During the Pandemic: A Conversation with John Traynor

Pictured: John Traynor

Written by: Francesca Sinnott

Dancing Princesses, oil on linen,  36” x 36”

My conversation with Copley Master John Traynor, takes place the old fashioned way, by telephone.  And as the conversation evolves, I realize how fitting this is because of John’s story. His voice reveals an artist who is as modest as he is accomplished, having completed and sold over 5,000 oil paintings during his 35-year career. Self described as an American Impressionist, one does not realize the heft of these words until one has the privilege of viewing his stunning masterpieces.  John’s paintings are bright and vibrant, and use texture, light and broken color in a way that gives the viewer enough of a glimpse in to a scene, to make one want to remain there. John joined Co|So 30 years ago and was in the Fresh Paint auction the year after he joined. “I painted a 3’x4’ oil on linen of my wife in the public gardens over a 5 hour period and received the highest auction bid”. Co|So gave me the opportunity to show my work and receive awards early on in my career. John plans to enter this painting below in this year’s live virtual Fresh Paint Auction on September 17th

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Esplanade, Boston, oil on linen, 16” x 20”

During the pandemic John has continued to paint a lot. The fourteen galleries, where he regularly shows throughout the year, shut their physical doors by the end of March.  His solo show at the Ella W. Richardson Fine Art Gallery in Charleston South Carolina went virtual. A scheduled trip to Ireland to paint pub scenes and landscapes was cancelled.  Several commissions were cancelled.  But that did not affect him as galleries went online and also continued to sell his work directly to clients.  John’s easygoing nature comes through when he reveals, “ I did a lot of work for these shows, and I’ve had to put many things off, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches”.

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Happy Hour, Leon's, Charleston, oil on linen, 30” x 40”

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Impressions of Charleston, oil on linen, 30” x 40”

John knew he wanted to be a fine artist at a young age. In 1982 he graduated from Paier College of Art, an offshoot of Yale, where he trained under Deane Keller (Gran Prix de Rome and Monuments Men officer, WW2). At Paier, John studied still life and portraiture and the ways of the Flemish and Dutch masters in the theories of light, shade, perspective, color and composition. John’s landscape painting was greatly influenced by teacher Frank Herbert Mason with whom he took summer classes in Vermont, and with whom he continued training after Paier at the Art Student’s League in New York.  While in Vermont, he also studied with Carroll N. Jones Jr.  He also cites as influences:  Frans Hals, Joaquin Sorolla, Egar Payne, John Singer Sargent, George Inness, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Vincent van Gogh, and Frederick Mulhaupt.

I have been fortunate to have “always painted for myself and been able to make a living from that, selling a lot of what I have painted from a young age. The commissions have also been a good source of income.  As my prices have gotten higher, I’ve had to think more about what I want to say and make a visual statement".

John works from his large studio attached to his home in New Hampshire. An outdoor painter, John has over 15 perennial gardens that surround his home and where he paints in season.

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Flowers in the Parlor, oil on linen, 24”x20”

However, this pandemic summer John has simply painted what he sees when he feels like it.  He admits that the self-imposed isolation of the pandemic has not felt restrictive. “It helps that there have been few Covid-19 cases in New Hampshire”. I have been able to “take a step back and look at things with a fresh eye”. He describes how he and his wife, Liz have taken on a variety of home projects “including the building of a chicken coop which made him think of the children’s story, ‘Chicken Little’” and inspired a painting.

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Chicken Little, oil on panel, 12”x14”

John enjoys working with oil paint “because it has a lot of body to it, and it allows you to paint thickly and to glaze”. I use a “drying agent to allow me to layer” and I love how “durable” oils are. He explains to me how he achieves “broken color” in his work by building up layers of different colors, allowing the first layers to be exposed. “When I paint, I look at the work as a compositional challenge. I get a feeling from the scene that I try to capture. This is not a conscious event I can express in words; it just happens pictorially. There are times when I am experiencing difficult things in my life, and later on, one may notice that in my paintings.”

With his landscapes, John typically creates two to three 9”x12” studies, from which he creates much larger 36”x48” canvases. “I am fond of natural light, so I paint early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is low to capture that light source in my paintings”. I strive to achieve a “feeling” in my work: it might be a mood from a moment or it might be an individual’s personality.

“I am always trying to get to the next level in my art, improve upon something, create change. It keeps me interested in the work”. For example, I have experimented with the contrasts between color and texture. I have added air to my paintings to make them more atmospheric, and get away from the more traditional impressionist style.

John’s advice to young people: “everyone has their one path but if this is really what you want to do, focus on it and improve upon it and take a chance”. Get yourself in front of people “in outdoor shows or wherever you can gain exposure” and “join organizations like Co|So” that will expose you to other artists and new audiences.