Julie Nester Gallery celebrates Chris Gwaltney | ParkRecord.com

Julie Nester Gallery celebrates Chris Gwaltney

Oil painter Chris Gwaltney engulfs himself in the creative process.

"I like paint that moves around and I think that a painting that is too finished won’t let anyone in," Gwaltney said during a telephone call from his home in Laguna Beach, California. "In the same sense, I like outtakes of movies. I like seeing the wizard behind the curtain. I like seeing how a magic trick is done.

"It’s all about the love of the journey," he said. "I sometimes don’t mind knowing the end of a book, because I still enjoy the reading."

Park City will get a chance to read into Gwaltney’s abstracts when the Julie Nester Gallery, 1280 Iron Horse Dr., hosts an artist opening reception on July 31, during the Park City Gallery Association’s monthly gallery stroll.

A few of he works will also be on display at the Julie Nester Gallery’s extended pop-up gallery located at 511 Main St. (See accompanying story titled "Nester Gallery secures temporary pop-up location.")

The theme of the artist’s work is "Rallentando," which is an Italian musical term that means "to slow down," according to Gwaltney.

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"A conductor will say ‘rallentando,’ and that’s a gerund of rallentare," he said. "That means he wants the musicians to still play the music, but bring it down a heartbeat."

The theme mirrors Gwaltney’s philosophy on life.

"I get such a kick out of the journey," he said. "You edit, trim, eliminate, add in, flesh out, tear up and moan and groan. And when you start thinking there is an end point, you start to slow down to keep yourself in the now.

"I think that’s a healthy way to live and I’m much more aware of doing that these days," Gwaltney said. "My father-in-law and father passed away. My daughter is in medical school and my son just finished NYU and is going to work at an ad agency. So, my life is my wife, a couple of Australian shepherds and my surfboards."

Tearing things down to the essentials is also evident in Gwaltney’s craft.

"You identify to each of the senses and it’s like a mini vacation," he said. "I find when I’m in the moment most is when I’m painting. I’m smelling the paint. I’m feeling the gestures and [enjoy] being aware of what I’m doing."

This is where Gwaltney has been the past 25 of his 38 years as a painter.

"Moving into the direction was more of result of getting my degree from Cal State Florence [in Italy] and being exposed to the Bay-Area figurative artists," he said. "I was attracted to the muscular abstraction without losing the figure. I liked to draw the figure and I liked especially when the figure lacked specificity.

"Even though I was trained to paint portraits, I didn’t find any real passion in that, because I liked ambiguity," Gwaltney said. "I liked it when it became more silhouette and depended more on gesture. And I liked when people who saw the work would interpret it by using their own baggage, because I feel that everyone can be a critic and this way they will be more engaged."

During the transitional period between figure drawing and his current figurative abstracts, Gwaltney took a two-year period to focus solely on abstract postcard paintings.

"I had to force myself to get out of my comfort zone because I was so used to the silhouette and the gesture," he said. "I needed to step away."

The postcards used formal elements of color and contrasts that would move viewers’ eyes around the work, according to the artist.

"That was fun and I’m still enjoying the fruits of that experiment because I believe I have become a better colorist," Gwaltney said. "I also trust my contrast devices even more than before. It was like going back to revisit the fundamentals as a 60-year-old.

"I think it was a good thing because I wrote my masters thesis on the 19th Century French Academy and how that related to 20th-Century art," he said. "I really had fun looking at what is called the esquisse and the ebauche, the sketches and color studies before the finished product. These were the precursors to the impressionists."

Art is actually Gwaltney’s second career, even though he enjoyed drawing as a youth.

"I had a great life in the 1970s as a tennis teacher, but I had a bone tumor in my right leg and that laid me up for about a year-and-a-half," he said. ‘That’s when a fellow artist I knew in Laguna Beach saw some of my drawings of surfers and waves and told me that I should paint."

The artist gave Gwaltney some canvases and acrylic paints.

"I got into an art show and won first prize," Gwaltney said. "I kind of liked that." Gwaltney’s paints of choice are oils.

"When acrylics dry, they lose something," he said. "I had spent time finding ways to keep the acrylics alive like oils, and it got to the point where I stopped and thought, ‘I should just work in oil.’"

Julie Nester Gallery, 1280 Iron Horse Dr., will host an artist reception and exhibit opening for painter Chris Gwaltney on Friday, July 31, from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.julienestergallery.com.