MIDDLETOWN—”I’m principally a portrait painter,” said artist Joseph Sundwall, “but other animate creatures interest me immensely as well.” Sundwall stood quietly near a wall of his paintings as visitors browsed his works on exhibit at Orange Hall Gallery on Sept. 16 at SUNY Orange-Middletown.
Just as every person has their own look and personality, Sundwall says birds have their differences. “I can do a very small bird like these finches over here,” he says as he points to a small painting, “and right next to it is a blue heron. One foot [of the heron’s] is bigger than that finch.”
Sundwall works from drawings onsite and photographs. He researches his subject. “The way I work generally is to get an idea for a painting, then I’ll go looking for reference material so I can put it together.”
Some of the painting was done from life along the Wallkill River and some was done using photographs. He said the heron was an actual New York heron.
He said, “When you paint birds you need to be thinking about the gesture the bird is making.” He discovered this during a class he was teaching. Students were painting trees. He asked a student which tree she was painting, and she pointed one out.
Sundwall said her painting did not look like the one she pointed toward. “I asked her, ‘What is the gesture that the tree is making to you?’ She really didn’t know what I was talking about,” he said, “so I made a gesture suggesting what the tree looked like and she sort of got it.”
The gesture is what Sundwall sees when he does a painting. “Everything under creation springs forth out of wherever it comes from with a certain attitude and characteristic, a personality,” he said.
Sundwall looks for the gesture to capture the bird’s anatomy and says he connects quickly and easily with birds as subjects. “In a sense they are a low hanging fruit for me. I find them easy to paint.”
Always a Painter
The artist says he has painted in oils since the third grade. He intended to study art when he attended college in the seventies but says he could not connect with the art being made then, so he decided to find a career in graphic design.
He tired of doing graphic design about 20 years ago and “jumped back with both feet into fine art and am enjoying that quite a bit.”
Sundwall studied art and design at the Kansas City Art Institute, oil painting in New York City at the Art Students League and the National Academy, and in London at St. Oswald’s Studios, according to the SUNY Orange announcement of the exhibit. His paintings are in private collections throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and in Europe.
Dorothy D. Szefc, SUNY Orange cultural affairs coordinator, said in a press release that “Sundwall brings a naturalness to the birds on which he focuses from diving seagulls to egrets and herons about to take flight to carefully hidden blue jays to curious ibises.”
Sundwall said giving titles to his work is “like the cherry on the dessert. I’ll come up with something that usually amuses me.” His painting of two ducks entitled “Let’s Do it—Let’s Fall in Love” gives a humorous twist to the ducks eyeing each other.
Sundwall will give a master class on painting birds on Sept. 28 at Orange Hall Gallery. “Friends of a Feather ~ Bird Paintings by Joseph Sundwall” is on exhibit in Orange Hall Gallery Fringe until Oct. 23.
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