Introduction by Ruth E. Fine
Originally appeared in Neil Welliver: PRINTS 1973-1995, published by Down East Books, 1996.


The wilderness is Neil Welliver’s subject--the source of inspiration for his paintings, drawings, and prints. His work encompasses a unity within the dense texture of the natural world, suggesting the tame (or tamable) within the wilderness as well as the wildness within a setting of serenity. One senses that the artist finds his own exploration of the land not only to be a way to make contact with nature’s grandeur, but also a way to embrace it on his own terms, to locate a core set of elements that leads to his personal arena of understanding.

Welliver makes his home in Lincolnville, Maine. The distinctive ruggedness of this northern landscape has attracted artists for generations, and while many painters today come to the area for summer months, Welliver has been a full-time resident of Lincolnville (Maine) for more than twenty-five years. His work in the region continues a visual dialogue central to American art, part of the landscape tradition that was developed in the late nineteenth century by such artists as Albert Pinkham Ryder and Winslow Homer, then continued in the early part of this century by Marsden Hartley and John Marin. These artists tackled pointed firs surrounding deep lakes, waves crashing against jagged rocks along the coast, the drama of brilliant red sunsets and powerful gray storms, the serenity of billowing clouds hovering above rolling fields. It is within this milieu that Neil Welliver’s art must be placed. Homer’s attraction to wildlife is paralleled by Welliver’s to deer, fish and waterfowl. Hartley’s best known subjects are its mountains, and Marin’s the sea. Welliver’s are the woods and the streams.

To make his art, Welliver has found it important to observe nature closely, to work in the landscape, the wind and light and air serving as part of the inspiration, even though the forms themselves often seem generalized rather than meticulously observed. This generalization serves to set up a distancing, a suggestion of universality, rather than specificity, each clump of trees, for example, functioning as an archetype.

Welliver works from places he knows and loves, places of grandeur and intimacy, places of extraordinary natural beauty and power. He returns to the same site repeatedly. In this way the artist comes to know his subjects by immersion, by osmosis; he learns how to seek out the secrets of each place. . .

Welliver’s art is based in great part on memories formed during his long hours of looking at the landscape but also in part on the drawings made on site. These set out the scheme but lack a real sense of finish that is later developed in the prints and paintings. . .