Larry Moore: Painting from Life

A Conversation with the Artist & Illustrator

Painting by Larry Moore

Very early in his life, Larry Moore learnt to value the pleasure of walking barefoot on a spongy carpet of green grass or listening to the rapturous song of the great waves of Atlantic. Even after all these years, the artist absolutely loves being out of doors. This is self-evident from an array of his plein air paintings.

However, the success of Larry Moore also lies in equally admiring the human connections. Perhaps, that is why ‘The Sail Maker in Her Studio’, intently busy at completing the task at hand, feels as charming as ‘Into the Woods’.

The artist’s list of awards is lengthy. It includes the gold medals from the Society of Illustrators, NY, 2005, Society of Illustrators, NY annual exhibit 1995, 1997, 1998 through 2005, Communication Arts Illustration Annual 1999 through 2008, Luerzers Archive Top 200 Illustrators Worldwide, 2005, Maui Islanders Plein Air Artists’ Choice Award, 2009, Carmel Art Festival Best of Show, 2006, 2010, Bucks County Local Color Best of Show, 2012.

To borrow the words of Bill Watterson, creator of Larry’s favourite comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, ‘Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine and valleys of frustration and failure.’ There could not have been a more apt description of the nature lover artist’s journey so far.

Tell us of the childhood influences that did have a profound effect on the artist and the person in you. Was the seed of the appreciation of nature that is evident from the studies of your work planted in your childhood days?

Absolutely! I grew up in Cocoa Beach, FL in the 60’s and 70’s where there was little in the way of development. Ours was the first house built in a sizable region of homes along the Indian River; I had the river and islands to the west and the ocean about 4 blocks to the east. My father was an avid outdoorsman and nature lover so most of my youth was spent in nature playing, fishing, exploring or surfing in the warm waters of the Atlantic. Certainly, that led the way to the plein air painting I’ve been doing over the last 25 years.

The second part of the influence story was family; my mother was somewhat of an artist, my grandmother and my oldest brother whom I always wanted to emulate. So that was my start… lots of drawing as a child. Nothing unusual, I just stayed with it. My mother passed away, Father remarried and brought into the house a wonderful, sophisticated woman from California with great taste in all things and she encouraged the art thing. My youth was spent painting surf/nature related imagery on clothing and just trying to figure out how to paint a thing to look like a thing without instruction. In my second or third year of college, my stepmother made me go to Europe for six weeks to see every museum and historical landmark. I came back a different person.

Laguna Sea, Painting by Larry Moore
Laguna Sea

You have extensively worked in the fields of illustration as well as fine art painting. Does your approach vary while dealing with these two different expressions of art? Honours and awards apart, how personally fulfilling has your journey as an illustrator been?

The approach varies greatly. As an illustrator I,

  1. learned to paint in any style and medium and
  2. sought to develop a style that was not so tied to literal representation, mostly because it was a pain to gather all the reference, much easier to just make it up. My style over the years was more contemporary; bright colours, overlapping the graphic shapes, most pieces were created with pastel. If anyone looked at those paintings they would not connect them with who I am now. It was a wonderfully satisfying (though stressful) career with each project is different from the last. A lot of the work, especially the editorial illustrations, was more conceptual in nature and I loved that part of it. I think the most enjoyable aspect was the problem solving, probably an extension of my years as a graphic designer (pre-desktop revolution).

While many artists move from realism to abstraction, I started in realism moved toward abstraction and a more concept–based thinking and am now back to the representational with my painting. There are fragments of those paths that come through in my current work, more in the design of each piece than anything else. But I am really thinking hard about how to merge the two paths into one. Right now I am looking more at the golden era illustrators than anyone else… okay, a lot of Russians too.

Sunrise Surf, Painting by Larry Moore
Sunrise Surf

You portray nature, quaint corners of cities and bustling human activities on canvas. Do you find the song of the nature or the whirlwind of the city life to be more appealing as a subject of your painting?

I am a bit contradictory in that way. I love nature and painting in it. I can look at any painting I have done and get a total sensory recall. Time, temperature, wind, sounds and smells, especially the birds… love them. And most of my work is created outside, on location and in nature. But the man-made structures seem to draw me the most, I think it’s just a preference of hard shapes and angles over more amorphous ones. Painting a cement factory for me is much easier and more compelling than a cloud or a rock. I’m not sure the average viewer knows how hard it is to paint a rock formation and not turn it into a potato.

Now, all that said, there’s a draw to trying to figure out for oneself how to get to a thing, anything, it’s just who we are. And I will continue going to the ocean, for example, to attempt to get a decent wave painting from life or travel to the Grand Canyon to figure out that puzzle. It’s an honourable pursuit.

Delving into the characters of land and seascapes or human activities how does it feel portraying the ever-changing colours of life every day of your existence?

