"It is a precious thing that Americans have, and most are unable to see the treasure," muses Harry Orlyk, a tall, lean, intense man. "It's the access that we have - open space, where the eye has the freedom to glance over huge distances."
It's a metaphor for the spirit, he says, and he views himself as a kind of messenger to relay what he sees, and for others to interpret.
He captures "the personality of the day" in the exuberant, lavish application of paint and saturated color; he seems to be able to snatch the very light from the sun and apply it to his canvas. His spring mud is slushy and you can virtually inhale the wet green scent after one of his summer rains; the shadows are cool, and a tangle of weeds in the sunny foreground seems prickly; a single painting can mesmerize longer than Harry took to paint it. He works quickly - typically finishing a painting every day. "There is nothing between the brain and the hand that stops him from realizing the immediate sensation of what he intends to do, and responding to the mysterious prompting of his own heart," says Sweetland.
Brian Sweetland has a temperate hand; while his paintings have the Impressionists' shimmering immediacy, his work has the deliberate underlying architecture of a skilled draftsman.
His brush is light yet confident, and his gentle touch and layers of paint create a luminous opalescence.
He attends to a rusted Farmall tractor, a wind-blasted tree, a fallow field, a cow's bony hip, the sparkle of water on the Mettowee River, the beloved undulations of familiar mountain ranges with equal attention and with the careful precision and sure hand of a true master of fine art.
Neither man idealizes what he sees, whether it is a broken barn or rusted machinery of the working landscape or a sunset; it is certainly not "self-expression" that drives them; the quintessential core of each man has a direct connection to the essence of what he sees.
Orlyk characterizes himself as a "data-gatherer." Sweetland manages to integrate the abstract qualities of a subject with the literal. There seems to be a mutual relationship between both these artists and their environment; it is a spiritual connection that binds one to the other, and it binds one artist to the other as well.
But none of this is rarified or exclusive - on the contrary, anyone who looks upon these works is a welcome, invited participant.
This summer, Sweetland joined Orlyk for a painting sojourn at Taylor Pond in the Adirondacks in Clinton County, where they camped and painted together. Both men, in their sixties, paint every day, and they work out of doors.
While Orlyk may sometimes create from the relative comfort of his van, Sweetland can be seen standing by his easel by rural roadsides in all weathers. It was indeed a rare departure for the two to share a campsite.
"I've never known anyone to be as spiritual, as monk-like as Brian," says Harry Orlyk. "He lived on scraps of food, minimal bedding. When I'd go down to the pond to listen to a baseball game in the evening, Brian would be at work. When I'd wake up in the morning, Brian will have been up for hours, already painting." The two affixed flashlights to the bills of their caps and painted a moonrise as the loons paddled by. Orlyk would work intensely on a single painting, and finish it, while Sweetland would have three paintings going that he'd continually revisit.
Their admiration is mutual.
"Harry is a force of nature. With barely an effort, he is able to maintain his indefatigable energy - he treats the paint with bravura that I would never dare to. He loves gathering the effect of light and season, he responds immediately, and he does something about it right then and there."
Taylor Pond is three miles long and sits in 856 acres. Orlyk usually has the whole place to himself.
He is a passionate preservationist and wishes that more people would use the place in the same way that he does; the campsites are "primitive" (no hookups or showers), and he fervently hopes that the state government will not develop the area. It's a thin line, he acknowledges, that will keep Taylor Pond the way it is: there may come a time when it will need people who know about it, so any threat to its pristine state can be defended from those who may wish to exploit it for recreational purposes that would change it.
Sweetland and Orlyk are historians and environmentalists as well as artists. (Orlyk considers himself something of an archaeologist as well, keeping field notes of artifacts he finds.) While each typically works alone, he said it was "good to have two different forces present in this pristine place Both of us have a continuous need to feed on this stuff."
The two are thinking of celebrating the life of Tom Thompson, a Canadian artist who painted in Algonquin Park in Ontario, by convening a group of artists who share a spiritually-based ethic to preserve nature next summer.
George Van Hook, another distinguished artist who hails from nearby Cambridge, is a renowned artist friend of theirs who may well join them.
"Isn't it amazing that we have three such talents within a 20 mile radius," exclaims Sue Clary of McCartee's Barn and "In the House" Fine Art and Antique Gallery, 23 E. Broadway in Salem. "I am so honored to have their works represented here, and am absolutely delighted to host a reception for them."
The reception will be on Nov. 10 from 2-4 p.m. For more information, contact Sue Clary at 518-854-3857.