Magic realism painter Rob Schouten tackles the mother, turns out a masterpiece

Posted in Feature, Visual Art


Whidbey Life Magazine
April 23, 2013

Rob Schouten is known for his intricate, grand paintings that manage to reflect both an earthy and celestial aesthetic all at once. He mixes subjects of the familiar natural world with a transcendental atmosphere that motivates the viewer toward light-filled, karmic aspirations.

Schouten paints his meticulously detailed canvases in his studio at Greenbank Farm, not far from the Rob Schouten Gallery, which he owns with the gallery’s manager, Victory Lee Schouten. That’s where he recently completed his second painting in a series that features the elements; “Fire” is also complete. This one is titled “Earth,” and is one of the longtime artist’s most ambitious to date, having taken eight months to finish. Here is an “in his own words” description of the process of the painting’s completion, which reads like a portrait of an artist at work.

I started the series by doing a stream-of-consciousness writing of keywords about earth, water, fire, air and space. Then I did five 12 inch by 19 inch rough-pencil sketches in a similar stream of consciousness way. My intention was to portray each element through a woman deeply in communion with the element; a kind of muse or anima of the element.

Since each painting would focus on the figure I decided to use a technique that is better than any other in expressing the complexity of skin tones. This technique, commonly referred to as the Old Master Technique because of its 15th century Flemish origin, involves painting the entire painting first in umber tones to establish forms and values, and then subsequently painting layers of transparent color on top of the underpainting until the desired hue is achieved. I wanted to learn the technique specifically to do this series.

Painter Rob Schouten stands beside his most recent work "Earth." (Photos courtesy of Victory Schouten)

Painter Rob Schouten stands beside his most recent work “Earth.” (Photos courtesy of Victory Schouten)

In the creative process you often have to let go of preconceived sketches and ideas, they are the scaffolding that needs to be taken away once the art takes its shape. Thus immediately my idea of starting with Earth changed when the model informed me that if I knew her better I’d have her portray Fire. So also the idea of five vertical paintings changed when I started working on Earth and realized it had to be horizontal. I look forward to more surprises as the rest of the series unfold.

Here are some thoughts about this painting:

  • She is Mother Earth who is sleeping beneath us, dreaming our dream, continuously giving rise to life. Her soul is in touch with the core of the planet; the building blocks of physical existence, whose fractal nature is expressed in the shape of the rock in her hand and the mountains behind her; mountains whose forms in geological time are fluid as blankets.
  • Even though the subject in this painting is mostly horizontal, the energy is very vertical because of the repeating upward pointing triangular forms in the composition. When I painted “Fire,” a vertical painting, it acquired a strong horizontal energy. It seems these elements both have a balance that way.
  • I have entered a phase in my career where I want to focus on major challenging paintings from which I can learn a lot. The amount of time it takes to do such work is considerable, making for a fairly high price tag. Painting “Earth” took eight months at an average of about 75 hours per month. However, I feel I am currently at the top of my game when it comes to skill level and feel that these are some of the most accomplished paintings I’ve painted. 

“Earth” oil on canvas 30 inches by 48 inches by Rob Schouten, © 2012; $15,000.

Go see “Earth” and other Schouten paintings at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm or visit here.  Call 360-222-3070 for more info.


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