the songs that inspired Lynch came from this era. Others came from classical themes and literature, including fantasies and fugues by JS Bach, poetry by William Blake, and writings by Dylan Thomas.
Lynch was born in Vancouver and spent his adolescence in Ladner, a small fishing and farming community on the banks of the Fraser River. His successful career began in the 1970s. He studied printmaking, painting and life drawing at St. Martin’s School of Fine Art in England. During an exchange week at Bath School of Fine Arts, he discovered the applied arts program. “After that I never looked back,” he says. “I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Using images to tell stories allowed him to make a living as an illustrator. As a busy freelancer in the mid-’70s, Lynch worked for an advertising agency in London, England. Back in Canada, his clients included the Vancouver Sun, where he illustrated short stories with hand-painted sketches. “I quickly learned how to cope with deadline pressures,” he says. His award-winning designs included book illustrations and posters for corporate and cultural events.
Lynch now focuses his impressive skills on fine art painting. A popular instructor at workshops, one of the first things he tells his students is: “What you don’t see in a painting is the most important part.” As a storyteller, he allows colour, texture and form to evoke emotions and memories in the viewer. “A good painting has to stand on its own,” he says, “and burn a pathway into your psyche.”
Large paintings like “Spirit in the Sky” are labour-intensive undertakings. He begins by sketching out the composition with a brush. “In a successful painting, all the design elements are balanced,” he explains. “It’s an essential skill for artists to learn.” Large-scale skyscapes require careful placements of line, shape and form. The initial sketch takes a few hours, whereas completing the painting takes a few months. “I have to live with them a while,” he says, “to fine-tune the tints, tones and colour relationships.”
Lynch employs a variety of brushwork. Dry strokes with hard edges define movement and turbulence in the cloud patterns. Soft-edged horizontal strokes suggest the liquid feel of water. The artist favours oil paint for the organic liveliness of the medium. Oils promote more spontaneity than acrylics, and the longer drying time suits Lynch’s artistic process. “Wet-on-wet offers all kinds of possibilities and effects,” he says.
“Spirit in the Sky” evolved from a smaller diptych, each panel measuring 12 by 12 inches. These en plein air panels are painted outdoors, completed in under one hour. The aim is to capture the fleeting moments of special grace that inspired the artwork. “Mother Nature is always changing and moving along,” he says, “so each minute is precious.”
Lynch loves to be outside and to explore new places. His home in Nanoose Bay looks out on the beautiful Ballenas Island group, and his bench out back is always waiting.
Lynch’s October exhibition at The Avenue Gallery includes 24 framed plein air paintings, each 12 by 12 inches. Larger artworks inspired by these plein air gems complete the exhibition.
For plein air work, the artist uses a lightweight outdoor painting kit. It comes stocked with basic oil colours: cadmium red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, raw umber, black and white. From these primaries, all other colours can be mixed. While painting “Tyger Tyger,” the artist invoked the poetry of William Blake. The poem “Tyger” first appeared in Songs of Innocence and Experience, a 1789 collection of original etchings and text by Blake. The poem’s opening lines are famous: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
“Tyger Tyger” 12 x 12 inches, oil on prepared board
To illustrate the fiery sunset, the artist had to make some quick drawing decisions. His choice of shapes and textures allow him to capture the drama of the setting sun. To make the window of light jump forward, yellow and red predominate. The same hues highlight the gray-blue clouds, painted with loose gestural brushwork. An ethereal green sky emerges from smoothly blended red and yellow.
The artist enjoys the challenges and uncertainty of plein air painting. “Successful ones kind of paint themselves,” he says. “You just get out of the way. Other times you bring home a mess. That’s what makes plein air work so exciting.” The artist is forthcoming about the dynamics of his artistic temperament. “My heritage is Irish,” he says. “I have an acceptance of the dark and the light. That’s just the way it is. Everything is in flux and constantly changing.” His Catholic upbringing instilled a reverence for visual symbolism. On good days he’s thankful the images and visions come easily; on bad days he wonders why and waits for better times.
At age 21, Lynch explored the great museums and galleries of Europe. The photos of paintings he’d seen in books came alive. “Walking into a room with an 18-foot-long Jackson Pollock is a total sensory experience,” he says. “You need to view the original to understand the artist’s intention.” Viewing a Rembrandt up close, he suddenly understood why the “red and gold guy” is one of the world’s best painters. For this artist, great art vibrates with molecular energy and radiates a powerful force field. Painting large under a big sky is one way to capture this experience and stay connected to the natural world.
“Stack in Rainstorm” 48 x 48 inches, oil on canvas
Under The Big Sky, featuring paintings by Brent Lynch, runs at The Avenue Gallery at 2184 Oak Bay Avenue, October 11-21, with an artist’s reception on Saturday, October 13, 1–3pm. 250-598-2184, www.theavenuegallery.com.
Kate Cino writes about the arts for Victoria publications and her own website www.artopenings.ca. She has a History in Art degree and Public Relations certificate from the University of Victoria.
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