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at Valley House Gallery
by Todd Camplin

It has been too long since I have managed to get up to Valley House Gallery, just north of I35.
I don’t know why, because just about every show has something that gets me thinking. Even
though the summer heat was beating down, I still had to walk their sculpture garden. But I
wasn’t really there for the garden. What attracted me were the paintings by Jim Stoker.
If you have read much by me, you know that landscape art isn’t a typical subject I
tackle, mostly because the traditional styles tend to lack inventiveness and innovation.
I can appreciate a great landscape by the masters, because in context, they were
doing  something emotionally interesting and intellectually stimulating for the time
the artworks were made. It seems few today can capture that same expression
without feeling nostalgic or derivative. I believe Jim Stoker manages to create
landscape paintings, while keeping the work fresh and lively.

Stoker and his wife are passionate about hiking and seeing nature. It is clear to me, through his
paintings, that he is not a casual observer in nature, but rather someone that wants to capture
the essence of his experience of nature. Nature is not clean, clear, and static, but rather messy,
speckled, and filled with movement. Stoker gives us exaggerated colors, wild color contrasts,
and copious amounts of pattern to make the paintings feel a little unreal. Yet, Stoker makes
the unreal feel essential and I can image that maybe if you calculate someone’s emotions
in that moment in nature you might get something similar to these paintings.
Sumac During Fall, 2015
oil on linen
Ocotillo After the Rain, Big Bend Area, 2016
oil on linen
Part of his success is process. Stoker starts off spreading confetti paper over a primed
canvas. When I first learned that he used cut paper, I of course thought of Matisse,
but that momentary thought left me when I also learned he dropped paints over
the canvas, let the surface dry, and finally removed the paper. This left speckles of
white areas. When anyone drips paint, Jackson Pollock always comes to my mind,
but Stoker seems to spread out his paint systematically  making an even distribution.
Instead of fractal dance gestures, Stoker’s work looks more akin to a Pointillist. Just
like a Seurat painting, the eye does the blending of colors, rather than the paint.
However, Stoker isn’t like Seurat, because he isn’t using a single small brush to dot
up his painting. What is great about Stoker is that you might be reminded of these
masters, but he avoids a direct comparison. Now that the background is complete,
he paints a loose grouping of plants and/or rocks. Look at Guadalupe River: Clammy
Weed Wildflowers Gone to Seed, this work distributes rocks, small green plants, and
three red bushes in seemingly perfect harmony. Many of these paintings have just
the right amount of balance and pattern to unify the piece into a harmonious symphony
of color and shape.  
Granite Spiderworts, Top of Enchanted Rock, 2015
oil on linen
This is the last weekend for Jim Stoker, so go see this show of amazing paintings. You will be wowed
by his process and happy to see an artist make landscape and nature painting in particular,
Granite Spiderworts, Prickly Pear Cactus, 2016