September 15, 2015

9/12/15 – Catch a Wave with Tyler Bewley

Artist: Tyler Bewley

Location: His studio, San Francisco


TB – “Smooth Criminal”

SRS – Hot apple cider

Tyler Bewley spends a great deal of time in contemplation of the Pacific Ocean. When he’s not out on his surfboard (or in the classroom, where he teaches art to youngsters of San Francisco), he’s recombining his memories of light and water into gorgeous paintings that transcend all the limitations of straightforward seascapes. What’s the point, really, in trying to make a photo-realistic rendition of the Pacific Ocean? It’s never going to look better than the view of the real thing.

Tyler’s work, however, has nothing to do with literal representation, and everything to do with an experiential narrative–the painterly version of poetic license with his subject matter. His process is meticulous, informed of late by his teaching experience; in having to break down creative process for elementary-aged students, Tyler has become hyper-aware of his own process, and lays out a methodical routine for me, when we had a brief moment for shop talk in his San Francisco home studio this weekend. First he lays out his composition on paper with all the technical precision of a comic book panelist, then typically executes a study on paper in pencil and charcoal–the black and white helping him to focus strictly on line and composition before bringing in color. Because, hoo boy, Tyler thinks a lot about color. He has applied the system of musical harmonics to painting, breaking the color wheel into related “chords” that he uses to develop palettes. The results are really stunning, as you can see.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 7.16.11 PM

Image courtesy of the artist.

But don’t let the fancy colors fool you–even in stripped down form, Tyler has a masterful grip on the minute detail and draw of natural systems. Selections from a series of works in indigo pencil on paper reveal that he is equally virtuosic in one color as he is with a whole symphony of harmonics at his disposal.


Image courtesy of the artist.

We talked quite a bit about where to draw inspiration–pressed for time and in a bit of closed system, with pupils so much younger than himself, Tyler relies upon visual references for inspiration, lately obsessed with the painter Charles Burchfield–an influence that, once cited, reflects clearly in this recent body of work. I am reminded of how lucky I am to be embedded in a creative community that affords me a lot of opportunity for artistic discourse. It is literally my creative lifeblood.

Not that Tyler seems to be lacking for inspiration (with the Pacific Ocean as a muse, no wonder, I guess). As someone who has kept my eye on Tyler’s work for a while, I am heartened to see him relaxing his conceptual efforts, and letting the work come first, rather than the statement. Which isn’t to say that Tyler’s early paintings lack beauty or imagination–they are beautiful, and capture his deep awareness of the environment, his struggle to deal with feelings around the clash between nature and industrialization, and ultimately a kind of anxiety for the health of the planet. But these themes are still coming through in his work, without the straight-line associations. In my own words, it is okay to just make the art sometimes, and trust the ideas are lurking there beneath it. We spend so much time trying to dictate to our brains what we mean, instead of listening to them.

If you listen, that voice is always there, like the subtle roar of the Pacific.

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