Art Maker: Christopher Bagg, painter

  • Cummington painter Chris Bagg, seen here at his show earlier this summer at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, paints outdoors as much as possible. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cummington painter Chris Bagg, seen here at his show earlier this summer at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, paints outdoors as much as possible. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cummington painter Chris Bagg, seen here at his show earlier this summer at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, paints outdoors as much as possible. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “Lower Village, Cummington” by Chris Bagg. Image courtesy Chris Bagg

  • Bagg paints outside as much as possible, including in winter. Image courtesy Chris Bagg

  • “Shelburne Falls Triptych” by Chris Bagg. Image courtesy Chris Bagg

Published: 8/9/2019 8:31:07 AM
Modified: 8/9/2019 8:30:56 AM

Cummington painter Chris Bagg, who works outdoors as much as possible, says he’s long admired artists such as Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper (and contemporary painters Lennart Anderson and Stanley Lewis) for their ability to “create an illusion” of light and space on a flat surface.

“What I found for myself ... was that painting directly from nature was really the best way to learn about this kind of illusion making,” says Bagg, who exhibited work earlier this summer at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery. “Though there is much more to making a painting work than just creating an illusion, it is still at the heart of what I am after. I still think of myself an apprentice to the mystery of looking.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about work you are currently doing. What does it involve, what are you trying to achieve?

Chris Bagg: Most of the paintings at my Oxbow Gallery show were landscapes done on site. I go out and stand in a field or by the side of a road and do the painting from direct perception. Working this way is the shortest route to creating a convincing illusion with a physical material like oil paint. Our eyes work a little differently than a camera does, and a painted illusion can capture that mysterious difference.

HL: What do you draw your inspiration from? Do you ever have “eureka” moments?

CB: A eureka moment might be as simple as realizing how important the exact color of a dark tone is in establishing the illusion of light in a given painting. Or it might be finally seeing how the cool light of the sky touches the roof of a building, or the hair on someone’s head. The truth is, I never stop learning from other artists’ work.

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

CB: I try to finish the landscapes in just a few painting sessions, usually one to three, though sometimes I indulge in many more. Often there are problems that need to be fixed in the studio. Some paintings never quite feel finished.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that is going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

CB: Once, one of my winter landscapes was starting to get a little tight and overworked. After laboring for several days on it, I stepped back to look at it from a distance, and as I did a gust of wind nudged the painting over onto my palate. A rainbow of pure colors now emblazoned the surface, which I frantically repaired with great gobs of paint and a palate knife in the fading light. The end result, with rough and unexpected bits of bright color, was rather pleasing.

HL: Name two artists whom you admire, or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

CB: The same fascination with the making of an illusion that caught my attention as a child is still at the root of what I do today. Artists like Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper were my models then. They painted everyday things by looking at them directly, and they were masters at using the physical medium of paint on a flat surface to create the illusion of light and space. This always looked like fun to me, and I wanted to know how to do it.

HL: If you weren’t an artist what do you think you would be?

CB: I thought about being a clarinetist, but as my teacher quipped, I preferred to starve quickly.

HL: What’s your go-to snack while working?

CB: I try not to eat while my hands are covered with oil paint.

HL: What do you do when you’re stuck?

CB: I find it helpful to do a number of small paintings on paper when I feel stuck. This allows me to focus on essentials and avoid feeling too precious about the materials.

— Steve Pfarrer




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