Powerful feelings of nostalgia, hope, and serenity are often evoked by Michael Malm’s oil paintings. Giving visual voice to his faith and the profound joy he experiences through nature’s beauty, Malm’s best works regularly manifest before he even grabs the brush.
Hailing from the gorgeous Cache Valley of northern Utah is accomplished father, husband, son, and painter Michael Malm. Malm’s oil paintings, which are represented by several acclaimed galleries in the United States, have commanded a wide and diverse viewership for their timeless subjects, inner luminance, and spiritual allure.
“I find that my best efforts are usually the result of what happens before I pick up a brush,” the artist says. “Much of the battle and struggle are conquered during the designing and planning stages, when I can make decisions about how to convey a painting’s message.”
That message is often the result of Malm’s emotional reaction to experiences that move him, which can range from the subtle effects of light as it cascades through the trees to the relationship he’s cultivated with God. He writes, “I am always refreshed and amazed by the richness and beauty of nature. I find it important to get outside and just observe.”
The next stages of Malm’s creative process involve making preliminary sketches and employing live models. “When working on narrative or multi-figural pieces, I will generate rough thumbnails for the composition before the models come to experiment with poses,” says Malm. “Once the preliminary work is done, I draw the composition onto the board or canvas with charcoal or paint without a lot of detail, just enough to establish correct proportions and large masses. Achieving harmony in value and color come next, making sure my overall pattern is established.”
The subtle nuances of refinement, detailed work, and immersion within the oil paintings are the final stages of a work’s production, and Malm’s favorite part of the process. He suggests, “This is where the push and pull occurs, a procedure that can take days, weeks, or even months to reach the desired effect. I like to live with my work for a time in the studio, where I can see them with fresh eyes day after day and notice little refinements that need to happen, such as adjusting tone or changing an edge. When the painting has captured that certain feeling I was after, I know it is finished.”
Malm’s memories surrounding the production of “My Little One” (shown at top) make a tantalizing tale of one oil painting’s evolution. He recalls:
“This piece came about with the idea of capturing a certain mother-child relationship. The setting was a local spot near my home that I drive by often, and the season was just as spring was coming on. I worked out the pose as the two interacted naturally. I loved the light and color harmonies that were happening in addition to the gestures of my models. After composing the image in Photoshop, I sketched onto a toned gessoed board with charcoal, after which I began to paint, blocking in with big shapes first and refining as I went. I altered the color of the little girl’s jacket to help harmonize the piece. The original color was a bright purple. Neutralizing the jacket also allowed the red scarf to dominate. The paint was applied using a variety of techniques, incorporating palette knife work with brushwork, dry brush, and some glazing to achieve the surface quality and variety of texture that I love.”
Malm’s surfaces are also important to him for their ability to communicate tactile beauty. “I love to see work that functions on two levels simultaneously to create an effect. The first level is that the work appears naturalistic or representational, the second is abstract, the realization that the representational image is really just a variety of marks, smudges, glazes, and scumbles of paint on a flat surface. When these two things come together, there is something almost magical that happens. I love when a painting looks like a painting — where the hand of the artist is evident, it gives a sense of the heart of the painter.”
Giving visual voice to his own luminous heart appears to be Malm’s specialty, a feature that many will continue to enjoy for years to come.
To see more of his oil paintings, please visit Michael Malm.
This article was written by Andrew Webster and originally featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.