3 Questions Digital Series

Donald Rainville

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Donald Rainville, who speaks about his creative process and artwork at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Riga, Latvia.

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Full Transcript

I’ve been a an environmentalist all my life without any question or doubt um I can honestly say a tree is the first thing I ever drew in fact it was a birch tree I remember drawing I was obsessed as a child with drawing birch trees.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in trees um I would sit in them for hours I didn’t climb up into the really high upper branches I had a little bit of a fear of height but i loved being in trees and so i had a lot of time as a child you know viscerally in touch with bark and the way branches are created in the leaves and and the smells and the the textures and how they grow and i think um you know then later on i i went to school forestry and um natural resources and then actually i went into woodworking which is kind of a i don’t know if it’s that i stayed with wood

and then eventually transitioned into a a you know a fine art career anybody who looks at my paintings probably 90 to 95 of them it’s pretty obvious there’s some strange things involved when i moved to maine that’s when i began painting and drawing again and uh one day i just i went outside i took two saw horses went outside set up a board and started painting outside and i got a little frustrated you know i was i was originally kind of using some brushes but you know i was frustrated because things there was just something missing it was there was an element of uniqueness missing and so because i was out back where the forest was i looked around and i was like you know i wonder and i was looking at the leaves and the pine boughs and so forth and i thought to myself okay well all right i’ll give it a try and i went over and i pulled off some pine boughs off of the the trees and some leaves and i began like fussing around and dipping them in the paint and you know brushing paint onto them and then i just kind of grabbed a leaf that had i dipped in paint and whapped it on the surface and then tamped it with a rag and so forth and i had the aha moment of oh that’s that’s what’s missing it’s kind of like nothing looks like a leaf like a leaf and you know it’s a drag splatter and tamp kind of you know kind of a wack type impression and that worked out as well and the rest as they say is history i just kept working at it and working at it and working at it because i knew the minute i did it i said that’s it that’s that’s the look that i want that makes you feel like wow i’m there after that it was a process of working out how to make it look like a kind of abstract realism feeling which is kind of that’s the way i describe my work is abstract realism because it sounds like a contradiction of terms at first but the way i’m laying it down is kind of an abstraction

what i’m really trying to achieve is i don’t paint what you see when you look at trees i paint what you remember in your mind’s eye when you walk away when you close your eyes after you’ve just had gone for a forest walk or whatever and you’re walking away and you remember that walk you had on through the forest that morning or that evening or whatever you don’t remember the details but you remember the pine boughs dipping down in the you know the veins of the maple leaves as you pass by and kind of push them a little bit out of the way those things that’s the impression i was trying to give people is is to in their mind’s eye bring them back to where they just were and the way you do that is is with the impact of the branches and leaves and themselves and i do the same thing when i paint with wildflower gardens i use the plants as much as i possibly can i use the plants i like to make people feel present in my work so when they’re standing in front of it they feel like there’s a synesthesia kind of feeling almost like they can smell the leaves and in that particular painting uh autumn’s gate i probably used i don’t know 200 300 leaves to create that painting um but i tried to make it as as high an impact a painting as possible so that people felt like they were actually in uh the maple tree itself almost

the painting itself is intended to be in in the naming of it autumn’s gate that in mid-september late september feeling um when the leaves are just turning and you’re getting that kind of ambiance in the air and you’re starting to get excited that the warm days and and cool breezes are coming and um and that’s what that painting is about it’s about really the anticipation of autumn and morning blue is a blueberries painting the main blueberries are smaller than the one most people buy in stores but they’re always deliciously sweet and my wife and i love to go blueberry picking so that’s what inspired the blueberry painting was one of those picking expeditions where i was on the ground taking pictures of blueberries looking up at the sky underneath the plants and looking down into the blueberries from you know above and getting as many different angles as i could so that when i painted it finally i could make somebody feel like they were there having your work is part of you know a conversation piece between two different nations or different cultures there’s a lot of um i think pride and fun in thinking that that’s happening the piece of your art and art most certainly is um something a lot of people can have conversations over that that come from very different backgrounds or very different perspectives so i would like to think that my my artwork is playing a role in in the diplomacy because somebody who is in latvia and paints trees or paints landscapes is probably feeling and inspired by a lot of the same connections to to nature as i am and so there’s even though if we met each other we wouldn’t understand a word each other is saying if we both look at our artwork if they put their artwork and my artwork on the wall or even just one of our in mine or theirs we could both you know indulge and appreciate where the other person was coming from it’s like a middle road language that um both sides can speak