Hazardous duty pays off for this artist

When he paints, Lynn Boggess has more to worry about than most artists.

Mosquitoes, deer flies, white-tailed deer and sometimes, bears. Then there are those winter days cold enough to freeze your feet, although he's found a solution for that.

A West Virginia artist who does landscapes, Boggess faces such hazards because he believes in painting outdoors to get the look and feeling he wants. Year-round, he finds isolated patches in the Allegheny mountains – streams and snow banks, trees and hills – to capture on canvas. Some might do this by making sketches and taking them back to a warm studio, or even – “Heaven forbid,” he says – working from photographs.

Not Boggess, who has a show opening with a 6-8 p.m. public reception tonight at the Joie Lassiter Gallery. These are early fall paintings, filled with golds and reds.

“If you're going to paint nature, there's no other way to do it than from direct observation,” he says. “A lot of people talk about spontaneity in their work, but not a lot of people walk it. Landscape is an exhausted genre, and the only way I think of reviving it is to put some real life and energy in it. There's no shortcut to that.”

Boggess, 53, has a firm idea, too, on how to make pictures.

Using thick paint, Boggess creates a rich surface, with piles and ridges that are almost sculptural.

Each painting captures a slice of nature in a particular season without the features of an older style of landscape painting: winding roads, cottages, or tiny figures for a sense of scale.

A painter since childhood, Boggess went to a small West Virginia school and then to the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art. He painted in the dominant style – abstract, with hard lines. He used brushes but was not satisfied with the result.

In 2000, he made a discovery. He was patching the roof on his house in the tiny community of Canvas east of Charleston, W.Va., spreading the tar with a trowel. He noticed the goop looked like paint and behaved like paint.

“Within two minutes I could see this is exactly what I was looking for, the tactile quality I wanted in my work.”

Boggess didn't use a small palette knife but a cement trowel with a blade 8 inches long. It took a year to get comfortable with it.

“Now I feel like I've got something that I own,” he says.

Boggess heads into the woods in a Wrangler Jeep towing a lightweight trailer. He's designed a portable studio for some protection from the elements. He keeps food in the vehicle so critters won't mistake him for lunch.

His worst scare came when he got between a mother bear and her cubs. He avoided looking in the bear's eyes, and that seemed to calm her. She went around him, took her cubs and was gone.

During the winter, he wears a hoodie and gloves with cut-out fingers. Even insulated boots won't keep feet warm, he's found, so he stuffs them with HotHands and that keeps him working for hours.

Boggess is not just interested in what he sees but in what he feels – and getting that onto the canvas.

“You get the air in there, the wind, the smells of the mud and the soil, the decaying leaves,” he says. “Bees and insects buzzing, it all comes into play. And if you're in tune to it and concentrating, all of that gets in the work.”

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