It feels… fortunate or blessed, if you can take out the spiritual aspect of that word. I am a very lucky man to be living in this time and place and to make a living as an artist… There’s actually a thing in the back of my mind that says it’s my responsibility to represent those who never got this opportunity to do something with it. It’s a lot of pressure to represent the other 99% of the world’s population (over the span of time) who didn’t get this chance. At the same time, there’s always a feeling of never hitting the mark or getting over the bar with the work. I talked with a fellow artist that I admire a lot and he said this about being an artist, ‘Imagine what it’s like to be disappointed every day of your life.’ The journey is both motivating and depressing.

As for creative direction, there’s something about painting our time, as long as it is honest, that is very compelling. I see a lot of paintings done these days that aren’t documenting this era like, say, the Ashcan School did, but have a kind of sellability to them or what people think might be sellable. I think a painting of a bustling tire shop is much more interesting than another painting of people under parasols in a cafe. Not that I haven’t painted parasols… just saying.

Long Journey, Painting by Larry Moore
Long Journey

Boats seem to be a recurrent subject of your artwork. Do you find greater enjoyment in painting your muse or sailing them?

Hah! I don’t sail them… too much work. I like painting them because they are hard to get right, like the painting of the human anatomy. Plus there can be a little narrative built in. I’ve always been drawn to the mix of hard angles, complex curves and the softness of the water. It’s one thing to render such a thing from a photo but it’s entirely another trying to get it right on location, the boats move, the sun moves, the wind moves and the rains and bugs wreak havoc. It’s fun because it’s hard.

Waiting for Turandot, Painting by Larry Moore
Waiting for Turandot

You have involved yourself in workshops and lectures for the benefit of young learners. What would be your single most important piece of advice for a young talent?

I love teaching, probably because I had a couple of teachers (as we all have) who’ve made an impression but one in particular said something that made sense (though not at the time). He said, ‘It’s better to be a first-rate you than a second-rate somebody else.’ I don’t really need to say that there is no easy way to become good, but that’s the truth, it’s just a lot of hours of thoughtful and hopefully academic learning toward the end goal. In my classes, artists frequently want to know what the magic colour or brush is, but there isn’t one. It’s development of the mind and training the eye to see and the hand to follow orders.

The thing I’m drawn to by another artist is a unique voice and I could go over the 8 or so elements that make up the voice, but we all know it when we see it. Thomas Hart Benton, Maynard Dixon, Gustav Klimt, John Singer Sargent, Sorolla, John Twachtman, Dean Cornwell, Neo Rauch etc. etc. The list is super long but the point is if you want to stand out, master the basics and head off on your own path.

What do you enjoy reading most?

Favourite book – Hmmmmm. Well, I’ve been reading a lot about physics in the last couple of years. Can’t say they are enjoyable but I do like trying to learn how the universe operates on the grand and small scales. I also really enjoyed ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. Anything by Jon Krakauer. Calvin and Hobbs.

What is your favourite holiday destination?

Favourite holiday destination – Holiday? Oh, I remember what that is. For sure it’s snowboarding in Colorado. Top 3 places are Snowmass, Vail and Aspen. Also Big Sky Montana rocks! Or just a fun day of surfing anywhere there is warm water. Hawaii is supreme.

Picasso said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up’. How pleased do you feel to have kept your love afresh through the seeming familiarity of ‘time’?

Ah well, not to tarnish the romantic image of the artist’s life, but the love kind of comes and goes, it’s like a marriage, sometimes it just works. It’s a bit of a sine wave, sometimes I feel like I’m on top or at least above the base line, and sometimes I’m in the lower portion of the wave. I call it the spin cycle and made a pie chart for my blog to represent the loopy emotional ride of being an artist. BTW, This can all happen in one day. Not surprisingly, many artists related to it.

Spin Cycle, A pie chart to represent the emotional ride of an artist
Spin Cycle

Picasso was talking about something else, he was commenting on how hard it is to keep finding a new/fresh way without the constraints of rules. First, you learn the rules, then you forget them so that you can invent something new, like a child who knows no wrong.

Portrait of Larry Moore

Larry Moore enjoys…

The list of Larry’s favourite music is, ‘Super mixed’ as he shares, ‘Pink Floyd and Beatles are my comfort tunes, but thanks to the youtube and the tiny desk concerts I am now a huge fan of the Avett Brothers, the Civil Wars and Lucius… There is so much going on in the music realm these days… love the folky bent stuff.’ For movie, he would suggest, ‘“Big Night” is a great film, the first “Matrix” I’ve probably seen about 25 times (it’s a guy thing), lots of foreign indies that I can’t remember names of… oh, here’s one, “Incendies”, crazy storyline.’

Larry cannot help being tempted by the creamy, rich flavour of avocado.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Larry Moore