A new season for Peter Sculthorpe
● By J. Chambless
Peter Sculthorpe in his Delaware studio, with a work in progress on the easel. (Photo by John Chambless)
By John Chambless
A couple of years ago, Peter Sculthorpe
was thinking he might have reached a critical turning point in his
career. Over the preceding 40 years, he had built a powerful body of
landscape paintings and a sterling reputation, but he was wondering
whether he had done all that he wanted to do.
Speaking last week in his studio in Rockland, Del., Sculthorpe was happy to announce that rumors of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated.
“I haven't given up on Pennsylvania,” he said. “I've promised myself that I still want to go and find working farms that have history. This whole area is still filled with history that is probably going to disappear in a couple of decades. It's hard to say. For a while, I was put off by the idea that the popularity of this type of art had a shelf life. But I don't think that it does now. I guess it really boils down to the fact that I still want to be successful as a painter.”
Working in Chester County since 1970, Sculthorpe has seen once-pristine meadows become housing developments, and meandering back roads become straightened and stripped of their charm by highway engineers. It has become harder to find the places where people haven't been. But he has kept looking, finding isolated locations in faraway places such as Monhegan Island and Newfoundland.
For longtime admirers and collectors of his watercolors and oils, Sculthorpe's eye for the tiniest detail – stone walls, weather-worn barns, wind-whipped coastlines, summer swelter and winter's icy grip – draw the viewer into the scene, inviting deep inspection.
While he can depict every facet of a scene, he also invents groupings of buildings, taking a lifetime's mastery of his subject matter and rearranging things to suit his purposes. When the grandeur of a scene is ruined by a telephone line, a highway or some other distraction, he omits it and places the viewer in a world that's finely observed, but carefully constructed.
With all the success he had with limited-edition prints of his paintings, and all of the successful exhibitions he has had nationwide, Sculthorpe's work has only been compiled into a book only once, for the 2015 volume, “The Art of Peter Sculthorpe: Paintings Spanning Four Decades.” The book, hampered by technical problems, was well received but fell short of the artist's exacting eye for color. The reproductions of his works just didn't shine the way they were intended.
So when his longtime printmaker, Bob Tursack, suggested another book, Sculthorpe was skeptical.
Drawing from Sculthorpe's collection of images of his work – he has documented each one since the early 1980s – the scale of the book Tursack proposed was within the realm of possibility. “There will be something like 450 images in the book,” Sculthorpe said. “This is a new idea that's been common in Europe. My printer, Brilliant Studio, is headed up by Bob. He hammers away at the idea that everything has to be as good as it possibly can be. He knows my palette, and he can reproduce something for me that he just knows will be right. He came up with this idea that my body of work should be contained in a volume. I thought it was a great idea.”
The book will be about 42 inches wide when opened, allowing Sculthorpe's huge paintings room to breathe. “The idea that the finished book will be an art object in itself,” he said. “It's basically a traveling exhibition of someone's life as a painter. Bob has published a book on a Chinese photographer in this format, and it was just a beautiful book.”
However, there will be, Sculthorpe said, only three copies of the book printed initially. Taken aback by the idea of putting so much work into a book that will not be available for sale, he has gradually come around to the idea. The large volumes can be scaled down to a size and format that can be sold to collectors. That means they will be a lasting tribute to an artist who has often stayed out of the limelight, content to let his artwork do the talking.
“I think my work is timeless, it's not part of a fad,” he said. “Representational work will always prop up the art world. The fads will come and go and millions will be spent, but this kind of art remains.”
The as-yet-untitled book project could take shape by the end of the year, Sculthorpe said. In the meantime, he is happy to be working on new paintings – one huge winter scene was in progress on his easel last week – and getting back to working outdoors when the weather improves.
“So, I'm not done with painting,” he said, smiling. “I realized this is what I do. I didn't think this was as ingrained in me as it really is. I'm happy to finally come to that realization.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.