Interesting Artworks: Lake O'Hara by Clyde Aspevig
The painting “Lake O’ Hara” 30” x 40” (oil on linen) is a monumental work by American landscape painter Clyde Aspevig. Located in the alpine area of Yoho National Park, in the province of British Columbia, this high mountain lake has inspired artists for hundreds of years, including John Singer Sargent who painted the lake in 1916. At first glance, this piece may appear to be have painted by a 19th century artist, yet there are elements to Aspevig’s painting that gives it a modern flavour, firmly rooted in current scientific thought and contemporary culture.
Aspevig is a master of painting alla prima. His use of colour owes much to the California Impressionists of the early 20th century. They, in common with their 19th century French forbears, often chose to paint outside, en plein air, where they tried to capture the fleeting effects of light and colour on the landscape. Their paintings are often characterized by a series of rapid, short, painterly brushstrokes with subtle colour and value shifts.
As a composer in paint, Aspevig uses an understanding of fractal geometry and dynamic symmetry in his work. One of the principles of fractal geometry is self-similarity. In particular, when you study the shapes of the trees and rocks in Aspevig’s work, there are similarities to the primary, secondary, and tertiary shapes: the larger shapes are divided and then subdivided into smaller unequal intervals. These intervals mimic the golden ratio, a proportion that closely models many natural processes, including branch growth from trees and vascular formations in leaves, and has been utilised by artists for millennia. Aspevig is also an accomplished pianist and uses his knowledge and love of music to orchestrate his compositions. Like the spacing of notes on the piano, certain intervals are present in the placement of trees, bushes, rocks and clouds forming a symphony of visual notes. Even the play of light has been carefully orchestrated to land on the outcropping of rock on the distant side of the lake. Understanding and depicting the ways in which these elements are controlled to make a unified whole while feeling completely natural only come from decades of careful observation of nature as well as a cultivation of the principles of design found therein.
Current understanding of human evolution and hunter-gatherer culture also informs Aspevig’s work. Studies have shown humans are hard wired* to prefer scenes that depict trees and water, as well as places where wild game and shelter can be found. By carefully designing the rocks and trees to lead the viewer’s eye toward the water’s edge and up through the distant cliffs Aspevig is directing the eye through a natural way of surveying the landscape. Furthermore, the element of mystery or desire to see what’s behind the mountain taps into our innate curiosity.
This particular scene includes the glacier in the upper half of the painting that has been steadily shrinking as the earth becomes a hotter place. In works such as “Lake O’ Hara”, Aspevig’s deep personal connection and commitment to the land is evident in the work has created over the last three decades. He explains: “Spending so much time outside taught me the textures of heat, wind and moisture, the smell of rain, the taste of dust and the blue-green menace of a hailstorm coming in. These experiences from my youth are things that saturate my art today...” His love of unspoilt nature has driven him to become an active participant in conservation and environmental efforts. Aspevig often chooses to paint pristine wildernesses to make people aware of these beautiful yet vulnerable landscapes and habitats. To him, it is a spiritual and secular mission to depict the pristine beauty of these wild places before it is gone or changed forever.