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An Interview with Christine Mottau: "LANDSCAPE" at CERES GALLERY October 28 - November 22

Judy Casey Prop Stylist & Art Director, Christine Mottau, will be debuting a new body of paintings aptly titled “LANDSCAPE” at New York’s CERES GALLERY on October 28th. This new body of work sets out to explore classical themes recurrent through the history of painting, using the beauty found in rural landscapes and the light that falls delicately upon the surface of these magical places, I wanted to get a little insight on the show before the opening reception on October 30th, so I visited Christine at her beautiful SoHo apartment where we bonded over the beauty that naturally surrounds.

Darnell: Christine, just so you know, I am beyond excited for your show! October 28th can't come any faster! Please, fill me in on the backstory of “LANDSCAPE”.

Christine: “LANDSCAPE”, has this historical significance to me. My very first solo exhibition as an artist was when I was 21 and it was a show of pastel landscapes. I've always painted landscapes but kind of from a gestural hobby point of view, you know, just kind of like things that I would do on vacation. I'd keep the concepts loose and I'd never really make a significant connection to that work as being serious for a long, long time. I’ve kind of always treated my landscape like doodles. Last year, I was in the Cotswolds and it  was the first time I've ever spent anytime in the English countryside and can I say, visually I was completely blown away. Being there in May, I found the quality of the light and just the astonishing beauty of the landscape to be so awe-inspiring that I felt compelled to start doing these paintings. (J.M.W) Turner really had it right, you know what I mean? I have a client that I have been traveling with for a decade and we go to locations all over the world, which is how I get to witness these breathtaking landscapes. The last year and a half, I made the decision that these specific places were going to be the subject of the “LANDSCAPE” show. All in all they're all just places I've been in the last year and thats the aspect I can relate to right now.

From more of a conceptual point of view, I started thinking about landscape painting as a genre of painting that was first popularized by the Dutch in the 1400s. It was the first time we saw the absence of any kind of figurative aspects in painting and I just thought this historical continuity between people viewing their environment and their connection to the land and nature would be a viable source of inspiration.

D: Lets talk concepts. Like you mentioned previously, these were all places you have traveled within the past year and a half. What was your creative process and how did each piece evolve into what they are now? 

C: I take photographs with my iPhone on location. Ultimately, it’s the original kind of reference material. In time, it becomes abandoned since the photographs become raw, reminder references, sort of like saying to myself, "Oh right, that had a very burnt umber aspect to the earth". The rest of it is really from memory and the feeling of being at that particular place and what about that environment I felt connected to.

D: That’s beautiful! I love your study of the light! The hues in the sky, how you capture the greens, the gradients, and the deep blues. I really appreciate how your paintings aren't super detailed. Its as if you turned your back on the traditional aspects of how movements like the Hudson River School portrayed earth's beauty. Your paintings are way more gradient based, which I feel is a really interesting concept to each of the pieces. It shows that there is this oneness to everything. While painting, was that the idea that crossed your mind, or was this more of a subconscious effort?

C: I tried to really capture the light in these paintings, because when you're on location, you're there before the sun is up. You try to catch first light or at least try capturing it at the end of the day. What the light does to the land is so otherworldly and so ethereal, so this kind of visual quality was really in the forefront of my mind when I was painting these. These aren't like noon lighting; harsh, overly detailed. This is kind of dreamy and I wanted to really capture that essence in each one of my pieces. Also the medium itself, pastel, lends itself to that feel. This is a dry pastel medium, and I am mostly painting with my hands. The colors from these particular pastels never actually mix, it just layers so it kind of creates this diffused, soft quality that I look for in each piece best represents the locations I choose to paint.

D: This is such a departure from your last show, which were ballpoint pen line drawings of what can be perceived as hair. The fact that it was a singular medium, which was simple yet effective gave this raw "what you see is what you get. Take it or leave it" vibe. “LANDSCAPE” contrasts this last show with something I feel seems more inviting as it comes off as a homage to our earthly home. There is this softness of your environments that contrasts the naturally harsh characteristics of earth. How did you find that sort of peace within your vision to be able to bring these pieces to fruition?

C: Its all one experience. The process of making this work for me is trying to make sense of what my experiences were. That kind of expression through a visual demonstration is just the base of trying to communicate what’s going on. That’s really the bottom line. There’s no way to separate this from my psychology, there’s no way to separate this from my visual interpretation, and all in all, there’s no way to separate this from me. The motivator is to depict these idealized, ethereal, soft-lit kinds of pieces as a reflection of where I am at the moment and whether there is a need to minimize the harshness of reality. You can only know true happiness when you've known real despair, so in similarity, in regards to these pieces, you can only show real softness when you have identified natural harshness. There’s no separating...its all one little mass of a whole experience.

D: As for the show itself, I see you have about 20 pieces framed and completed which looks ready to hang. How are you looking to present these pieces at Ceres?

C: My tendency is to work up to the second before I hang the show. Right now, we have 22 framed pieces for the show, which I will be hanging with the gallery director, Stephanie Benson. I like to always have a few more so that I can edit back if needed. Also, I purposefully made nothing of the large scale because I wanted the feeling to be intimate. There's always an intimacy in the viewing and I would love to share the relationship I have to the land with all of my viewers.

When it comes to the frames, I wanted them to feel like a moment in time that could have been a jewel in your life. That there was an underlying thread which can also act as a nod to history. I wanted to kind of frame these in a baroque way to make reference to the historical continuity of landscape paintings. These just simply wouldn’t have the same vibe if they were in white mattes and white frames.  I picked 4 or 5 different frame styles to work with each piece to keep some sort of uniformity. These are museum quality, seriously molded frames and were so fun to make. The process took me back to my high school and art school years where I worked in custom framed shops, which, by the way, I am actually a qualified custom framer so if you know anyone that needs framing consultations, I'm your gal *laughs*.

D: Well can I just say, I am happy to have gotten a sneak peak of the work and look forward to seeing the final product! Any last words before we sign out??

C: I am really excited about this show. Its been a lot of fun making this body of work. I like each piece for its own kind of merit and I've yet to find my favorite, to be perfectly honest with you. I just finished one piece that was super abstract and at the moment, I am loving it! Pastels are very luscious and there’s a luxury to working with that medium. They're like crushed gemstones and its what gives sensuality to this medium that just makes it a blast to work with. Come to Ceres, October 30th for the opening reception. You'll see what I mean.



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