Fresh from a morning of making turns in the fresh snow of the Wasatch Mountains, Hadley Rampton sits among her oil paintings and watercolor and ink drawings on display at Salt Lake’s Phillips Gallery. “I usually try to paint every morning, five days a week. But today, fresh powder. I had to treat myself.” My count is that she has already sold 5 of her wonderfully executed watercolor and ink drawings, created during her visit to Spain this summer. And the remaining pieces are stunning. More than a few of her oil paintings are also marked with sold tags.
Rampton began drawing as a child while reading the textbooks of her mother, who was earning a degree in Art History. She says she was perhaps a little bit different from her friends sometimes reading and drinking-in the wonderful color plates of her mothers textbooks. Ballet was her thing until she was 13 years old, when the time came to fully commit to the stringent regime of an acolyte ballerina. “I was too active out of doors to commit to such a thing.” She played tennis, swam competitively, ran track and grew to love the outdoors and her beloved Wasatch Mountains. Math and science also drew her away to sit for hours with the books of Leonardo, Einstein and other great creative minds. She also sketched the whole time: “It found me. Art I mean. There was no other way.”
Through out high school and college Rampton became too much of a formalist for her liking. She also committed “too many years to the study of architecture. It stifled me but forced me to render near perfect lines. It can also make one aware of perspective.”
“Architecture, at first was my grasping for stability. Then I was drawn outdoors. The study of the Renaissance gave a formality and structure … I had graduated [in 1999]; attended Dave Dornan’s workshop in Helper. I was basically a figure painter then it happened outdoors. I was in Italy, Florence. It came to me: you are going to be an artist. Then I started wandering. I wanted it all, to paint the streets, the canals. And once I was outside I never wanted to go back in. And landscapes became my passion … And I will stay outside. It is my total energy source.”
Rampton’s current exhibition seems of two parts. One is her landscapes of several subjects: aspen trees, and a variety of alpine and pastoral settings. She jokes that her friend, prominent artist, Connie Borup, gave her an “aspen addiction.”
Much more than “aspen addiction” is displayed in all of her paintings of glorious landscapes. She masterfully paints a pair of aspens against clear, blue sky. It is her use of exotropic shadow that gives the trees their lovely perspective. It is interpretive using a very difficult process of white pigment gently shaded with grays, a hint of magenta and coal black. It might look simple and easy. But it is a difficult process masterfully applied. There are wisps of dead feathery branches. Sparse leaves cluster in some areas. Other leaves of many different hues stand alone, others dot small wisps of branches, proportioned in quick, single-stroke gestures, if you will. It is perfect, “energy in repose.”
There is tone and texture in the under-painted sky; it is an understated light source that authenticates the illusion. Rampton’s brush becomes the mediator between the subject scene-color and texture- the very essence of the aspen trees that she obviously loves. Susan Swartz, Scott Christianson, David W. Jackson and others, ad nauseam, have painted and drawn aspen trees. But here is the difference: One knows, a priori, that Hadley Rampton has skied, hiked, painted and worshipped among these aspen trees. It is an artistic engagement that is palpable.
Rampton’s ink and watercolor scenes in Spain and Italy are a remarkable counterpoint to her landscapes. “I love Europe. I ride the train, always with my sketch pad, pen and watercolors. Sometimes I get lost. And you know they can be the best times. I paint my way out. Somehow arriving back at my hotel with more than a few sketches. It was in Italy, I became tired of my formal, rather studious adherence to perfect proportion, perspective and tight structure. My wandering in the villages, sitting in the cafes I decided that I needed to be looser. Less formal. To gesture, rather than proscribe the perfect image.”
Gesture. Flow. Gauguin made the statement: “Nature’s appearance shows us … there are noble lines, false lines … a straight line suggests infinity, a curved line limits creation … Colors explain still more to me. Some tones are noble, some vulgar- some harmonies suggest tranquillity, some excite you into doing something bold.”
Rampton’s years studying architecture were not wasted. Each alleyway, each street scene — particularly, “Interior Charles V. Alhambra” — is what one might call formalist while maintaining the gesture. Her shadowing and diaphanous washes seem free of obligation to the interior architecture. One might guess wrongly, that the washes utilize gouache, not watercolor. Rampton says, “We have to care furiously about every painting that we do.” It is obvious that she does, melding creative practice and technical application. Her style is clean, sustained without being repetitive. One is struck with the fact that Hadley Rampton is only 31 years old. What wonderful surprises will she share with her admirers in the coming years? If it does take 10,000 hours of painting to become a master, according to Malcolm Gladwell, Rampton probably is only a few hours away.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.