Artist Kamilla Talbot’s sense of color is eye opening as she chooses shades that are just a tad bolder, just a tad more saturated than one would expect to find in nature, but without making a tree or the sea or rock formations look garish or surreal.
According to the artist’s statement about her work, “I am a landscape painter who works from direct observation, from memory, and from existing work. Painting intuitively constructed landscapes, I search for a metaphoric, poetic presence, rather than a literal representation of nature.” Painting is in her blood and art has been a part of her life since birth. Well-known Danish artist Johannes Larsen (1867-1961) is her great-grandfather. Talbot received her undergraduate degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. She has taught art in three New York Schools: the New York Studio School, the Art Students League, and the National Academy School of Fine Art. Her work has been exhibited since 2001 in dozens of galleries in the New York area, as well as in Norway, Denmark, and Germany. Her works are owned by five corporate and museum collections.
The works on view in her recent My Scandinavia exhibit at the Trygve Lie Gallery located in the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York were inspired by sailing trips on the Danish boat Rylen. The first trips were taken by her great-grandfather in the 1920s. Talbot sailed for five days on the same vessel in 2015, almost 100 years later. “Few other contemporary artists can lay claim to such a correspondence over the generations. And Talbot’s Rylen paintings, not depictions of the boat from a distance but works made right on deck in the midst of the sounds and sensations of the sea, are vibrantly immediate in their effect,” according to the American Scandinavian Society.
There is a wonderful essay written by Valerie Cornell that speaks beautifully about this show: “My Scandinavia is the felicitous title Kamilla Talbot has given to this show of new paintings (including scenes of Icelandic rocks and Norwegian skerries); it refers to her own artistic perspective on the region as well as the fact that what she’s seen, felt, and painted is freshly of the moment: it is her Denmark, her Kattegat, her Mariager Fjord, and not that of her great-grandparents—though of course it is theirs, too, layered in and blowing through the spaces in her work.”
I had the good fortune to be able to interview Talbot about how she became an artist, her strong bond to Scandinavia, and what inspires her today.
Victoria Hofmo: Can you speak a little about your childhood?
Kamilla Talbot: I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, in a house full of art, almost all from my mother’s side of the family. In addition to my great-grandfather, his wife and sister were also accomplished artists, and more recently, my uncle (my mother’s brother). We spent all our summer vacations in Kerteminde, Denmark, in my mother’s childhood home. The original house and studio (and modern additions) are now the Johannes Larsen Museum. My grandmother lived there until her death in 1986. For more info on the museum: en.johanneslarsenmuseet.dk.
We continue to be welcomed at the museum. My mother still spends two months there each summer, and I make yearly visits. I have exhibited twice at the museum, and my husband and I will have a joint show there in 2017.
VH: When did you first get interested in painting?
KT: I have always made art, although I didn’t yearn to be a painter when I was young. In addition to the art I lived with at home (both in the U.S. and in Denmark), my parents exposed us to art and museums regularly. It was a cultural upbringing, in a home that respects the arts. When I went to college—the Rhode Island School of Design—I focused on graphic design. I am interested in design, and it is also a practical skill and way of supporting myself.
VH: What have been the challenges and delights of being the great-granddaughter of Danish artist Johannes Larsen?
KT: I greatly admire Johannes Larsen’s art. His competence and straightforward approach have always been evident to me. Growing up, my parents were supportive of my interest in art, but it was also considered such a serious pursuit that I didn’t feel confident that I could consider myself a painter. After college I studied painting at the New York Studio School. This is when my seriousness about being a painter solidified. Now I teach painting part time to support my practice.
VH: Your great-grandfather passed away before your birth. If you had the chance, what would you ask him about being an artist?
KT: I realize that this isn’t answering your question but here goes… Johannes Larsen died seven years before I was born, but I have a sense of who he was as a person and painter from my mother, as well as from his paintings. He took a practical approach to painting, not waiting until inspiration moved him to paint, but instead steadily working from the subjects around him. I strongly identify with his appreciation of nature and birds, and in some ways I think my approach is similar.
VH: Could you talk about what being Scandinavian means to you?
KT: In relation to my paintings, I do think they include a Scandinavian sensibility. This includes being open to pursuing quiet, understated subjects, and often using cooler, muted colors.
VH: How did the idea of the exhibit My Scandinavia evolve?
KT: Most of the paintings in the show originated from a five-day sailing trip on the Kattegat. The boat imagery became a subject I continued to work with in the studio. Rather than painting the boat from a distance, all the paintings have the vantage point from the boat itself, which adds to the personal/intimate feeling of the show.
VH: All of your paintings that I have seen depict nature at their core, whether you are in New York City, upstate New York, or Puerto Rico. Are there other ways in which these places are connected for you?
KT: My husband and I bought a fixer-upper farmhouse in the Catskills six years ago. In addition to being inspired by the surrounding nature, we enjoy creating a beautiful environment, not completely dissimilar to what JL did in Kerteminde. I find my motifs around me. I also live in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and do also see the beauty in cityscapes. In particular, I have painted a great deal on Governors Island, where the pastoral setting is paired with views of the city (including the bridges). Some of my favorite subjects there are the birds on the pier or the juxtaposition of the natural with the man made.
I have also sought out, and greatly benefitted from, painting residencies. These have mostly been in northern locations: Iceland, Maine, Newfoundland, as well as other travel. The portability of watercolor makes it ideal for travel, and I thrive on intensive painting experiences in beautiful landscapes.
VH: How are these places different in terms of your work?
KT: I am definitely drawn to the northern locations. Iceland may be my all-time favorite landscape to paint, with its geologic variety, unusual rocks, water, weather, and special light. Sunsets and sunrises are much slower there than further south.
VH: Is there anything you’d like to add?
KT: There are three watercolors in the show from Norway. A sequence of the same sunrise, from 2013, from Austevoll, Norway. I was invited, along with three other North American artists, by the Austevoll Kunstforening to spend a week painting at Marstein Fyr.
My website is www.kamillatalbot.com.
Thor-Erik Fjellvang is the Cultural Director of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. I asked him to comment on what he thought about the artist’s work: “Kamilla Talbot’s depictions of the sea, horizon, and boats off the coast of her native Denmark make one long for Scandinavian summer. Her use of light and color and her often unorthodox choice of perspective feels fresh and poignant.”
Though the exhibit at the Seamen’s Church has closed, I encourage you to keep an eye out for Talbot’s work.
This article originally appeared in the April 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.