Tag Archives: Phyllis Bryce Ely

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phyllis Bryce Ely: Not My Father’s Iceberg

Joseph Loder Bryce

Joseph Loder Bryce

I began painting this series after the loss of my father, Joseph Loder Bryce, in 2015.

Loder served in the US Navy as a photographer aboard the Icebreaker USS Edisto in the early 1950s during the cold war era. His ship supported the installation of the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) in the Arctic region with a mission to dramatically reduce the warning time of possible Soviet attack. The DEW Line, along the 69th parallel, was the northernmost radar system, taking my father into the Arctic region with his camera to photograph sea and air missions, life aboard the ship, and the extreme beauty of the Arctic landscape and its inhabitants.

Photographs by Joseph Loder Bryce. Caption of lower left photo reads, "Aerial view of the Edito, note the paths we made by circling about in the ice. Sondrestrom, Greenland. 5/18/54."

Photographs by Joseph Loder Bryce. Caption of lower left photo reads, “Aerial view of the Edisto, note the paths we made by circling about in the ice. Sondrestrom, Greenland. 5/18/54.”

I grew up with boxes of these photographs in my life; they were a perennial choice for “show and tell” in grammar school and I loved to share the exotic icebergs, people, polar bears, and frozen ships with my friends.

The images, shapes, places and people I “knew” but never met became a visual foundation for me. I now know I was influenced by my father’s eye for composition, shapes, and light as well as his interest in telling stories that come from landscape. These attributes have become the very context of my nearly 40 years of art-making.

"On my easel: ice formation off Greenland with kayaker, working from my Dad's photos." July 26, 2017

“On my easel: ice formation off Greenland with kayaker, working from my Dad’s photos.” July 26, 2017

After Loder’s death, I found myself engaging with his photos yet again and was struck and inspired by the old familiar shapes and simple colorless format. No longer able to hear my father’s stories about the pictures, I started a new conversation with my paintbrush. I began with no plan in mind as I painted one iceberg, then some polar bears, and then a ship…one by one the photos found their way into my studio. Working on these paintings was a form of meditation for me.

Detail of painting "Exodus"

Detail of painting “Exodus”

My first paintings were in oil on a vivid red ground I typically use when painting en plein air. The vibration of the limited, cool palette against the red quickly appealed to me; I connected with the raw edges of color as I worked, excited by how the colors created an emotional response and competing feeling of calm and urgency. I also chose to work in encaustic wax because of the rich texture and intimate scale made possible in that medium.

Photograph by Joseph Loder Bryce (left) and detail of encaustic painting "Ice Journey" by Phyllis Bryce Ely.

Photograph by Joseph Loder Bryce (left) and detail of encaustic painting “Ice Journey” by Phyllis Bryce Ely.

As I finished each painting I tucked the work away with no particular plan for sharing them,  but knew I wanted them to be together. On New Year’s Eve, I set a goal of pulling the photographs and paintings together for a show, which ultimately led to this exhibit.

"Not My Father's Iceberg" exhibition at Main Street Arts

“Not My Father’s Iceberg” exhibition at Main Street Arts

"Not My Father's Iceberg" exhibition at Main Street Arts

“Not My Father’s Iceberg” exhibition at Main Street Arts

I am grateful to gallery director Brad Butler for his early interest in these paintings, which he first saw when my first iceberg painting was juried into the Utopia/Dystopia exhibit at Main Street Arts in 2017 and was awarded “Best in Show.”

Phyllis Bryce Ely with her painting from "Utopia/Dystopia" (left); Joseph Loder Bryce (1930–2015) at an exhibition of his photographs in 2014

Phyllis Bryce Ely with her painting from “Utopia/Dystopia” (left); Joseph Loder Bryce (1930–2015) at an exhibition of his photographs in 2014

Please enjoy my contemporary consideration of a decades-old Arctic landscape that once was my father’s place in the world. 


Not My Father’s Iceberg, a solo exhibition on the second floor at Main Street Arts, presents paintings by Phyllis Bryce Ely made in response to photographs taken by her father, Joseph Loder Bryce. The exhibition runs August 3 through September 15, 2018 and can be viewed on the gallery’s Artsy page.

