Five artists, five distinctive visions and the innovative ways they are redefining modern art on their own terms.
Some artists paint to make a political statement, while others strive to capture nature, emotions or the human condition through innovative techniques that can’t be duplicated in textbooks, seminars or art schools.
Five artists currently making their modern art mark on the world–Chris Gwaltney, Ron Hicks, Ruben Rojas, Richard Orlinski and Kerry Schroeder—fit this dynamic by not fitting into traditional definitions of what defines an artist. Through their highly individualized approach to color, design and structure, they draw, color and shape things completely outside of the lines—even making up their own rules as they go.
CHRIS GWALTNEY | Kennedy Contemporary
“I’m a better editor than I am an inventor,” says Laguna Beach, California-based Chris Gwaltney about his unique painting technique. “I’ll paint in many figures and let them fight it out. I allow for the underlying sketches, the ‘original argument’ behind a given painting, to show through in the end result. While this approach may seem a little unconventional, I believe a painting is a testament to time well spent.”
By walking a line between abstraction and figurative images in his painting, the resulting images are evocative, luminous and lush. He applies color with unexpected washes along with shapes and lines achieved by physically scraping the surface as he generously slaps paint onto the canvas. In his latest collection, ELEMENTAL (his first in nearly a decade), he takes this bold approach to a new place, moving further away from figurative constraints and digging deeper into the use of color to capture a viewer’s heart and mind.
“Gwaltney is at the point where he is fully in command of his medium, has refined his touch, and is casually and deceptively simple in his meaning,” observes Bolton Colburn, Former Director of Laguna Art Museum in advance of the new exhibit. “He is an artist who likes to push himself to build on what he has done, discard it and rebuild again. Continually evolving, taking from his surroundings and from his life, and recasting it into something worthy of our attention.”
"While this approach may seem a little unconventional, I believe a painting is a testament to time well spent.”
For Gwaltney, gestures and their implied emotions are more important than pure representation and finish. Gwaltney has used his entire family as source material—from the growth of his children, the resiliency and strength of his wife to the passing of both his father and his father-in-law. He feels these relationships are the most honest way to express layered emotion.
Although Gwaltney was born in Van Nuys, in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, his influences are drawn from prominent members of the Bay Area Figurative school, including Nathan Olivera, Manuel Neri, Joan Brown, de Stabler and Joan Mitchell. His interest in art originated at an early age following an injury that left him on crutches for a year and a half. Soon after, at the insistence of an artist friend, he started painting. This led to his studies at California State University at Fullerton, earning his Bachelor of Arts in 1984 and Master of Fine Arts in 1986.
RON HICKS | Bonner David Galleries
Ron Hicks’ striking portraits and figures are as intimately personal as they are far reaching and relevant in today’s social climate, and often closely related to his personal past. His “Surfacing” and “Identity” series of paintings originated from his own experiences dealing with race, social issues, and the other things affecting him as a minority on a day-to-day basis.
“When I started these bodies of work and looked at how things affected me, my mind jumped,” says Hicks, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio and has called Denver, Colorado home for much of his adult life.
“As soon as I let my experiences open the door, other ideas blossomed. With (my) paintings, it’s like there’s a part of me trying to get out and deal with my own past. I’m not trying to create answers, I’m opening a dialogue.”
Hicks explained that many art genres inspire him, including abstract non-objective paintings, impressionism, realism and representational art. He also cites his mother, an artist in her own right, as an inspiration and his “biggest cheerleader,” while he credits wife Sharon for being the “rocket fuel” that’s powered both his creative output and his ascent in the art world.
“I don’t think it would be possible for me to actually do what I do without her support,” he says. “There are many artists who don’t have that supportive presence and often experience a constant battle. She enables me to be free to be as creative as I can be in (today’s competitive) environment.”
And Hicks’ journey continues, creating canvases that are as timeless as they are in tune with today’s headlines and subjects all human beings can relate to.
“I’m astonished by how many artists want to control how the public sees their art,” he says, looking back to some of his early commissions where clients were inclined to give him a little too much direction and yet did not get the perfect result.
“The way I see it, an artist needs to let people bring their own experiences to the work and be comfortable with whatever responses they have. While I don’t want to stand in the way of that happening, there’s a bigger purpose in what I as an artist sees and brings to the painting. If you allow me to do what I do as an artist, you’ll get a better result.”
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“The way I see it, an artist needs to let people bring their own experiences to the work and be comfortable with whatever responses they have."
RICHARD ORLINSKI | Markowicz Fine Art Gallery
“My artworks are an expression of freedom and passion,” affirms artist Richard Orlinski, who proudly calls Paris—one of the world’s definitive art capitals—home.
“I live and work in Paris because I am French to the core. I love my country and the connection I have with it and the people there. I have always lived in Paris…it is my city.”
