See the Great Outdoors in a New Light with these Lush, Photorealistic Waterscapes

On his shimmering photorealistic canvases, David Kessler is wholly committed to capturing the simple yet awe-inspiring grandeur of the great outdoors. This type of ardent enthusiasm for the beauty of American scenery is a common thread throughout the history of American art. But whereas work by landscape painters like Thomas Cole (1801–1848) tended to be idealistic—with puffy white clouds, perfect blue skies, and sunbeams falling just so onto the water—Kessler approaches his scenery with a more complex vision.

Shifting Waterscapes,” Kessler’s new exhibition at Bentley Gallery in Phoenix, features 12 new paintings that, at first glance, don’t even look like paintings. Step into the gallery and you might think you’re in a photography exhibition. Take a closer look, however, and you’ll see see there’s surprising depth to these works; they are indeed paintings, rendered in acrylic on brushed aluminum. Some, like Evening Lotus (2013), lean toward classic compositions. Others, like Clearwater Shimmer or Rhythm Splendor (both 2016), are nearly abstract. Only upon closer inspection do natural forms appear—rocks, leaves, ripples of water, etc.

In depicting these organic forms, Kessler’s paintings reveal nature in flux: water flowing, leaves swaying, branches bending. He achieves the impressive photorealistic effect using wire brushes, the smooth surface of aluminum, and a technique he has been honing for decades.

While his forebears, including Cole and the Hudson River School, opted for high drama and idealistic perfection on the American landscape, Kessler takes a softer, albeit brighter, approach. Despite flashes of neon and cerulean, his waterscapes are quiet and delicate, as if they’ll change with a gentle breeze.


Bridget Gleeson


David Kessler: Shifting Waterscapes” is on view at Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, Mar. 4–31, 2016.

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