Art Maker: David Skillicorn | Abstract painter

  • An oil painting by New Salem artist David Skillicorn Gazette Staff/Kevin Gutting

  • David Skillicorn of New Salem Gazette Staff/Kevin Gutting

  • An oil painting by New Salem artist David Skillicorn Gazette Staff/Kevin Gutting

  • David Skillicorn of New Salem Gazette Staff/Kevin Gutting

  • An oil painting by New Salem artist David Skillicorn Gazette Staff/Kevin Gutting

Published: 1/12/2017 1:39:09 PM

These days, David Skillicorn of New Salem is creating highly textured abstract expressionist paintings that reflect the natural world — skirting the line between abstraction and landscape. He describes the work as rich with color, and built up in many layers over time, in some cases many months.

“At times I take off as much paint as I put on before arriving at something which feels interesting and true,” Skillicorn says. “Through this process of application and excavation, I ‘find’ a painting as much as I ‘make’ it.”

In the end, he says, he’s reaching for an elusive quality beyond the physical materials, to something that is perceived intuitively.

“It’s that unseen intangible which gives a painting ‘presence’ making it something more than decoration or craft.”

Hampshire Life: What is your creative process like?

David Skillicorn: My process is a combination of instinct, intuition and spontaneous expression, tempered with years of technical training. I use a number of tools to create different effects in the paintings, although I never start out with a definitive idea of what the finished painting will be. It is more an exploration and a dialogue with the work as it develops, with lots of editing as I go along.

After applying initial layers of paint, I will live with it for awhile, and then add additional layers or scrape away passages to create a complex interplay of dappled colors and textures. And so it goes, layer by layer until there is nothing left to do and the painting is finished.

H.L.: Does it start with a “Eureka!”moment?

D.S.: I have no idea where I am going when I begin a painting. The thing is to just get started, put something down, then put something else down, and start responding to and modifying what I’ve done. Its an ongoing dialogue with the paintings all the way through to the end.

H.L.:How do you know you're on the right track?

D.S.: If the painting is unresolved, and there are a lot of questions about it, I know I’m on the right track, even if the path may still be unclear.

H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?

D.S.: If I’m ever stuck and don’t know what to do, I walk away from the painting for days or months. I’ll pick it back up when something intuitively “clicks” as I look at it again, and the painting has essentially told me what needs to be done.

H.L.: How do you know when the work is done?

D.S.: A painting is done when it resolves with color, balance, harmony and, most importantly, an overall feeling that it is just right. I know it when I see it, or more precisely, when I feel it. It’s less a rational process than an intuitive one.

H.L.: What did you do today that relates to your art?

D.S.: There isn’t a day that goes by where something out in the world doesn’t stimulate ideas about color, shape, texture, etc. All of it comes into play and shows up in some form or another in each of the paintings.

H.L.: How did you decide to become a painter?

D.S.: I had a long career as a documentary filmmaker, traveling the world and visually engaging with it intensely. It was while filming an artist painting on Cape Cod one morning that magic happened and I just knew I had to paint. That was some 20 years ago now, and I’ve been painting ever since.

— Kathleen Mellen

David Skillicorn will exhibit large abstract paintings in March at the Burnett Gallery in Jones Library, 43 Amity St., Amherst ( He will also have an exhibition at the Diana Felber Gallery in West Stockbridge in early summer. ( For more information, visit


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