 

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phyllis Bryce Ely: A Landscape Revisited

A Landscape Revisited: Onaping Falls, Canada

For this “Fifty Landscapes” blog I’ve chosen to share my experience painting “Onaping Falls, Canada” included in this exhibit. This oil painting is an example of how I often paint landscapes multiple times, first en plein air and then again in the studio using my plein air works, sketches, photographs, and memories as references. In all cases, painting from nature is satisfying.

Onaping Falls is near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. It is known as the “A.Y. Jackson Lookout” in recognition of The Group of Seven founding member Alexander Young Jackson and his 1953 painting “Spring on the Onaping River.” Soon after his death in 1974 the painting was stolen from a school and it hasn’t been recovered.

As a Group of Seven fan, I wanted to visit and paint at the spot when I was up in Sudbury in 2008 for a curling event (yes, curling). My husband and I found the falls, I got out my painting gear and he went fishing.

Phyllis painting in Canada

Phyllis painting in Canada 2008

The Onaping River drops four or five times at this spot. I love the twist and turning action of each drop and the stands of trees witnessing the force of the water as it meets the massive boulders at the base. The colors of the trees and rock on either side of the water are vibrant.

Onaping Falls take one: Plein Air

Onaping Falls, pastel, 2008

Onaping Falls, pastel, 2008

This is my small plein air pastel painting from that day. I worked on Wallis white paper and laid in a quick underpainting using Createx pure liquid pigments to establish my values and color temperatures; you can see some of the underpainting peeking through the pastel surface. Next, I worked with pastels to develop and finish the piece. Because of time and changing weather, that was a fast but satisfying painting session in a special place. I left happy to have been able to sit in that spot for a while, and I had a fresh little painting to show for it.

Onaping Falls take two: Studio

Onaping Falls, Canada, oil, 2014

Onaping Falls, Canada, oil, 2014

I continued to be drawn to the image and energy of Onaping Falls and in 2014 decided to explore the image further as a studio painting. This time I worked much larger in oil using my pastel painting and my memories about the place as references.

Revisiting this landscape in my studio allowed me to indulge in a lingering, almost meditative painting process. Working in oils in a larger format (30×40”) gave me a new scale and medium to explore this scene. I enjoyed moving the paint and working at a slower pace with no concern for changing conditions or time. In the studio, I could define many more major and minor shapes–and develop relationships among those shapes–throughout the painting. (The grouping of trees on the left of the falls feels like a choir to me. I can imagine them singing loudly.) Compared to my pastel painting, this palette is more subtle and nuanced.

Painting the same landscape at different times in different ways keeps me energized. My plein air painting is bold, fresh, and urgent. My studio piece is slow, lingering, and meditative. Both of these paintings take a journey through an exciting place and share my story of how it felt to be there.

Take three?

I am probably not finished painting Onaping Falls. I have recently been working with encaustic wax and would like to revisit this landscape using that medium. I think working with the wax–building, painting, fusing, and scraping away–will give me a more tactile experience with this compelling scene.

Ironically, as I write this on April 5, I just saw a Facebook post from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection remembering A.Y. Jackson on the anniversary of his death on this day in 1974. This must be a good day to be thinking about Onaping Falls.

P.S. for my curling friends…Did you know Onaping Falls was a location in the movie “Men with Brooms”? I will have to somehow work that into my curling art.

More info on Onaping Falls: Onaping Falls

Stop by Main Street Arts to see Phyllis’s artwork in our current exhibition, Fifty Landscapes (runs through May 13). Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by Kari Ganoung Ruiz.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phyllis Bryce Ely: Look Out the Window

“Look out the window.” My mother said that to me again and again. If I was bored, she would say, “Look out the window, what do you see? Make something to tell me about.” If I complained of long trips in the car she would say, “Look out the window.” Over time we drove and we drove and I looked and looked, and in my head I practiced drawing lines and shapes. I tried to count the different kinds of blues and greens I could see. I thought about how I could mix colors of paint to match what I saw. I wondered about the bright and dark places in clouds, and I wondered why the full moon followed our car so perfectly. That’s when I began to feel the need to move the images in my head onto paper and canvas.

