Whether the artist is knowingly mocking a kitsch sensibility or happens to have one him or herself actually doesn't matter: the picture earns merit for its handling of light, color and space rather than its social or historical commentary.
WALT CURLEE of Phenix City, Alabama is truly a fine artist. His oil paintings are full of detailed imagery in a realistic setting with a special signature cloud formation. “Rural Winter” is striking with the animals and trees, red barn and the old car parked outside the farm house. In his “Springtime on the Farm” he shows beautiful rolling hills with flowers and trees, an orchard and mushrooms, a farmer on his tractor plowing the curving fields, the farm off in the distance and the wonderful cloud formation in the sky. And in his “Turkey in the Hills” he uses a reversed ‘L shape’ compositional structure showing the detailed turkeys in the foreground as if on a hill and the middle ground is downhill beside the running water. Also, “Autumn Wheat Harvest” shows the rolling landscape with many creatures detailed, such as squirrels and a frog, cows in the distance as well as houses and other buildings further away. Every section of this and all his paintings are delightful and masterworks deserving of praise.
The colorful world of Walt Curlee is rich in character, charm, and extraordinary detail. Fun, lighthearted energy is brought to life by his unique sense of perspective and his earthy, organic shapes.
Autumn Wheat Harvest: This is a very upbeat painting full of bright colors, that imparts a happy nostalgia to the viewer. The nostalgia is not accidental; Mr. Curlee seems to be skillfully channeling the late Thomas Hart Benton, a Depression-era painter. If you're not familiar with Benton's work, I would strongly recommend a quick trip to Google. Benton's landscapes are instantly recognizable, and this painting could easily have been done by Benton himself.
Curlee uses many of the same signature elements; the shapes of the trees, the shredded clouds, the mounded hills. the same rich palette common in Benton's landscapes, and even the peeling bark on the tree. What's missing is the darker mood of some of Benton's work, full of knife-wielding hillbillies and hard, overworked men; Curlee's landscape is positive without being saccharine. It's a painting I'd love to have hanging on my wall.
More interesting even than the obvious homage to Benton's work is the very sophisticated composition of the painting. There are a lot of ways to compose a painting but Curlee chooses one of the hardest; this painting is a spiral. I've seen spiral compositions attempted before, but I've never seen one done better.
The eye is first pulled to the brightest spot on the canvass; the sky. The shredded clouds push your eye toward the tree on the left, your eye follows down the tree, and the strong diagonals in the lower left push your eye across the bottom. The sapling near the right corner directs your eye up toward the gold and green trees at the edge of the field, which sends you to the farm, then to the left down the road to river, which pulls you down to those bushes, and then to the cows in the middle. Let your eyes wander anywhere else, and the painting is full of lines and pointers to slide you right back into the spiral.
I've probably looked at this 30 times, and each time I'm delighted with how wonderfully well it's composed. An excellent work from a painter who is in full command of the finer points of his art.
Walt 's Autumn Wheat Harvest is the winner of this year's Only Originals National Invitational -- and this painting exhibits all of the features that make this artist's work stand out in a crowd.
The viewer is transported into a whimsical world of rolling form and lively color, filled with an assortment of gentle beings.
Details add interest. In his winning piece, a toad eyes a cricket; squirrels play on a decaying tree; a single building is gray with age; a rake is left in a half-mowed field.
Through the skillful use of color, the eye is guided across the canvas. The purple in the clouds plays against the harvest's complementary gold. Green pastures vibrate against red earth. Blue sky plays against the orange shadows of a grain field, as well as orange pulp in a dead tree.
In some of Walt's works, the rolling landscape, ivy leaves in the foreground, stylized haystacks, and whipping clouds are reminiscent of creations by Thomas Hart Benton. Although the practice has faded away, artists often borrowed stylistic properties from one another, altering them to form something equally wonderful but yet unique. Although the influence of Benton (and perhaps Grant Wood) can be seen, Walt's work could be mistaken for neither. Walt Curlee speaks with his own voice, and his works are truly American originals.
A Decorative, not Representational painting that is reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Woods. Wonderful design of forms. In a day and age of loosey goosey painters, it’s nice to see a tight, well crafted painting.
16th annual Southworks juried exhibition, A new name for me is Walt Curlee (Phenix City, AL), whose highly controlled and detailed pastoral scenes take on Currier and Ives with an almost manic precision.
-Caroline Barratt, Writer, Art Notes, Flagpole Magazine.
I am pulled into this painting by the way it is crafted to ask more questions than it answers. Beautifully composed, Walt Curlee’s Autumn Wheat Harvest echoes the theme of many historic harvest landscape scenes—the natural cycle of impending decay and death verses the efforts of man to exert control and impose order upon the natural world. In this painting we see the narrative of a struggle played out in a landscape noticeably devoid of human figures but full of human presence. The aerial view of a half-harvested field is reminiscent of the Netherlandish harvester paintings of Pieter Bruegel. However, in this case, the laborers are absent and have left mid-haystack (perhaps because of the coming storm?). The rolling hills blanketed with an almost quilt-like grid of solidly formed and evenly rowed farms seem to be an homage to Grant Wood’s landscapes, while the dead and dying trees seem to quote the dramatic forms of Thomas Hart Benton. As these stolid farms seem to advance, they are surrounded by a radial force—a cycle formed by the foreground dying trees and the foreboding clouds that point toward them. The warm red-brown of the exposed inner wood of the dying tree forms a jagged upward point leading us to the rightmost upper limb that points like a finger to the distant start of the dirt road cutting through the rolling hills. We follow this road to the bridge that crosses back to the dying tree. Will the forces of the natural world prevail here?
Walt Curlee's painting Autumn Wheat Harvest is communicating with the audience in its own unique way. The "complex simplicity" of chosen colors, carefully rendered shapes and great amount of details creates the visual suspense filled with emotions. In some way, this traditional landscape theme and artist's technique is provoking today's modern design which is always preoccupied with promoting and selling. Warm, poetic and emotional, it makes you want to be a part of that painting.
'WALT CURLEE of Phenix City, Alabama has an extraordinary facility with oil painting with a unique observance of a type of regional perspective. “Coon Gap Holler”, “Shucking Corn ‘Til Sundown”, “Taking Pumpkins To Market” and “Family Garden” are all brilliantly conceived and masterfully presented."
Stephen Sawyer states this about this Walt's winning painting "Cultivating The Peas":
Walt, I really like your art. This is what Thomas Hart Benton wants to paint like when he grows up. Your winning piece reminds me of the scripture: Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:61-62 ...Great work. I am honored that you participated this year.
-Stephen Sawyer, Owner,ART for GOD.
WALT CURLEE of Phenix City, Alabama has some of the strongest works in the show. His oil painting is brilliant in terms of style and technique. In Appalachian Pumpkin Patch he shows a view upon a hill looking down on a quaint farm. The undulating rhythm of the rolling hills presents a wonderful typography. In his Cultivating The Peas he shows a simple man in overalls and hat plowing the soil with horses pulling, showing an appreciation for the old ways. With his wonderful sense of space, he shows a young person walking down the pathway in the foreground with his dog, his caught fish, pale and fishing pole in his work called Fish For Supper. Continuing with his theme of the pleasant farmland, he presents Raking The Hay with the flowers in the front and the red barn in the distance, while cows graze peacefully. And in The Veon Farm he shows the expansiveness of the land with a stream flowing through. In all his works he shows some interesting cloud formations.