Larry Chestnut is the real deal. He is an oil painter who paints what he sees, with a tremendous eye and immediacy. He does not paint from photos because he knows that can steal proper perspective. His keen eye and hand are incredible and make it look effortless. He is proficient at portraits, still life, landscapes and narrative scenes. His compositions are well thought out and solid. He is a painter’s painter. We are lucky to have him in this area.

Hamilton-based artist Larry Chestnut paints portraits, still life and landscapes, like this one of Bulls Island and the Delaware River.

You paint landscapes, portraits and still life. Which is more rewarding and which is most challenging?

They all have their challenges. For the most part, I paint from life (alla prima) and that is much more difficult than working from a photo or flat image. You do have the problem of working outdoors when doing a plein air piece with the weather, sun, shade, etc.

What is your process?

Landscapes: I’m always looking for uniqueness, composition, color. I prefer plein air painting but I always carry a camera in case. Something can be there one day and gone the next. I often alter what I see while maintaining the essence of the landscape.

Portraits: Probably the most challenging of all. There’s so much to deal with and it involves someone willing to pose for you. I work quickly, usually 3-5 hours to complete a piece. This helps to maintain spontaneity.

Still life: I look for a focal point around which to build a composition. Once I gather related elements, I arrange objects until I find a balanced composition. Often it takes longer to do the composition than it does to do the actual painting.

Who were you influenced by?

Artists of the Gilded Age (1865-1900) like Beaux, Sargent, Chase, Theo Robinson and Homer only to mention a few. More recently, Liz Ruggles, Bob Sakson and Peter Hunt, local artists who’ve had an impact on what I do. Having been a docent at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a few years made me appreciate other artists and the history of what I do.

Are many sketches made in preparation for painting?

I seldom make preliminary sketches preferring to work directly and spontaneously once I’ve thought my composition through. I arrange things till I feel comfortable with what I see.

Do you feel being a member of an art group is important?

Every artist should be associated with like-minded people. Old Lyme, Cos Cobb, the New Hope impressionists, the Ashcan School are just a few examples where artists understood the importance of sharing creative ideas and visions.

What fight/struggle do you have regarding your art?

Painting itself is a struggle, it’s an analytical endeavor that requires extensive thought and creativity. Studio space is always a problem because it’s usually small and expensive. Selling your work is good but the wrong reason to be an artist, it’s a passion, a life line.

What attribute should all artists have?

Every artist should have humility to go with creativity.

Do you paint portraits from life, not from photos?

I prefer to do portraits from a live model. People will, from time to time, ask me to do a portrait from a photo and I have to decline. People too often end up comparing the painting to the photo. Working from a flat or static image has a tendency to result in too much detail or tightness.

What is your dream project?

I’ve always wanted to do history/narrative painting that incorporated figures from life in costume much like Benjamin West or large canvases like N.C. Wyeth that tell a story .

Is this area supportive of the arts?

I don’t think this area is really supportive of the arts unless you’re talking about New Hope or Lambertville or places where art group organizations exist. I live in Mercerville in a middle class neighborhood. Generally, upscale neighborhoods are the ones that support the arts-creating organizations and programs for the arts.

What is on the horizon?

I take pleasure in finding new subjects to paint whether they be in the studio or outside while driving down the highway.

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