Me and the Moon, pastel, Canandaigua nocturne

Me and the Moon, pastel, Canandaigua nocturne

Becoming an Artist
I have a distinct memory of deciding I was an artist while sitting on the dull brown carpet of our living room floor in front of our black and white television watching Captain Kangaroo and waiting for the “Magic Drawing Board” segment. Every morning I waited with oatmeal cartons, crayons, paper, scissors, and glue—anything the Captain may tell us we needed for the day’s project. My mother kept me stocked and ready. When Magic Drawing Board finally appeared, I loved watching the dark lines appear out of nowhere on a white board. In moments, a complete drawing would emerge. To me, that was truly magical. I clearly remember deciding I would be just like magic drawing board and I set about the business of making art.

Uncle Deek and the Endless Paper
My Uncle Deek worked at the Democrat & Chronicle and would bring my sister and me endless reams of fresh, plain newsprint for drawing. I loved when a new pile would arrive. I was small and the paper was large—more magic. Today, I get the same thrill when I visit the astounding paper room at Rochester Art Supply.

My First Studio
My parents built a new house when I was six. Many of the rooms remained empty as they saved money to buy furniture. I thought the empty rooms were great, so many places to make things! I remember my “64 ounce Welch’s Grape Juice can period” when I built giant sculptures and rockets snaking throughout the house (this was the Apollo space era). I had important projects and paintings in every room. That was about the same time my friend and I made “Jackson Pollock art” in her family’s newly finished basement. Without a strong grasp of physics, we weren’t paying attention to the paint flying off our brushes on our backstrokes as we hurled paint at a canvases shouting “Jackson Pollock!” I was sent home, and she was left to clean the basement walls and ceiling. As I remember, the paintings were pretty good.

Getting Serious
Throughout school, my teachers encouraged my artwork (“Phyllis’ creativity should be encouraged”). In high school, I began to think seriously about developing a portfolio and applying to art school. My art teachers coached me through the process and I ended up at RIT with a degree in painting and printmaking in 1981. I still recall conversations, critiques, and ideas that inform my work today. Friendships have endured, certain colors remind me of certain people, and challenges from gifted teachers like Bob Heischman, Bob Cole, Judd Williams, Phil Bornarth, and Ed Miller still resonate.

On My Own
After my RIT years focused on figure painting, I popped into the world ready to make art. I had relied so heavily on the figure that I floundered alone in my studio. Eventually I realized my mother had already told me what to do—I only needed to look out the window. I found myself sitting in Ellison Park, learning that the hills, trees and sky offered me the familiar shapes of the human body. More magic! My favorite place to make art is sitting on the ground in a beautiful place trying to describe my experience with paint and pastel.

Painting at Durand Eastman Park

Painting at Durand Eastman Park

Painting at Durand Eastman Park

Painting at Durand Eastman Park

Today
I have been painting landscapes en plein air in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region for more than 30 years. My paintings offer a narrative of color, movement, shape, light, and pattern through rolling fields, moving water, and dramatic skies. Features of the landscape become characters in the story as I paint the places I love to be. In the studio, I work from still life compositions and use my plein air work as source material to further explore and indulge in the shapes and colors I enjoyed in the field. Whether in the field or studio, my paintings simply explore the idea of place. I feel I am successful when viewers feel a connection to the place I offer or remember a favorite place of their own.

After the Storm, acrylic, Philbrick Park, Penfield

After the Storm, acrylic, Philbrick Park, Penfield

"Little Pine Between, Adirondacks", Acrylic on panel, 8" x 10", 2012

Little Pine Between, Adirondacks, Acrylic on panel, 8″ x 10″, 2012

Small is BIG
My mom wasn’t an artist but I believe an artist’s spirit was in her somewhere. She died of Alzheimer’s in 2012. It occurred to me while writing this blog that in her final months I would draw pictures of the view out her window while she watched. I just made that connection. Watching me draw soothed her.

Artists’ work is always changing, but our small beginnings are fixed. I’m grateful to the people in my life who knew my need to make art was big.

You can see more of Phyllis’s work at her website, www.behance.net/phyllis_bryce_ely. Or stop by Main Street Arts through December 29, 2014 to see two of her landscape paintings in person.

Check out our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by encaustic artist, Virginia Cassetta.