Artist, Graham Gercken

Graham Gercken | Kanimbla No.3 | Image courtesy of Graham Gercken

We are kicking off this series with local Australian landscape artist, Graham Gercken. 

Graham’s style references that of the Heidelberg School artists, and much like them he paints his landscapes en plein air. Graham grew up in Queensland but has spent most of his life living here in the Blue Mountains. We are lucky enough to feature one of his paintings of our local Kanimbla Valley on the candle we’ve called, Our Place.

Graham, why art? What drew you to the life of a painter and what is integral to your work? 

What drew me to a career in painting was simply fulfilling my ambition to create beautiful pictures. I strive to improve on every painting I produce and see each of my works as an improvement to the next.

You are most influenced by the Heidelberg School artists, why do you identify with this movement and these artists so strongly? 

The Heidelberg School artists were among some of Australia’s best Plein air painters, which is the style of painting that I admire most.


Graham painting en plein air | Megalong Valley | Images courtesy of Graham Gercken 

Why is painting outside in the landscape more satisfying than say, working from photos in the studio or from memory?

When painting outdoors your goal is to capture the light and colour which is in front of you, the problem is these attributes you’re after are very fleeting moments so you are forced to paint as quickly as possible which leaves no time to think of colour formulas or brush techniques. The outcome for a good picture is much more satisfying than a studio work.

The Impressionists shook things up more than a 100 years ago by working ‘wet into wet’, what is it about this technique that attracts you? 

Painting wet-in-wet allows for more spontaneous brushwork and the completion of a painting in one sitting.

The Heidelberg School artists were among some of Australia’s best Plein air painters, which is the style of painting that I admire most. 

Your paintings are so popular, and particularly with overseas buyers. What do you think it is about the Australian landscape (and your painting style) that attracts?

I do sell most of my painting overseas and the U.S is my largest market. I’ve been told often how their west coast, particularly the hilly areas of the state of California is very similar to our east coast great divide.

Is there a particular element in your art that you enjoy exploring?

I love to explore contrasts, for example the crisp highlight on a sunlit gum against its shadow, they are what makes a painting pop.

How do you choose a scene to paint? And, do you do any research, photos or practice drawings first?

With outdoor painting it’s usually just driving to a chosen area and waiting for a scene to reveal itself, which is usually a good composition and strong contrasts of light and shade. I also have a large library of photos which I’ve taken over the years and I use the same process with these to choose a subject.

What is your favourite painting tool? Is there something you can’t live without, in your studio or in the field?

The most important part of the painting I find is the surface I paint on. If the foundation is no good it makes my job so much more difficult. Whether painting on board or canvas the gesso is the key that holds the paint and allows me to manipulate it the way I like. 

Do you have a particular artist who is a favourite? What is it about their work that you admire?

Local Hartley artist Warwick Fuller is an artist I admire greatly as his brushwork and style is full of emotion, you can tell he’s completely absorbed in the moment.

Do you have a favourite artwork? Why?

I have many but Elioth Gruner’s Spring Frost is a stand out. It has it all for me, with strong contrasts as the sun melts away the frost, lovely variations of cool hues depicting the frost and grasses in the shadows against the vibrant sunlit areas.

Elioth Gruner | Spring Frost 1919 | Image: Art Gallery New South Wales 

You can see more of Graham’s work here.

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