By M. Stephen Doherty

As this artist paints on location in California, Oregon, New Jersey, or New York, she continually edits the elements within the scene, resulting in well-composed records of the life she's observed.

Although Irene Buszko's landscape paintings might at first appear to be straight-forward depictions of scenes she's observed-and occasionally they are-often they're actually imaginary views created through an arduous process of adding and subtract ing visual elements. Buszko a proaches her paintings in the same way that a writer approaches the development of a manuscript. Trees and houses are moved as quickly as paragraphs; colors are revised as easily as sentences; and details are adjusted in the same way that words are exchanged. Her objective is to express her response to nature with a visual language that is uniquely her own.

Buszko's oil paintings capture the universal elements of the environ- ment she's depicting, whether suburban New York, rural New Jersey, remote Oregon, or California's Yosemite National Park. These are the spaces in which we all go about our daily lives-the bus stops, boat landings, jogging paths, and gardens where we spend our time together. They encompass the natural beauty that surrounds the life we share. Buszko has eliminated anything that would make the landscape seem exotic, dated, or clearly recognizable so that everyone who views her pictures can immediately identify with the place.

Almost all of her painting is done on location. "Photographs are totally useless in my way of working," she says, "and, in fact, I find it dangerous to use them because they give too much static information about details and tell nothing about the kind of space and color I'm interested in. I almost always do a prepar tory graphite drawing to help me work out the composition and proportions of a picture, and sometimes I do a small oil sketch (I0" x I4" or I2" x I6"). I then work the canvas at the site. I go out on foot with a French easel that will accommodate a canvas up to 30" in height and as wide as my stamina permits me to haul (I use lightweight stretcher bars); weight is a big consideration.

I carry a palette with paint already laid out and a pack with turpentine, brushes, and a cord to tie the easel to a tree, among other items. One of my largest paintings measures I20" x 28" and is made up of four equal-size panels that I took outdoors to work on one at a time. The completed painting shows a 360-degree view of the space surrounding my easel."

Buszko paints on either sheets of Masonite or wood panels sealed with several coats of rabbitskin glue and primed with gesso and titanium white paint. The artist admits that she carries "far too much paint for someone who works on location" because she doesn't want to be without the one color that will accurately record what she observes. "When I left art school, I was using the palette recommended by my teacher, Gabriel Laderman, but over the years I've added colors that have proven to be useful," she explains.

"Gabriel had us divide the palette into the following arrangement: earth colors (yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber), black, and green going in one direction and cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, English red, and blues going in the other. Because of what I paint, I use several greens (viridian, chrome oxide green, and cadmium green) and several blues (phthalocyanine, ultramarine, co- balt, and cerulean). I have also become dependent on cobalt violet and caput mortuum violet, and I use convenience colors such as Rem- brandt's Naples yellow reddish as well. Some are made by Lefranc & Bourgeois, others by Rembrandt or Winsor & Newton."

When Buszko first goes out on location with a large canvas, she usually has already completed a light charcoal sketch on it based on a drawing. She then tries to cover the whole surface with paint in a three-hour session. "It's advantageous at this early stage to find any problems in the composition and correct them, and I wish I could always do so," she says. "But sometimes what's wrong with a picture becomes clear only after I've invested lots of time looking and painting.

"I work on a picture over several weeks during three-hour painting sessions scheduled at the same time every day so the light is consistent," Buszko goes on to say. "I'll stop for one of three reasons: I have enough information; the time and sunlight have run out; or the season has started to change. The last situation is a particular problem in spring and fall. Sometimes, in a more exotic location, nature intrudes. Rivers rise, leaves and bugs get into the paint, or the weather becomes threatening--twice tornadoes have knocked down trees where I was painting."

When working on location, Buszko prepares herself for what she describes as a "high-energy day." She blocks out plenty of uninterrupted time and makes a point of focusing on only one painting. "Very few settings are really perfect in terms of the balance of forms, the lighting, the flow of space, and the appropriateness of objects. I usually have to spend a good part of the first day determining how I'll resolve the problems inherent in the location I've chosen for my subject," she says. Buszko applies washes of thinned oil color to seal the drawing and cover the bright-white painting surface. "I think better when the white panel isn't blinding me," she says.

"The second stage of work is quite different in that it's done in the studio away from the motif," she continues. "This is when I try to determine what each painting needs. Some require only minor cleanup, while for others it's the moment when, freed from looking at the actual natural configuration, I can remove a tree or add a figure."

Buszko mixes turpentine or odorless thinner with her oil colors during all stages of the painting process and occasionally adds safflower oil in the last stages while painting in the studio. Otherwise, she works with the paint squeezed directly from the tube, using a variety of brushes. "I bring a few bristle brushes with me for painting foliage, scumbling, or softening edges," she explains, "but most of my painting is done with white sable brushes." After a completed work has had sufficient time to dry, Buszko sprays it with an acrylic varnish to unify the finish and add a layer of protection.

She's found that some collectors respond to her work because they have a sense of knowing the location, while others aren't concerned about the identity of her subject matter. "Although my paintings have a different look, I want them to be based on a locale, so it doesn't surprise me that some people respond to the particular appearance of a landscape they know," she says. "The Richmond Hill section of New York, where I grew up and have painted many times, has the look of small-town America, while the landscape of Blairstown, New Jersey, has inspired me to paint dark, wooded, and romantic scenes. The feeling and character of the place are as important as its landmarks."

A collection of Buszko's Richmond Hill paintings were exhibited at New York's Queens Museum of Art in I986, and Janet Schneider, who was then the executive director of the museum and organized the show, wrote that "Buszko's particular gift is to extract meaning from subject matter that would be merely prosaic in other hands. These streets and houses have seen, like the artists, many quiet dramas. The additions and subtractions of time and ownership are recorded on their facades and within their yards. There is a uniqueness here--a kind of quirky individualism. It is a neighborhood grown past its prime, which the artist records with a fondness tempered by objectivity and wit."

Buszko has been an artist in residence at a number of locations, including Yosemite National Park, California (I993); Altos de Chavon, Dominican Republic (I983); Ossanbaw Island, Savannah, Georgia (I979); and Palisades Interstate Park, Bear Mountain, New York (I977). In addition, she's had numerous solo shows and her paintings have been presented in a number of important group exhibitions, including shows at the Artists' Choice Museum, The National Academy of Design, and the Prince Street Gallery, all in New York City. Her work is in many private and corporate collections, among them those of Chemical Bank, Citibank, Simpson, Thatcher & Bartlett, Lloyd's Bank International, and the Bank of New York. She is represented by Tatistcheff & Company in New York City, where she presented a solo exhibition in February of this year.
M. StePhen Doherty is the editor-in-chief of American Artist.
American Artist Magazine, April 1994

Return to top