Don Demers is at the point in his career where he can explore the most subtle and meaningful approaches to marine art and more, having mastered technique. Read more below.
The following is part of a series featuring a leader in the art community who joined us on the faculty of the 10th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo. Don is also featured in the PaintTube.tv video workshop, “Mastering a Nautical Scene.”
Don Demers on Redefining Beauty
By Bob Bahr
“I believe in beauty, but that means something different for everyone,” Don Demers says. “Proportion, chromatic interaction, line, shape — they all have this propensity to host beauty. We all know what beauty is, but we may not be able to articulate it. And I lost interest in pretty pictures a long time ago. I’m not opposed to putting an oil tank or a dumpster in a painting. Art has a power to elevate prosaic elements to a higher level. Something doesn’t need to be stereotypically beautiful throughout. A lot of books have disturbing things that wake up something within us. If you go to a movie that isn’t Disney, there will be conflict in it.”
He continues, “I like being in the beauty business. But I’m using the term ‘beauty’ in a bigger context. It’s about paying attention. Painting is not an art; it is a craft. If you’re given the ability to capture one of the moments when you feel most alive in the world and you can be in the present, the painting is better. People will say, ‘Boy, he really captured it!’ And we do. We artists really do capture something — something outside the linear frame of experience. That is what I feel mostly about what I do. I used to fear that I was relegated only to the walls of people who could afford art and decorate their houses. Now it is about more than that.”
In other words, Demers is at the point in his career where he can explore the most subtle and meaningful approaches to art, having mastered technique. It’s the place at which we all hope to arrive. He is clear-eyed about his journey and his current adventure.
“The first and obvious thing an artist must do is to study the how and the why of art,” says Demers. “Every one of us — to a considerable degree, and depending on how developed our skill set — spends many, many years obsessed with the how. Frustration, curiosity, and excitement all surround the how. Coupled with that, you have a lot of external motives outside of your own internal truth when embarking on a career in art. You say to yourself, ‘I hope they like this painting,’ ‘I think it may sell’ — commercial motives. The fact is, to pursue painting professionally, the moment you put a frame on it, you have commercialized it, and that has a lot of implications.”
The skill set Demers needed to become a competent and successful marine painter was enormous. He had to understand the structure of each vessel and its history, as well as its relationship with the natural world, which involved hydrodynamics, physics, meteorology, and other disciplines. “It was tremendously interesting to me to wade through all that,” Demers says.
“But I was taking my skills and dedicating all of it to a subject instead of myself. Marine art brings a host of other people into the story of the painting. I’ve loved the art form my entire life, but you are telling a story outside of yourself when you paint marine art. I want to be a poet, not a reporter.”