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Archive for Thursday, September 10, 1998

SUDLOW LOOKS BACK ON 50 YEARS OF LANDSCAPE PAINTING

September 10, 1998

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The Lawrence painter is mesmerized by the beauty and transiency of nature.

Five decades. That's how long Robert Sudlow has been capturing the Kansas landscape with his oils and brushes.

During those 50 years he has grown from a Kansas University student interested in biological illustration to a revered retired KU art professor and one of the country's best impressionistic landscape painters.

Asked to describe his evolution as an artist, the 78-year-old Sudlow replied: ``From the interior to the exterior.''

As a KU student, Sudlow fell under the influence of Albert Bloch, chairman of the painting department and the only American in The Blue Rider, a group of artists in Europe interested in Expressionism and color.

After he graduated from KU, Sudlow entered World War II as part of the U.S. Navy. He painted watercolors of swamps, beaches and airfields and sent them back to Bloch, who encouraged him to continue painting. After the war ended, Sudlow and his wife moved to Paris where he studied art for a year.

``I spent a lot of time in the museums and found the Impressionists. Cezanne was a big influence, and a teacher got me into the Cubist thing,'' he said. ``When I came back, I had changed. I had been moved by the French spirit to work out of doors and more directly from nature.''

Sudlow earned a master's degree at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he worked with painter Richard Diebenkorn. He eventually returned to Lawrence to teach at KU.

Since then he has painted from Greece to California, but he admits his native Kansas landscape is ``in his blood.'' When he packs up his easel and brushes and wanders off to paint the Flint Hills or the grassy land near his rural Lawrence home, he doesn't go with preconceived ideas of what he might see or paint. Instead, he wants to be ``the vehicle from which nature flows.''

``I no longer look for tragic trees and noble hills,'' he said. ``... My work still stems from the interior. It's an emotional response to nature. I've gotten more and more into transient things in nature -- clouds, storms, snowstorms. I do quick sketches. ... It's the mystery of the changes in weather -- the smell, the feel of it.''

While Sudlow has mastered watercolors and lithography, his medium of choice is oils because they give him a sense of freedom.

``I found that I could start with a vague impression and as the subject revealed itself I could paint through it,'' he said.

Sudlow is known for using oils in a way that almost seems to mimic the lighter and more colorful aspects of watercolor. He paints in thin layers using ``broken colors'' that when seen at a distance form a third color.

While Sudlow has received several awards and has his works in museums and galleries across the nation, he doesn't paint his landscapes for fame. His artistic journey is more mystical -- and more down to earth -- than that.

``Perhaps all art pretexts fail in the midst of natural forces; at best it is an uncomfortable confrontation, paint turns to sludge and the best laid plans fall apart,'' Sudlow recently wrote. ``I know that sometimes my head gets full of the sky, the earth is transformed. Perhaps that is why I am always painting.''

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is jbiles@ljworld.com.

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