Todd Kenyon’s ocean paintings are of the sand, the ocean and the sky—no extraneous shorebirds, boats, colorful umbrellas or evocative footprints. He had been attracted to nature and wildlife growing up in New Jersey, but after moving to Laguna Beach, California, he became completely infatuated with the grandeur and the subtleties of the ocean. “I like being outside. I was drawn to the color and the expansiveness. I thought, ‘Why not paint exactly what this looks like—just as it is,’” says the artist whose works include some paintings that are 6-feet square. “I remember seeing the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in New York. You feel like you’re right there.”
Kenyon takes photos, sometimes of just one wave as it moves along the shore. “Back in the studio I work out how to convey the experience, the sense of drama or serenity. I feel like I get lost in the expansiveness. It’s calming to me,” he explains. “I study the scene and paint its three elements of sand, water and sky and portray the texture of the sand, the foam on the water and the light. With no references other than what’s there, the painting becomes a kind of abstraction. I also work in reverse. I see the painting I want and then I work backward. I apply the thin layers of paint like watercolor. The white you see is actually the canvas.”
The luminosity of his paintings is the result of his thinning down his oils with turpenoid and building up sometimes 20 or 30 thin washes. The turpenoid and the thinness of the layers allow the paint to dry quickly so he can return the next day to continue building up the layers. He then uses a drybrush technique to emulate the textures of sand and foam.
Over time, he began to look for a different way to present the ocean and settled on the circle. “The paintings became more architectural,” he explains, “more sculptural.” Ocean Series 8 is composed of five rows of five circular paintings depicting aspects of one wave.
His latest paintings will be in the exhibition Oceanus at Gallery Henoch in New York, September 9 through October 2. —