Artist Profile

Douglas Francois Girard

For Palmer artist Douglas François Girard, painting is like a conversation. Whether it’s a feeling, the way the sunlight hits the mountains, or how the color of a bird’s feathers plays off the surrounding landscape, Douglas paints to share how he sees the world and invites viewers to explore it with him.

“Looking at the landscape, there’s a feeling that overcomes me, and I want to communicate that to the viewer,” he says. “Maybe you’ll want to walk through that landscape, or it gives you a spiritual feeling. My goal is to make a beautiful object that’s kind of a poetic harmony of color and composition that’ll suck you in and make you want to explore.”

That desire springs from Douglas’ belief that the modern world has disconnected many people from the beauty of our surroundings and the almost spiritual experience that accompanies being part of the natural world.

“People are moving too fast, and I think they need to slow down and see what their place is in the world,” he explains. “I think people have lost a sense of mystery about the world; I think bringing that back would be a good thing.”

Douglas has always been drawn to the world’s mysteries. His father was a physicist, and for years Douglas’ dream was to follow in those scientific footsteps and become an astronomer. That changed at age 13 when an art class he took with his mother inspired him to enroll in a specialized arts high school.

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he says. “It was small, only 16 to 18 students, and you spent half the day doing art, learning about drawing, graphic design and art history.”

He enrolled in the Chapman College Art Center in California after high school and planned to go into commercial advertising as an airbrush artist. But after taking some fine art courses, he once again found his focus shifting.

“I kind of got excited about painting landscapes and figures for the joy of painting,” he says. “There’s an intellectual side of (painting) where it becomes a game of design and balance and composition. That was more fascinating than painting a jar of pineapples for some company.”

Looking back, he laughs at his 20-year-old self for thinking that a career as a fine arts painter over one in commercial advertising was a smart financial decision.

“I was just exuberantly young and thought I could do it,” he says. “And I couldn’t. It was a struggle.”

He taught at a small art school and painted in his off hours; when he moved to Alaska, he worked at a local design company and as a freelance illustrator. In his spare time, he taught himself to paint in a more classical style.

“That’s when my Alaska landscapes kind of took off, when I rejected some of those modernist impulses and became a little more realistic, but still painterly,” he says. “I build up the painting more slowly and think more, and I focused on trying to capture the light and color. It was just a different emphasis.”

His paintings are realistic but not photographic, playing with color and the contrast the sunlight creates on an image, giving the design a decorative quality. It’s a style most evident in his bird paintings. Despite the many hours he spent outdoors painting and photographing, Douglas says he paid little attention to birds until his wife, Robin, made him take notice.

“Something clicked, and this whole new world was out there that I was missing, this whole other layer of life going on in the trees that I was oblivious to,” he says.

Inspired by Italian Renaissance paintings, Douglas paints the birds in silhouette against the Alaska landscape, its colors harmonizing with the background. The bird boxes – copies of his acrylic paintings adhered to a decorative wooden block and then varnished – came almost a decade later with a collection of the six most common Alaskan birds; Douglas says he enjoys seeing non-birders get excited about the pieces. Inspiring people to take a moment to appreciate nature and its beauty is the goal, he says.

“I’d like it if people realized that beauty is all around,” he says. “Beauty is so important in our lives because there’s so much that’s ugly out there that gets people depressed. Beauty can uplift people, and that brings me joy.”

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