Donald Archer: Visual Music

Artist Biography

Donald Archer was born in 1945 and grew up in Southern California during the 1940's and 50's---at that time, an area of many orchards, dairy farms and rich agricultural fields. The light and space of California, the monumentality of its landscape, has left an indelible mark on his work. In his youth, his passions were music and the visual arts.

Entering the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1963, Archer chose to pursue the visual arts. He received a BA in art in 1967 and an MFA in painting in 1969.

Leaving the university, Archer taught for ten years, six of those as an instructor in fine art at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Articulating his ideas clarified his direction and led him to devote increasing attention and energy to his own work. In 1979, he resigned his faculty position in order to pursue painting full-time.

In addition to numerous solo and group exhibitions in public museums and commercial galleries, Archer participates in selected fine art festivals along the west coast. He is a member emeritus of THE OAK GROUP, 26 plein-air painters committed to recording and preserving the natural beauty of California.

His work is included in collections, both public and private, throughout the United States and abroad. Donald Archer's paintings have been featured in AMERICAN ARTIST magazine and SOUTHWEST ART magazine as well as six books, THE OAK GROUP: THE FIRST TEN YEARS; RANCHOS: SANTA BARBARA'S LAND GRANT RANCHOS; THE OAK GROUP: TWENTY YEARS 1986-2006; AMERICAN ART COLLECTOR: VOL. 1, BOOK 1; AMERICAN ART COLLECTOR: VOL. 3, BOOK 1; RANCHES & ROLLING HILLS: ART OF WEST MARIN---A LAND IN TRUST.

Visual Music: A statement

My work and approach to painting continue to evolve as my life experience expands.

Though I started as an abstract painter, I focused on very representational painting for a significant part of my career. When I reached 50 (I am now in my 70s), I made a startling discovery: painting had become work rather than play for me. I felt that I had lost the joy and exuberance I experienced creating as I did in my childhood.

This reminded me of a wonderful remark by Picasso: "It takes a long time to become young---It took me four years to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child."

At that point I vowed I would approach painting as play and get my life back.

Throughout my life, music has played an integral part. I approach painting as if I were improvising and composing music, or a dance. I never know where it will lead me. I want to paint my 'self' out of the work, and I know I am on to something when I no longer think of myself as its creator---when it begins to have a life of its own and I become the vehicle through which that life flows.

The 'product' is secondary; it's the process I am most interested in. The painting is a record of that journey.

For me, the subject or motif is a starting point, not an end.

My paintings are meant to be evocative rather than descriptive. I have found that something powerful can be built on something minimal. Regardless of subject, I am always exploring its structure and graphic possibilities.

Painting is a language---like poetry, music, dance, or mathematics---and, of course, all languages are abstract.

I like bold, simple compositional ideas.

Internally I am always exploring new territory, even if I am familiar with the outward subject. My paintings are works in progress. Taken together, they are the record of a trip---an internal adventure. The painting is only finished when the ink on the collector's check is dry.

I want to work with nature---through the flowing, unpredictable materials of paint and process---to create a living, tangible, spiritual presence. I want the painting to be the reality---not a mimic, illusion, or copy of something other than it is.

Colors are the expressive keys which set the painting's mood.

Everything needn't be spelt out; I see ambiguity as a positive value: the viewer, bringing to the painting his/her own experience, participates along with me in the creative process and gives the painting meaning. It inspires because it is open-ended.

I want the process of painting, the overpainting of previous attempts and false starts, to be apparent. This creates a patina---a sense of weight, substance, and age---like a peeling wall or the landscape itself. There are no mistakes, only evolution and discovery.

Beautiful or ugly, masterly or clumsy, I care only that the painting has life.