The Layered Landscape

An artist incorporates unusual canvases into his work


Painter Gregor Kammerer describes his landscapes as “part memory, part dream.” His works seem to linger on the fringes of familiarity, sparking a sense of place that’s no more distinctive than the paintings themselves, with their mere hints of sky, sea, shorelines, hills and trees. They are less representations of real places than images inspired by a lifetime spent outdoors in Rhode Island, the Cape, the Adirondacks, northern New England and the Pacific Northwest.

For an artist who finds inspiration in the effects that weather has on light, it’s perhaps ironic that Kammerer found the elements too much of a hindrance when he tried to paint outside. And, he adds, “When you paint from photographs, there’s no mystery involved.” The sense of discovery is an ethic that informs all of Kammerer’s work - and also keeps him engaged and focused on his art, even when he’s working on 20 or more pieces at a time.

“If you know where you are going, you’re going to be contented; you’re never going to be evolving,” says the Perryville-based artist. “I’ve destroyed a lot of paintings, but in the process there might be an element that takes me in a direction I’ve never gone before.” Discovery is part of owning a Kammerer painting, too. One of his favorite techniques is creating underlayers of paint. Most of it is destined to remain unseen, like those legendary Rembrandt images. But some shows through to add depth of color or is revealed by the artist himself, who uses a palette knife to scrape down to different color layers to add texture – a white base coat exposed to represent foaming surf on a beach, for instance. The technique has been used since the Renaissance but still excites Kammerer, who likens the process to “prospecting” for undiscovered meaning in his work.

It’s all part of a career arc that began with matchbook-sized watercolors inspired by the landscapes of Montana to wall-sized diptychs painted inside antique window frames. Kammerer’s body of work also includes some relatively conventional still-lifes (which feature many of the same muted blues and browns he favors in his landscapes), but today is focused more on incorporating found materials and unusual “canvases” to work on – the latter including grainy old maple panelsand curved sheets of metal.

“Sculpture and painting are not independent of each other,” he says in describing his most intriguing works – landscapes painted on the open pages of antique books. Drawing upon long-ago experience in building and repairing boats, Kammerer lacquers the books, half-open, until each is a solid and sturdy display piece – essentially painting, frame and stand all in one.

His favored layering effect is provided by the pages of the books themselves. Some paintings are painstakingly hand-sanded until the text shows through – in one case, the clefs, notes and bar lines from a music book. A landscape called The Hills of Jerusalem, fittingly, is painted on an old prayer book.

“I like when the words come through, because it gives a different dimension to the landscape – the words become part of the surface,” says Kammerer. As with most of his work, the interpretation is left up to the viewer – “like at the end of a novel,” he says.

Kammerer’s work can be viewed at the Jesse Edwards Gallery on Block Island and the Charlestown Gallery.