Artists have long aspired to describe landscape and to translate the experience of a place through their art. Jill Lear is no exception to this desire. She begins with the assumption that a place is learned and known by looking. Through the systematic retelling of what she has witnessed, Lear is able to share not only the geometry and geography of place but also a passion for the act of looking.
While Lear makes paintings of trees, her influences—from her formalist training to poetry, mathematics and architecture—leak out into her work, lending it a complexity that requires time to fully appreciate. Her paintings are neither embedded in realism nor are they committed abstractions. Defining herself as a painter, she makes works that are more drawing and collage in their makeup. She is committed to her subject matter—particular trees in specific locations—and yet the images are more considerations of space, form and line than the trees’ specific details. It is precisely this complexity and ambiguity that makes the pieces so compelling.
Spontaneity within structure is written in pencil on a structural beam in Lear’s studio. Other notes and drawings, palettes of color and scraps of paper are tacked up in the studio, but this note stands out as both a summary of and guiding principle for Lear’s art. The duality contained within the statement is at the heart of the work and her success. Lear is simultaneously intensely formal in her approach to art making and intuitive in her execution. Before she begins to make a mark, she is secure in her approach and her knowledge of the subject matter. The grid-like mapping system she uses to translate her subject onto the plane of the paper is familiar and practiced; she is able to let the process unfold, building structure through lines and then placing bits of color and scraps of paper to accentuate an element of form or indicate perspective.
The discipline Lear has cultivated has resulted in works that fundamentally all begin at the same place. She defines her process as one of mapping. The systematic approach, which involves separating the picture into parts and then laying down key points of directional line, underscores Lear’s interest in telling her experience of place truthfully, even objectively. The rich charcoal lines and graphite marks serve not only as outlines of form but as a map delineating the tracks of trunks and branches and serving as descriptors of volume. She speaks of the desire to make us look and not just see tree but see thickness, areas of light and the energy where lines intersect. She asks us to see form but also the spaces between forms.
Lear describes herself as a painter, but it is actually paper that has become her foundation of choice. Asked about the distinction between canvas and paper, she responds that paper feels cleaner and she is able to apply her materials to it with more clarity. For Lear, white, open spaces are as much an element of composition as the marks she makes with charcoal or graphite. One of her teachers engrained in her the importance of filling in the entire space. Another spoke to the need for pictures to have light. This balance between open structure and delineated form is one that Lear masters in her best pieces.
She takes a reductive approach, using the fewest number of accurate marks possible to define space without describing it. She speaks of carving out rather than adding on. Clarity is a goal. She adds color and texture with the same reserve—bits of paper and watercolor used sparingly to suggest what she saw, rather than to offer it to us whole, complete.
It is this restraint that is at the heart of Lear’s works. Rather than precisely transcribing the thing seen, she builds an impression that she invites you to take in slowly—in increments. By not offering it up fully, she makes the viewer participate in her act of looking. And in so doing encourages us to look further. This encouragement to investigate, to really look to fully understand the landscape we move in, is the gift of Lear’s art.
New York Studio School, NY NY
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
Chambre Syndicale of Haute Couture, Paris, France
New Body of Work:
Urban Sprawl: Trees in Cities.
My new body of work is called Urban Sprawl: Trees in Cities. I focus on urban trees and how they not only survive but THRIVE in urban areas. I choose magnificent trees that reach out and embrace their environments with sprawling branches and intricate root systems. My work shows the way trees use their innate capabilities to sustain themselves in their restricted environments while managing to “give back” to the community by the processing of CO2 and pollution, by providing canopies that reflect heat and even managing to reduce urban crimes such as graffiti, vandalism and littering. Trees are participants in our urban communities. We need these trees more than they need us.
Witness Trees of Texas - a coffee table book
This book project began with a 1300-mile road trip to photograph and paint some of Texas' champion live-oak trees as part of my art exhibit in Austin. It soon became apparent that the experience of documenting these trees should be collected in a coffee table art book.
Our intention for the book was to use my paintings and photographs of big Texas trees create a tribute to the state's historic live-oak trees and the little-known culture of preservation that Texans have for their live-oak trees. The preservation of these trees--some of which approach 1,000 years old--is not only for the trees themselves, but for the trees as witness to generations of history. Each of the trees in the book have been a witness to many aspects of Texas history, be they battles, peace treaties, extra judicial hangings, marriages, or elections. The trees are preserved not only for their age, size, and beauty but for the specific local history that they mark. Our hope is that readers come away with a sense of what it's like not simply to see these trees, but through the paintings to feel what it's like to be inside the spaces created by their curving, swirling limbs. We were also captivated by, and wanted to communicate, the dual act of preservation that Texans had for these trees, one of natural preservation and two, of cultural/historical markers.
The book is available at my website www.jilllear.com and also Amazon.com
Urban Sprawl, Blue Print Gallery, Dallas, TX
The Other Art Fair, Los Angeles, CA
Blue Print Gallery, Dallas, TX
Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
Gilman Contemporary, Ketchum, ID
Arbores Venerabiles, Blue Print Gallery, Dallas, TX
Spontaneity within Structure, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
Arbores Venerabiles, Gilman Contemporary, Ketchum, ID
2016 Texas Trees, Blue Print, Dallas, TX
2015 Witness Trees of Texas, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
Space and Place, Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
Space and Place, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
2010 Friesen Gallery, 43° 40' 47" N 114° 21' 57" W, Sun Valley, ID
2009 Coordinates, Solo Show, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
2008 Paper, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, TX
NJC: Works on Paper 2018, Long Beach Island Foundation, NJ
Drawing from Perception VIII, Wright State University, Dayton, OH
2015 Summer National Juried Show, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, CA
2013 Leap, Bank of America Center, Houston, TX
2013 Drawing from Perception VII, Juried by Stanley Lewis,
Wright State University Dayton, OH
2012 Intl Contemporary Drawing 2012, Place Suisse des Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
2011 Signs on the Road, Winkleman Curatorial Research Lab, New York, NY
2010 Speak for The Trees, Friesen Gallery, Seattle, WA,
Speak for The Trees, Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
A Collaboration, Anne Reed Gallery/Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
Arbores Venerabiles, Glyndor Gallery, Wave Hill, Bronx, NY
Open City, Juror: Sean Scully NYSS, New York, NY
AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS
2018 NJC: Works on Paper 2018, First Prize Long Beach Island Foundation, NJ
2013 Wright State University, Dayton, OH, Juror Award, Drawing from Perception VII
2010 Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY, artist residency
2006 The Drawing Center, New York, NY, Accepted into Viewing Program and Artist Registry
2002 Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, Partial Fellowship
2002 Wright State University Art Galleries, Dayton, OH.
Merit Award. Purchase Award. Drawing From Perception IV