While Orlinski’s work has a worldwide following, his four children are his most prized fans and one of his great inspirations, as they enjoy exploring new places and seeking out new experiences just as he does. This is why when he does get a request for public art, he wants to be absolutely sure the message behind the commission will speak to the viewers as much as the images themselves do.
“I always try to see the site in person to make sure the company, organization or collector shares my vision and my values so we can collectively imagine and then create something that represents us both very well,” he says.
“I also try to see if there is a link or a connection that gives an artistic and aesthetic value to my work.
I’m not afraid to exhibit my artwork in unusual places, especially where people wouldn’t expect to see it. It is my philosophy to make art accessible to everyone, adults and children alike. I always try to provoke an immediate emotion when people experience my art.”
And to evoke the desired response from viewers, what is better than animals as his subjects? Orlinski says he’s always felt very close to wild animals because they can’t help but be true to themselves, living without fear.
"It is my philosophy to make art accessible to everyone, adults and children alike. I always try to provoke an immediate emotion when people experience my art.”
To capture the spirit of each individual creature, he says he never limits himself in terms of color and materials to express their authentic animal instinct. He then sprinkles in his imagination, or “innovative ideas,” as he puts it, to make his animals even wilder than they may be in real life to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. Therefore, the intention behind his “Born Wild” series is to transform negative emotions the viewer may feel into positive vital impulses, and shift from an “archaic animal instinct” to a more civilized mood.
Armed with paints, art supplies, and ideas, Ruben Rojas states his case for the widespread adoption of his optimistic “live through love” outlook on life. It’s a message that’s traveled far in a short period of time since he transitioned from a corporate careerist to a full-time artist. He also doesn’t limit himself with his mediums, as his commissioned murals, sculptures and canvases can be found all over his native Los Angeles, as well as other U.S. cities—Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Columbus, Iowa, Mississippi, Pennsylvania—and Paris. He has since taken his signature style into several clothing lines, NFTs and a podcast launched this past February.
“‘Live through love,’ is an active way of being human, just like Nike’s ‘Just do it,’” Rojas explains. “We have a choice to operate in life out of love or out of fear. If you turn on the TV, all you’re really seeing is fear. While we need to be informed about the turmoil, we also need to see how people are helping each other get through the situation.”
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Rojas’ outlook as an artist is rooted in personal life experiences. He recalls driving past ICONIC murals along L.A.’s freeways and boulevards (including “The Great Wall of Los Angeles,” designed by artist Judy Baca and brought to life between 1976 and 1983 by artists, community members, and over 400 youth) and the weekend kids’ art classes his mother enrolled him in. The “a-ha” moment prompting him to change gears was meeting up with a friend who introduced him to a personal development leadership program.
“‘Live through love,’ is an active way of being human, just like Nike’s ‘Just do it,’”
“I didn’t know anything about the art world…how galleries, art shows, agents and managers worked,” Rojas says. “I did not know about how (I would) make a living as an artist, and did not study how to have a career in art.”
“What I did know all was that being able to create my artwork on my terms was important to me and the people whose lives would be affected by those murals, sculptures, and other projects,” he continued. “When I took on my first projects, I had not yet developed my own style at that point. However, when I realized I could make a living doing this, it gave me the confidence to move forward.”
KERRY SCHROEDER | Costello Gallery
Kerry Schroeder’s palette not only includes paints in a spectrum of alluring colors, but also elements of nature that inspire her. This allows her to create paintings that may be ethereal and abstract, but also grounded in the physical world. Through this expanded vocabulary, she is able to express new perspectives on personal and universal experiences and the many cycles of life. She explains that forms, shapes, lines and colors travel through a larger, more expansive lense, allowing the viewer to find and connect with something relatable within the abstract.
Schroeder came to Michael Costello through another artist he represented, and immediately grasped why her approach was so relatable to a variety of viewers.
“It was apparent that Kerry had great talent and that the work was a fit with our gallery,” states Costello. “Every artist wants to create a look that people will recognize…the perfect song, that great dance move, the Academy Award-winning performance. Kerry’s work stands out from both a compositional standpoint and the style in which she paints.”
Before it had occurred to her that working as a professional artist was even possible for her, Schroeder applied her skills by working as a professional advertising and graphic designer. As she was always drawn to creating visual, vivid images, it was a logical career path.
“My work is about how it feels to be in this life and what we experience, such as change, transformation, setbacks, loss, rebirth, frustration, joy and so much more,” Schroeder details. “These experiences represent what it is to be a human getting through life the best we can. For me, this recognizes the individual path we are all on and tells us to be ourselves. If everyone truly lived from a place of who we really are, I think this would be a very different world.”
Schroeder’s paintings—and ideas—have appeared in galleries and cultural centers across the United States.
“My work is about how it feels to be in this life and what we experience, such as change, transformation, setbacks, loss, rebirth, frustration, joy and so much more,” Schroeder details.