Cascade Lake, High Sierras, California
John Modesitt, (b. 1955)
Oil on Canvas
20″ x 24″

John Modesitt is part of a new wave of California Impressionists who paint in the style of Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, and Maurice Braun.  Like these early masters, Modesitt paints what he feels about nature and translates his emotional and spiritual experiences into rhythmic color compositions on canvas. “Before I start a painting I ask myself what am I trying to say.  This gives me a clear understanding of where I am going and how I will get there.”  Once a clear message has been established John creates a thumbnail sketch. “I paint what I see, but, I compose what I feel by refining the natural composition. This may mean adding, deleting or moving objects in order to build a natural rhythm into the painting.” 

Modesitt and his wife, Toshiko and their daughter Emily, live part of the year in California close to the San Diego foothills, which are the subject of many of his paintings.  Their second home is on 40 acres of land at Griselles in the Burgundy District about four hours south of Paris.  Whether in California or France, Modesitt is up early in the mornings and outside with his easel and canvas for plein-air* painting.  In California, he often travels to the deserts or the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which have been the content of some of his most recent works. “Mountains and seascapes are my favorite subjects.  When I am searching for a location, I go beyond the developed areas to places where I can see nature 360 degrees around me.  No houses, highways or commercial developments. Sometimes I spend days searching for a location to paint.” 

He is a purist in every aspect of his art from composition, color and technique to the paint and canvas materials that he uses.  For example, all of his pigments are hand ground to a formula and consistency that matches the palette of the early California impressionists.  He prepares his canvases (cotton or linen) by using a lead-based primer or Gesso*.  He then coats the surface with an archival safe varnish to assure that his artwork will last for many generations to come. Once primed the canvases are tinted to give them warmth and depth. “I am big on surface quality. Up close I want my paintings to have a rich surface of pigment handling, and as you move away into the distance color and composition give the subject a sense of rhythm and life. 

I don’t get attached to any formula, it’s dangerous.  However, I generally paint from the shade into the light to divide planes in the composition and to give drama and depth to the subject. I have a reverence for all objects in the painting. Everything becomes essential. The details in distant mountains are as important as the center of interest which is the reason for the painting.” 

Modesitt plots out his compositions in a medium tone line with a #2 round hog hair brush and switches to larger flats to block in the darkest tonal areas. “Each painting is an unraveling truth. I usually start with the areas that inspire me the most and then work around the canvas adding shadow and highlights first and then progressively adding more and more detail until the painting is complete.” 

Modesitt started painting at the age of thirteen. “My father’s poster collection of French Impressionist paintings were my initial inspiration to paint and draw. Monet was my favorite, I knew even then that painting would be my life’s work.” 

Although, oil painting is his medium of choice, he also works in glass and watercolor, and has earned a number of prestigious commissions for his glass sculptures from clients such as the Joffrey School of Ballet and producers of the Broadway show Cats

He studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago* and the Metropolitan Museum of Art*, and traveled extensively throughout the world in search of new inspiration for his paintings. 

His works are collected in both hemispheres from the Dali Lama in Tibet to art collectors in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Mr. Modesitt has exhibited his works in one-man and group shows in Chicago, New York, Tokyo and many other national and international venues.  He continually pushes the limits of his talent in his never ending search for perfection. 

Eclectic Art and Objects Gallery, reflects information provided by the artist January 2001.
B Eric Rhoads, ‘John Modesitt’, Plein-Air Magazine, October 2004.