Expressionist Realism Pastels

People have often asked me, “what is your painting style?” For many years I resisted answering. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself. Whenever someone asked, I could feel myself wiggling inside to get loose of the question, as if it was meant to entrap me!

This week I found the answer quite unexpectedly.

Expressionist Realism.

Jackson Pollock painting
Jackson Pollock’s paintings were an exploration of creative energy. While they appear like random splashes at first, the whole reflects the energy of the artist’s body and heart movement.

I am fully aware that these two terms are thought to be opposites! When you think of Expressionism, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko immediately pop to mind. Pollock with his larger than life calligraphy and Rothko with his color field paintings.

Mark Rothko painting
Mark Rothko’s paintings explore the juxtaposition of color energies.

Realism? Neither Pollock nor Rothko fit in the sentence. Realism conjures up photo-realistically, meticulously-painted images without any brush strokes. While Realism was first called such in the mid-1800s, an wonderful example of contemporary realism is Robert Neffson’s painting, Grand Central.

Neffson photo realism painting
Neffson’s paintings explores the genre of contemporary realism, taking what began in the early 1800s to new depth.

While I have enjoyed these artists paintings, I clearly am not either style. I have always been a colorist. And certainly my energetic calligraphic brushwork is an integral part of my paintings. It never occurred to me that my style is a hybrid, Expressionist Realism. That is, until this week.

When I picked my pastels back up, I had no intention of returning to large scale painting with pastel ~ much less coming home to my own distinct style. But once I did the tulip painting, I couldn’t help myself!

abstract floral painting
Lamb’s Ear & Poppies, pastel, 40 x 30

Abandoned in my stack of unfinished pastel works ten years ago, this painting helped fuse my heart-felt calligraphy and color field work together. Pulling it out of storage, the colors felt dead tired. I put her on the big easel and let her breathe for a few days. Still the colors felt heavy. I didn’t see much point in reworking it. I let her stay in the studio beside me nonetheless.

This week as I was painting something else, I caught a flash of bright sunny yellows in the field beyond the garden. Intrigued I moved the panel, a 40 x 30″ hand-gessoed marble-dust rag board, to my pastel easel by the window.  What can it hurt to try?, I thought.

expressionist realism
detail flash of yellow light, pastel

Did I know I was on a bridge between Expressionism and Realism?


I simply grabbed for the flash and cut Deep Cadmium Yellow pigment into the field behind the lamb’s ear. This muted the too-dark red poppy. Encouraged I continued took another step.

abstract floral painting
detail, Lambs Ear & Poppies

Warm and cool yellows alternating, lit the space behind the garden. Lavender brought life into the shadowed leaves. Finally pink cheeks on the lamb’s ear blossoms opened them softly, against the sunny disposition of the renewed field.

Finally, I saw them. Bright red poppies blooming in the foreground. I roughed them in. They shifted the eye to the left column, counter-balancing the sunny backdrop.

The thing about Expressionism and Realism didn’t hit me right away. Full expression, heart and soul, IS the only reality that is true and right. Each of us has a purpose in this life. Expressing who we are, fulfilling our purpose is the only reality that ultimately matters.

Why have I invested so much time and energy in searching for reality anywhere else?

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