By Ken Lutes
Just go throw some paint on a canvas.”
Those words, spoken by Jeanette Oxelson to husband Mark Eirhart, helped get him started painting more than a decade ago.
“I’m an abstract painter – a non-objective painter, meaning that I don’t work from a model or a reference,” said Eirhart.
He plays with paint, strictly making marks with his brush until an image starts to form through the textures and colors he applies.
“Sometimes I play for a long time.”
“Unlike Mark, I need a reference,” Oxelson said. “I can’t just paint what’s in my head. When I paint a portrait, I work from a photograph – I don’t want people to pose for me.”
Oxelson prefers to work with oil paints; Eirhart uses acrylics and pastels. He sometimes incorporates collage into his paintings: pieces from newspapers, magazines or photographs that get glued to his canvas by brushing on a translucent acrylic gel medium.
”I’ll chop them up so you can’t really tell what it is.”
Having worked for nine years in customer service for Dish Network, Eirhart believes that working on the phone may have had an effect on the dark moods of his paintings.
“I’d get loaded with negative stuff from people on the phone, and that had a profound effect on me – hey, I’m sensitive! That may be part of the reason why my paintings are mostly strange and dark.”
“Right now, I’m kind of in flux,“ said Oxelson. She’s in the process of remodeling a room in their home that will be a new studio space for herself.
“I haven’t done any [art] for a while, but I’m getting back into it. When I was painting, what I liked best were portraits.”
Her portraits are truly realistic. One portrait of her young daughter in a highchair was made referencing a black and white photo. She added a tiny bit of color to it to make it look like a tinted photo of the 1930s.
Oxelson has always been keen on detail. When she was nine, she took apart her father’s watch, lining up all the parts in the order she’d dissembled them. He came home from work and told her, “That’s a new watch; you’d better put it back together and it better work.” She did and it did.
Her penchant for detail was further enhanced by her training at an engineering drafting school, in which she enrolled after a divorce from her first husband. There, she put to work her attention for fine detail and received an associate’s degree. Her interest in painting was sparked while in a graphic design class.
“When it comes to painting, I had no formal training, but drafting gave me a good eye for space.”
She wants to do some landscapes, and some of Eirhart’s approach could be rubbing off on her.
“I can be too detailed and exacting; I feel I need to loosen up to do some landscapes,” she said.
As a Libra, Eirhart says he keeps weighing whether a piece is done.
“Sometimes I have to ask Jeanette what she thinks of a painting, because otherwise I’ll just keep going. I need to learn when to stop and not over-analyze.
In the fall of 2007, Eirhart took “Best of Show” with the Mountainside Art Guild at the Foothills Art Gallery in Golden – his very first show.
“Now, I’m being encouraged by everybody to go big, because it’s important for an abstract artist to paint large.”
He feels challenged by the belief that he can succeed because he’s most comfortable painting on a 16-by-20-inch canvas; he’s now considering a minimum size of 30 by 40 inches and says he’ll focus on his strengths of composition and contrast.
Being in a comfortable environment and having the physical space to work in is number one with both artists. Their previous house in northwest Denver was costly to maintain and the neighborhood environment was distracting, Oxelson said. Moving to their home in Wheat Ridge is a better emotional and psychological environment for both artists, according to Eirhart.
“It has an almost country feel. We have great neighbors, and we’re not struggling against where we live.”
Oxelson added, “I want to make my new studio a place where if I want to knit, I can work on that; if I want to paint, it’s all there and I don’t have to put it away. I work on furniture, too. I like to take old furniture and make something really cool out of it. When an idea hits you, you just want to go do it, so having the physical space is really important.”
Music is another aspect of their creative talent. In high school, Oxelson wanted to go into musical theater. That didn’t work out, but later on she sang for about 10 years in a Sweet Adelines barbershop quartet and chorus; when she left that organization, her quartet was ranked second internationally.
For a few years during the early 2000s, Oxelson and Eirhart performed as a singing duo that incorporated Eirhart’s original songs and Oxelson’s harmonies. That effort culminated in a professionally produced CD of their music. They’re both proud of that achievement. Oxelson looks forward to the day when they will perform again, but the focus for now is on their art.