There are some pieces art of that are immediately evocative of a bygone era—in other words, timeless. It’s more than just subject matter. It’s the light, it’s the color palette, it’s the composition; it all seems to be informed and directed by elements from another time. Oil painter Russell Gordon understands that flow of lessons learned and shared long ago, and it is present in every piece he deftly creates. And why wouldn’t he? A student of the venerable Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore, an institution founded on the principles of the Old Masters and committed to passing their lessons on to next generations, Gordon embraced the rigorous discipline offered to him as he honed his own talents.
Really it all started for Gordon as a young boy, who, intrigued by the natural world, fell in love with the very adult avocation of bird watching. A well-worn copy of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” was never far from reach and provided never-ending fascination as he poured over the meticulous detail of the exquisite illustrations. It is not surprising, then, that Gordon would naturally gravitate to the style of realism. Gordon says the sensibility and truthful nature of realism has been familiar to him from an early age. “I have always painted in this style—at least it is what was always in my head, what I was trying to get to, even as a kid.”
His still life vignettes, that seem to capture collisions of an avid naturalist’s academic life—with finches and bluebirds perched on field guides, blueprints and other machinations of a civilized world—transport the viewer to a moment suspended in an Edwardian romance novel.
Growing up in southern Maryland, Gordon’s childhood was an intersection of the natural world of a young boy—birds, woodlands and seaside treasures—and the well-respected world of fine art available at the countless museums in Washington, D.C. “I would stumble into galleries like the National Gallery and other great institutions near Baltimore, and as a kid I was just riveted,” he recalls. “The Rubens, and the Carvaggios, and anything like that, I just loved it. There was a Vermeer also, and any of that realistic, Golden Age era was the stuff that mesmerized me, to the point that I just couldn’t leave the room.”
The masters were more than adequate teachers as well as inspiration for the accomplished painter, whose luminous paintings seem to fluently capture the perfection of what nature has readily made available as an ideal composition.
Gordon, who now calls the northeast corner of upstate New York home, talks about the effect of “Breaking Home Ties,” a painting at the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. “It’s a painting about a father and son at the train station as the son sets off for college,” he explains. “As a younger man I related with the son, but now as a father, the painting has a whole new meaning to me. It shows that any great work of art works on so many levels because people bring so much to it.”