Lorwen C. Nagle
Contemporary Impressionist – Symbolist Paintings

Symbolism vs. Impressionism Artwork

At the turn of the 20th century, symbolism was associated with a literary movement and many of the artists associated their visual symbols with literary symbols or stories. Many art historians ignored this group of artist because they did not make any breakthroughs in style. At that time, symbolist artist were grouped with the post-impressionist movements. However, symbolism emerged around the same time as impressionism so inaccurate to call it “post” impressionism.


Impressionist painters interpreted light and expressed it with color in a very vivid way. They were credited with bringing color, beauty and joy to everyday scenes. During the impressionist movement, artists expressed skin tones with a new more colorful palette as well. For example, a woman’s cheeks maybe painted green or blue rather than flesh-colored tones. A white blouse maybe anything but white. However, it reads as “white”.


I describe my art style as impressionistic because, while painting, I am attempting to translate nature as it appears directly in my awareness. For example, in my painting “Old Country Door”, there is a splash of vivid colors that are immediately perceived. There is zero distance between that which is looking and the colors themselves. The sensations I experience during painting are delivered to the viewer as pure awareness not as “a house”, “shadows”, “windows”, etc.


In other words, I focus on the negative spaces and the hard and soft edges of the objects in front of me. Nature stops looking like a separate thing. Instead, it is seen to be an inseparable aspect of the entire “presently appearing” seamless experience of life. I have complete trust in the clarity of awareness and have based my artistic expression on this premise.


Symbolist painters were similar to the Impressionist painters because they used expressive colors and fluid brushwork. At times both schools used unmodulated color and flat, often abstracted, forms and shapes. However, the similarities stop there. The symbolist painters were drawn to express their flights from reality, their dreams, and their mental conceptions of life. As a group, they did not have a common style.


There is one group of painters that I believe strongly emphasize an impressionist-symbolist painting style like mine. The Canadian artists of the 20th century, called the Group of Seven (inspired by wilderness paintings of Tom Thomson), were strongly influenced by Impressionism. They created bold, vividly-colored canvases, and infused elements of the landscape with tremendous symbolic meaning.


The symbolism in my paintings is subtle and deals mainly with composition and design. I like to create a tension in my paintings mirroring what I see as “the psychic life of the 21st century.” In my psychotherapeutic practice, tension is uncomfortable to most clients. However, tension gets things moving, activates and communicates the source of the tension.

Visual artwork is replete with models for transforming pain and difficulties into soulful expressions of relief. Owning artwork that speaks to your soul affirms life for you, and for your loved ones around you. Placing your souls needs above all other needs is a way we nourish and support our lives.