Vermont Arts Council

Tempesta’s Landscapes and Wildlife

“Wait. Those aren’t photographs.”

That’s something you might overhear as people look at the careful art of Gabriel Tempesta. Fastidious details construct near-perfect representations of nature. Trees. Bees. The ocean. A giant monarch butterfly. The older works are made mostly with charcoal and water on Claybord; sometimes, casein paint. Gabe described working on Claybord this way: “You can erase, scratch into it, lift off tiny white lines.”

Gabe was trained as an illustrator. Until six years ago he worked part-time making “whimsical, children’s book style” art. His painting time was spent on work he said was, “more and more of a compromise.” When he guessed he had made 5 paintings of his own in 10 years he stopped illustrating and began making “something almost the opposite.” He returned to a passion of his childhood — painting and drawing trees. To him, this subject was “the most natural thing.” He remembered, “As a kid, I loved drawing trees, I loved drawing branches.” In one winter, he completed four paintings.

There was no goal, but he said, “In the back of my mind I was thinking ‘I want to show these.'” He started showing in cafes and “wherever.” Evolution ran its course. “I just painted for a year, I just experimented with charcoal and water.” He recalls, “I wanted to do landscapes, work from my own photos; I didn’t want to plan. I would go out, find interesting images with my camera, and paint them. It was very simple. I didn’t have to think so much, I was just creating.” He started mixing in water color.


Taking Flight

In 2012, Gabe received a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for a set of paintings he called the Bumblebee Series. It was a good transition. “That was a great thing for me. It sort of played into my mindset as an illustrator. I created a project for myself, but didn’t have to answer to anybody.” The funding also helped in other ways. “It was validating to get the grant. It really focused me. It helped me have to think through everything from start to finish. Doing that is tedious — and not necessarily enjoyable — but it was good discipline. It got me a lot of good publicity as well.”

The Bumblebee series was shown at River Arts in Morrisville and Studio Place Arts in Barre in 2013. Two pieces have not been sold and will be in the Spotlight Gallery show.

Settling In

Gabe can’t always paint. He works seasonally landscaping and planting trees. He does get out with his dog. “…every day, I’m walking and taking pictures. If I don’t have a lot of time to paint, I take photos. It helps to feed my creativity. …most of them go in the trash. Every now and then, there’s one with perfect composition; a dynamic image can come out of that.”

His years have developed a rhythm. Spring and fall are too busy with landscaping to paint. July, August, part of September and November are slower. He paints. December: Brooklyn to sell Christmas trees. “That gets me through the winter. I take winter off; that’s when I get the bulk of my painting done. I stay home and do my thing for the winter. I really am most productive when I wake up and (painting is) all I have to do for the day.”

Gabe with his partially finished monarch butterfly

The Work Evolves

The show in the Spotlight Gallery will be a mix of old and new work. The differences between them are “pretty obvious.” Most of the new pieces have a little bit of color in them, “kind of monochromatic.” But, don’t expect bold color. Gabe laughed a little when he talked about adding color. “A little bit. Let’s not get crazy now!” “Also, the focus of the pieces is softer. “They have “the look of a slightly out-of-focus photograph.”

Materials have changed, too. He’s using powdered pastels and charcoal applied with a dry brush on a hard surface — “board, essentially.” Applying absorbent ground on a gessoed board creates a texture and attributes he finds similar to watercolor paper.

“I definitely see my artwork as an evolution. It’s an exploration. It’s always evolving. I get a little bit bored when I’m really good at a certain image I’m producing. It’s much more exciting when I’m creating something I haven’t done before, when I’m on the edge, experimenting with a new technique.”

Does the change in his work reflect anything that’s happening with him? “Interesting question,” he says. “With life it’s like: I want to let it flow. Maybe I’m holding a little less tightly. Maybe in the last year or two I’ve just tried to be more myself and let that be — not necessarily try so hard to be what I think I should be. There’s a certain attempt to be more comfortable with myself as myself.”

Visit the Spotlight Gallery
Gabe’s giant monarch butterfly is a part of “Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom”
Visit Gabriel Tempesta’s website

Susan McDowell