Radnor Lake’s Peaceful Attraction for a Nashville Painter
by Marie K. Thompson, Member, Chestnut Group Marketing Committee
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond
Thoreau wanted to get the most from his life by determining what was really important, and he did that by removing himself somewhat from the normal life of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1840s. To escape life’s pressures, many teenagers use different escape routes, sometimes dangerous ones.
For Chestnut Group artist, Michael Poindexter, however, his love of nature directed his teenage escape from the social upheaval of the late 60s toward the woods surrounding Radnor Lake.
“The peacefulness and solitude always refreshed my energy to take on the world I was trying to understand,” Poindexter says. “I knew every inch of land within that area and could have camped for days with no one ever suspecting I was there. I could spend the entire day walking in the woods and not see another person.”
The young would-be painter quickly considered Radnor “his” park and he knew it better than anyone else. In the late 60s, Radnor was more of a “cut-through” between Granny White Pike and Franklin Road than an actual park for the general public. The teenager rarely saw anyone in the parts he frequented for exercise and solitude.
Today the Yale University School of Art and Memphis College of Art-trained artist frequents Radnor not only to enjoy nature but also to capture the natural beauty of the place in oil on his canvases.
Poindexter found out early that he wanted to be an artist. “My first influence came from a book of Leonardo DaVinci’s drawings borrowed from my church’s library,” he says. “I knew then what an artist was and I wanted to be one. I started private painting lessons at age 9. My goal was to live in New York City and be an artist.”
After graduate school he moved to New York in 1981 and maintained a storefront studio in Brooklyn, worked to hone his professional skills and sought gallery representation. “I quickly learned that success in the New York art world depended on many factors other than the quality and integrity of my work,” Poindexter says. “At that time the ‘scene’ required going down a path from which many did not survive. I was not willing to sacrifice my life for the chance of achieving artist celebrity. I quickly became disillusioned with the art world in general and modern/abstract art in particular.”
Like many other artists, Poindexter had to turn to other skills to support his studio; he worked as a carpenter for a company doing residential rehab construction. This proved to be advantageous to him because he met architects and was hired as an assistant in several architecture and interior design offices. Most NYC architects are trained in theory but not in practice so Poindexter exploited his knowledge as a builder. He became a project architect for 10 years and qualified for licensure in New York. The pull of Nashville and Radnor must have been strong for he moved back to his hometown in 1996 and worked as an architectural project manager for several companies until the economic collapse affected his architectural career in 2009.
The year 2012 was a turning point for Poindexter; thankfully for the art world, he began painting again. This time he was inspired to paint landscapes after seeing the work of fellow artists, Kevin Menck and Jason Saunders. In his words, “I am inspired by their landscape paintings because they have what I consider the salient qualifiers of art—composed of permanent materials, possess a mastery of form and meaningful content, and has an obvious relationship to art history.”
He finds landscape painting the most enjoyable because successes in that genre are hard fought but yet so proudly won when they are achieved. His early love of Radnor is being recaptured in his recent paintings at “his” favorite park.
Poindexter is very honest about his painting techniques. “I work from photo references a lot and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” he says. “To me it is just another method of recording what I see as a reference to what the final painting will look like. I don’t copy photographs nor paint photo-realistically. I’ve studied principles of composition and believe that a good painting starts with two or three simple shapes of contrasting value. I always look for that first.”
This artist understands well the challenges of plein air painting. “Absolute fidelity to the scene is impossible because of the passage of time. You can match just right that hue of a patch of sunlight, but it is gone from the scene instantly. Painting landscape from life is like a slow motion transformation of the scene in time. The result is not a copy of nature but rather more a feeling of what it was like to be there at that time.”
As do many contemporary landscape painters, Poindexter has an affinity for the historical impressionist painters. In his case, he looks to the American Impressionists and considers his work distinctly American. “The American Impressionists were known for their representation of a ‘place’ in time. I want my paintings of Radnor Lake to be the spark that ignites the memory of that place, at that time. When that happens, I know that I have won the battle.”
To learn more about Michael Poindexter and his work, you may check out his page at chestnutgroup.org/members/michael-poindexter and facebook.com/MichaelPoindexterFineArt. He is also on LinkedIn.com. You may also find his work at the various Chestnut Group shows, especially the Friends of Radnor Lake Show, Walter Criley Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN, November 6-8, 2015, and other local art shows including St. Matthew Church and School, Franklin, TN, November 14-15, 2015 and the Martin Masters Art Show, Brentwood, TN, November 13-14, 2015.