Eighteen of Jill Carver’s Southwestern landscapes on display at Medicine Man Gallery for "Ancient Landscapes: A Visual Journal"
By Chadd Scott
Jill Carver "Cathedral Wash" | Oil on Canvas | 12" x 24"
Jill Carver doesn’t remember her first time seeing a picture of the Desert Southwest. She is from London.
Her becoming one of the most critically acclaimed Western landscape painters having grown up with foggy London Bridge and Big Ben as the visual backdrop for her memories, not brilliant sunshine over saguaro cactus and mesas, is remarkable.
“I think I was aware of Maynard Dixon, but I have no idea where that would have been, perhaps in the library at school,” Carver wonders. “What’s real (and) what’s the imagined memory?”
She can’t be sure.
What she is sure of is her love for the desert, a love affair which began chasing another love affair. She moved to the U.S. from England in 2002 after falling in love with her now-husband and following him to Austin, Texas.
Jill Carver desert painter
“I feel very at home in the desert,” Carver said. “It appealed to me because in Britain, I always went to the really bleak, wide open spaces. As soon as I went to Texas and ventured out into the Big Bend desert – my first real desert experience – it was the ultimate in bleak, wide open spaces.”
Eighteen of Carver’s increasingly loose and brushy Southwestern landscapes can be seen in an exhibition of new work at Medicine Man Gallery from March 5th - 20th. The show features one of her largest paintings, a 30x60 inch image of Canyonlands, the idea for which had become stuck in her mind.
“I went back to Canyonlands just before everything got closed down for COVID; I was trying to find where that imagery came from in the whole of Canyonlands and finally found it,” she remembers. “I thought I would do it small and put the large piece on the backburner and in doing it small answered all the questions I had with the large piece and thought, ‘you know what, I want to go big with this piece.’ There’s such a lot of subtle transitions going on in it that it just wanted to be big.”
Carver and Medicine Man Gallery owner Mark Sublette began discussing the potential for a show of new work in August of 2020. With the pandemic clearing out her typically busy fall schedule of teaching, events and group exhibitions, she jumped at, “the opportunity to get back to source which I hadn’t done in a long time.”
“It was a really different momentum,” Carver said of her ability to spend hours upon hours, days upon days, weeks upon weeks, uninterrupted in her painting practice, a pleasure she hasn’t experienced in years. “Teaching was the biggest part that went away – which involves a lot of traveling and a lot of time – and this was a really exceptional opportunity.”
So she hit the road.
“Just me and my tent during a pandemic, going back and finding what Dixon called ‘the real thing,’” Carver recalls about searching for the imagery which would feature in the show. “I didn’t want to go out with a preconceived notion of what the show would look like. I thought this was an opportunity to get back to more time with my tent and my truck and my dog and paint what excited me.”
What excites her is color.
“I’m a colorist first,” she says. “I really respond to color and I like playing around with color and the palette within a painting and expressive brush work which I think is more apparent in the smaller pieces because I tend to work wet into wet, whereas the larger pieces require multiple sessions over time working wet over dry which is another kind of delicious journey in itself.”
Carver earned her reputation as a leading Western painter working en plein air. Her finished pieces come from the studio now days, sourced from “raw” plein air studies.
Jill Carver "Cottonwood Shade" | Oil on Panel | 20" x 20"
Jill Carver new paintings
“I pretty much spent September and October doing the camping trips to get the material so then in November, December, January – solid seven days a week in the studio,” Carver said of the schedule which brought the show to fruition.
She paints six or seven hours a day, starting around 8 AM, finishing around 3 PM, hard concentration stopping only for a quick lunch.
A tough editor of her own work, during the interview which led to this story she described a pile of roughly a dozen paintings in the corner of her studio which didn’t make the cut.
Carver was featured on an episode of Mark Sublette’s “Art Dealer Diaries” podcast in September of 2020. She described her background the twisty road which led her to landscape painting in fascinating detail (watch below).
Sublette has been representing Carver’s work since 2018.
“The delightful thing with Mark for me is that he trust his artists; he is a great gallery owner/art dealer because he doesn’t try to guide me at all, apart from putting (the show) on the calendar, discussing how big it would be, he trusts his artists to come up with the goods,” Carver says of her relationship with Sublette. “I do my job, he does his, it’s a perfect marriage.”
Watch Jill Carver on Art Dealer Diaries Podcast Episode 120