Painting masters like Cezanne and Van Gogh used distinct color palettes and expressive brushstrokes to render the landscapes around them in a unique way. Phoenix-based artist LaurieAnne Gonzalez follows in their footsteps with her series of abstract paintings inspired by the tranquil beauty of the Arizona desert. Each one features a delightful assortment of pastel-colored hues in bold, geometric shapes.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Gonzalez says that she was inspired to focus on landscape painting after moving to Arizona and seeing the varied textures of the desert. Many of her canvases depict green cacti and succulents, pink sand, and distant green hills in the background. Likewise, the smooth white skies that are often seen in her work imbue the landscapes with the feeling of heat and sunshine that Arizona is so known for.
In addition to selling her original paintings and prints on her website, Gonzalez also shares her painting knowledge with thousands of students in her classes on Skillshare. The online courses show painters of every skill level how to produce immersive landscape paintings using different techniques and limitations, such as a limited color palette, a reference photo, and abstract brushstrokes.
Learn more about Gonzalez's creative practice in My Modern Met's exclusive interview.
How did you start making art?
I come from a creative family and was always in art classes growing up, but it wasn’t until I was 13 years old that I picked up a paintbrush on my own. My mom bought painting supplies for my dad, with all the bells and whistles of everything one could possibly need to get started with painting and I got into it before he even had a chance! I then went on to take as many art classes as I could, ended up getting my college degree in painting, and eventually made a career out of it.
What drew you to landscape painting?
I was never drawn to landscape paintings and typically thought they were sort of boring (at least the ones I had been looking at). I grew up in Alabama and the primarily green color palette of the landscape never really inspired me. It wasn’t until I moved out to Arizona and was surrounded by the most colorful warm desert with the most interesting textures of all the desert plants, that I just HAD to paint it.
Do you tend to paint your surrounding environment, or do you travel to other locations?
I absolutely love painting the desert around me, it’s what sparked my love of painting landscapes. Once that love of landscapes was sparked, it kept growing and I now paint landscapes from all of our travels (near and far) and it's one of my favorite ways to remember those special memories.
Walk us through your creative process. Do you work in a studio or en plein air?
Whenever I am out gathering inspiration or on a trip, I take approximately one million photos of the landscape and then come back and work in the studio from photos. However, after the year we just had (2020), I have a deep longing to disconnect from the indoors and technology and connect more with my art and with nature. I recently have begun to paint en plein air! It is such a different process for me but so far I am loving it and cannot wait to see what develops out of this. It combines my two favorite things, creating and being in nature. It’s perfect.
In addition to large-scale paintings, you also have a series of “tiny landscapes.” How does the size of the canvas affect your work?
I love my tiny landscapes! Those were born out of me having so many ideas and wanting to quickly get them down in the paint and move on to the next painting. I was so surprised at how much I loved working tiny and then it became a thing. I enjoy painting large and the finished product of my large paintings, but my tiny landscapes satisfy an urgency in me that painting large just can’t.
What do you try to achieve or express in each piece?
When I paint, I am trying to capture the beauty of the way I see the world. I have always felt very connected to nature and overwhelmed by its beauty. I always say I see in color. Meaning, the objects I see are made up of many subtle colors, textures, shadows and I just can but help try to put that on canvas. I see everything the way I would paint or draw it.
How has your artistic practice changed over time?
I used to only paint giant oil abstract paintings and now I paint tiny acrylic landscapes!
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can't live without in your studio?
I would say, my filbert brush. I never really had a go-to brush until I started painting landscapes and if I have a filbert, I feel pretty confident. I can paint what I need to paint.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of?
Oh, this is a hard one, I love so many for different reasons! I would have to say, Desert Glory is the piece I’m most proud of to date. It’s the largest desert painting I’ve done (36″ x 48”) and it just really captures what I see when I look out into my beloved desert. I had the hardest time letting it go but it was too big to live in my house!
Which artists or works of art inspire you?
I am greatly inspired by Vincent van Gogh. While his artwork is beautiful, his story is what really inspires me. He started painting later in life and painted how he saw things regardless of the criticism he received from his contemporaries.
I also really love Picasso’s constant change in subject matter and style. When you look at Picasso’s early work and see how “perfect” it was, but then you see this shift throughout his life where he got more experimental, it makes me excited for the constant change that comes with being an artist and helps me to not hold on too tightly to what I’m doing “now” so I can keep growing and moving forward.
Monet is also a huge inspiration aesthetically. I love his paintings and how he simply captured the idea of what he saw with simple brush strokes and colors, without actually trying to paint them as “realistic.”
How do you know when a work is finished?
I have two stages of art being finished. There is the first stage where I painted the whole thing and it is “finished.” But then I let it sit for a few days and stare at it for a long time and then usually go back and add in little details, and then I sit with it for a couple more days and usually it’s finished by then. But if not, I’ll keep adding details and sitting with it! Desert Glory was a painting I sat with for almost a year. I added to it over time until it finally felt finished.
What is the best thing about being an artist?
Everything I look at, I see it as a painting, the colors, shadows, textures, etc, which makes the world around me quite beautiful!