Standing in the lobby of the Downtown Arts Center and staring across the threshold to Ann Tower Gallery, one might think the crisp landscapes on the opposite wall are photographs.
Exacting lines and dimensions, robust infusions of color and carefully captured lighting that lure the viewer for a closer look are hallmarks of work by Whitley County artist Dal Macon.
Under the soft glow of the gallery lights, it becomes clear that it is not photography, but oil on wood that glimmers and beckons. Macon's exhibit of new paintings, Intimate Light, which continues through Jan. 30, is part of Friday evening's Gallery Hop.
Using natural settings near his rural home as his inspiration, Macon blends elements of classical realism, photo realism and even hints of impressionism and pointillism to create striking landscapes rich in realistic detail but softened by interpretive elements that lend subtle emotional tones to the viewer's experience.
Macon's goal as an artist is simple: "When I am painting, how the viewer may or may not receive the work is not a priority," he says. "I focus on translating my visual experience of the subject matter, with the hope that some of the feeling that I had for the scene is communicated."
That subject matter could be anything: the bubbling water running over smooth stones in a creek, a shadowed grove in the forest, a hot August afternoon on a hillside. Because of Macon's particular attention to light and atmosphere, one gets the feeling that some of Macon's subject matter is inspired not so much by what it is, as when.
When Macon stumbles upon a new subject, an organic process, he says he must act quickly to capture its essence before losing the light and conditions of the season.
"When I am attracted to a scene," Macon says, "I know I need to work on it fast. I usually make a beginning in the first season — I sketch and record the pigments I originally used, then I return to it again in the second season."
By "season," Macon is referring to a whole calendar year. Although the original impulse of a subject must be captured quickly, the completion of the work might take years. But Macon, who teaches art at Union College in Barbourville, is not daunted by that prospect.
"I work on it for as long as it takes," says Macon, a patient artist who is not unnerved by a long and careful commitment to process, a requisite of the careful, exacting nature of his particular brand of realism.
"As much as I love being plein-air," Macon says in reference to his penchant for outdoor work, "I do not necessarily identify with the painterliness of impressionism. I like my work to be more well-rendered."
Gallery owner Ann Tower, who last featured Macon's art in 2002, has waited nearly a decade to get his work back in the public spotlight.
"It's taken a number of years for him to produce enough work for a solo exhibition," she says. "He paints on location and only works when the light and conditions are right, so he paints for as long as he can and then he puts it away until the next spring or summer, or whatever season and light he's begun with, and he continues this way, sometimes for years, until he feels the painting is finished. The sense of time spent both painting and gazing is apparent, and it gives the work a wonderful meditative quality that is very gratifying."