Kirk Larsen’s passion for combining nature and painting
When Kirk Larsen participated in the 11th Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art back in September, it was an experience that went far deeper than creating 18 paintings in 10 days. This renowned invitation-only en plein air (outside on location) competition found him testing his mettle against 23 hand-selected artists. In addition to having to haul between 40 to 50 frames and canvases, food, clothing and gear to cover all weather conditions, the Hicksville resident drove solo for the entire 5,800-mile trip. And this was after he was accepted following his submission of a November 2018 piece of a full moon over the canyon in cold and windy conditions as part of the entry process. Having been accepted into this competition, Larsen admits that being creative in this particular kind of environment poses its own set of unique challenges.
“When we paint there, we paint outdoors. We’re not allowed to use photography, so it’s all by eye and in the moment. Painting a landscape like the Grand Canyon defies some of the normal axioms of art,” he explained. “There’s a general rule that warm colors come toward you and cool colors recede. Darks are closer and lights recede. Because of the unique topography and geology of the Grand Canyon, you can have a hole in the clouds highlighting a very bright yellow or red mesa that’s 14 or 15 miles away whose colors will be brighter than what’s in the foreground. It makes it very important that the artist observes the atmosphere and sense of place more acutely than other landscapes.”
He added, “The first few days at the canyon, winds were in excess of 25 miles per hour. So setting up your easel near the edge of a cliff where the drop-off is one mile to the bottom has some inherent challenges as well. The light in the canyon shifts a little faster than in most places, putting a lot of demands on observation and accuracy. It challenges an artist’s skills to the maximum.”
Born in Perth Amboy, NJ, Larsen has been drawing and sketching since he was a child, when his parents gifted him with an oil paint set when he was 7 years old. He honed his skills at Hicksville High School (“I took every single art class offered and retired their entire retinue of classes”), before getting a degree in illustration at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Larsen later went on to become a professor at the Parsons New School University School of Design Strategies and an associate of The School of Fashion Design. As someone with a voracious appetite for fine art, the former Garden Stater has earned upwards of 162 awards for painting in oils, acrylic, watercolors, gouache, drawing, colored pencil, mixed media, pen and ink, photography and sculpture—for portraits, still life, landscapes and abstraction. In addition, the SAG-AFTRA card-carrying actor (he appeared as Dead Zed in Men in Black III), is an avid sailor and has a love of the outdoors, making his affinity for the en plein air discipline that much more of a no-brainer. It’s led him to travel far to a number of regional competitions ranging from Bucks County, PA, Grand Traverse, MI and Cape Ann in northeastern Massachusetts to Nova Scotia and the Solomon Islands.
“I’ve always had a passion for being outdoors and for painting. Plein air combines two of the greatest things in the world—being outdoors and painting,” he said. “The plein air competitions I enter are juried, so you have artists from all around the world attempting to get into these events. What I love about them is the camaraderie—the artists are good friends and support each other. You meet new people at new places. And it pushes me to dig deeper and perpetually increase my level of skill and craft.
In the end, Larsen derived a great degree of satisfaction from being part of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, an experience he hopes to repeat.
“At the end of the week, I earned the respect of some of the most accomplished and established western artists. They complimented me and said I really captured the atmosphere and the emotional content of being there. Another highlight was the joy that my art brought to the people who purchased it—that I touched them deeply and emotionally as well,” he said. “Something that’s really important to me is that this is a way that, as an artist, I also get to give back. The proceeds from this exhibition go to the Grand Canyon Conservancy, which is a nonprofit. The monies raised from this specific exhibition go to the future creation of a permanent exhibition space for the Grand Canyon’s art collection, which is mostly housed and stored because they don’t have a permanent exhibition hall.”
Visit www.grandcanyon.org/get-involved/events/celebration-of-art-2019/online-gallery-2019/kirk-larsen/ to view Kirk Larsen’s work at the Grand Canyon. Visit www.kirklarsenfineart.com to learn more about Kirk Larsen.