It’s not unusual to think of representational and abstract painting as stylistic opposites. But when we explore the range of styles and techniques that occupy those two worlds, the distinctions between them start to blur. We might even find ourselves concentrating less on whether we’re perceiving “real” objects in the paintings and more on how the artist chooses to interact with the viewer. And to what aim? Particularly when the objective is to elicit an emotional - or visceral - response of some kind.
Allen Kriegshauser’s work - whether plein air landscapes, scenes of small towns, the human figure or still life - have a way of immediately capturing our attention - setting moods through his use of color, contrast and the ways he captures and depicts light.
“Even though my paintings are figurative, I’m pushing the abstract,” he says. “When you walk into the room, I want my painting to be the center of attention. Color and contrast pull the eye.”
And his paintings do command attention. Somehow you seeem to know how it feels to be in the places he depicts on the canvas. Then you want to look closer and see how he does it. Architectural details are suggested impressionistically. Colors that work quite well seem, upon closer examination, to be not quite what you might expect. And there’s this sense of light that makes you feel its presence - as if you can almost reach out and touch it.
Through manipulation of color and contrast he improves upon reality as much as he captures it. His paintings reveal as much about how a scene feels as how it appears.
He pursues his craft aggressively, participating in competitions and exhibitions around the country. And he’s happy to share his techniques in workshops.
“What attracts me to a scene is high contrast - something that’s got heavy shadow that’s going to put that light in the painting from a value side. And then I reinforce it from the color side. I usually push my values, especially in the darks, at least two values steeper and my lights two values higher, so I get that pop.”
He considers the colors he actually perceives before him in the moment to be more of a starting point - which he enhances with pigment until he feels he’s delivering a sense for the feel of the air, the time of day, and the various emotional reactions that are produced when natural light reveals itself on surfaces.
“I’ve been frequently described as a high chroma painter, which means the colors are a little more on the artificial side.
“I’ll start with the local color - the actual color you see - as my base and then push the chroma. And if I get bored with a painting or it just isn’t working, I’m not adverse to throwing an extreme color out there and exciting my eyes, which helps me correct that local color that isn’t working out.”
Kriegshauser often posts on Facebook paintings he is in the process of creating - within the actual scene - to demonstrate his process of interpreting the natural world. An old black boot takes shape as a mix of colorful brush strokes - with blues, reds and yellows telling the story - midrange colors creating interesting shapes and shadows. Reaching beyond what the senses easily perceive to serve up what we might not quite see, but nevertheless feel.
“But I don’t give the viewers everything. I make them work for some of it. So, I’ll paint a shadow, suggesting a window and have them figure out the rest.”
By deciding what to include and what to withhold, he asks us to complete the creative experience by bringing our own experiences to the process.
“I’m not a truist by any means. Why create when all you’re doing is duplicating?” And if I can get a response from someone, then I’ve done my job.
Visit the art of Allen Kriegshauser at allenkriegshauser.com.
Patrick Murphy has worked in St. Louis radio and television for the past forty years. He has produced a variety of arts-related programs for for St. Louis public television, including the series "Arts America" and "Night at the Symphony". He currently serves on the Webster Groves arts commission and is an aspiring water colorist.