Art in Focus: Drawing from Poulaphouca No 3 by Sam Reveles

The Texan has likened his accretive process to the growth of lichen or fungus

What is it?
Drawing from Poulaphouca No 3 is a coloured drawing/painting by Sam Reveles.

How was it done?
Reveles doesn't work from preparatory sketches, and he is not a plein air artist who works out in the landscape, yet in Wicklow, in his studio, he is sort of in the landscape, looking out over a lake, across fields and towards the high ground and upwards to the sky. It all seeps in, not least into his palette, which reflects the detail of his surroundings and has changed greatly over time. Each work is in a sense a drawing, in that everything happens on the surface in a continuous process of lines and mark-making. He has said that he sees each piece through from beginning to end – working on several pieces at once just doesn't work for him.

And each work is not a representation of a specific landscape. His intricate, mosaic-like compositions suggest a linear underpinning but it is not clear-cut. He works with gouache, while his larger works are made first with acrylic and then, when he feels the shift is appropriate, oil. It’s an accretive process he likened, in response to a questioner, to the growth of lichen or fungus. There’s also, he noted, a continual negotiation between positive and negative space. So the eventual image has a curiously lively, energetically poised quality. He has noted that he is essentially interested in “the energy of a place”, as opposed to, say, its appearance.

Where can I see it?
Reveles's exhibition, Poulaphouca: New Paintings & Works on Paper, is at the Butler Gallery, The Castle, Kilkenny, until May 12th (


Is it a typical work by the artist?
Typical in that it is a recognisable moment in the development of his work. Reveles is from El Paso in Texas, and one can presume that the wide open spaces and skies of Texas, specifically the west Texas desert, inform his approach to landscape. But, consciously or not, other influences are evident. One is all-over painting, as exemplified by Jackson Pollock, for example, in which, as with minimalist music, overall rhythms, textures and patterns are what count, rather than individual motifs. Another is those aspects of Islamic art that fit a similar description; and a Grants to Artists award in the mid-1990s enabled Reveles to visit Morocco to absorb the art and architecture there.

It certainly helped to shape his work. Prior to and around that time the paintings he was making bore comparison with Mondrian’s earlier, transitional paintings, when he was increasingly highlighting structural pattern in the landscape. Reveles’s palette then was also noticeably darker. In the meantime, he came to Ireland in 2010 as part of the Ballinglen Arts Foundation Fellowship Programme. Ballinglen has had a remarkable effect on many of its fellowship artists, and presumably it influenced his decision to find a home in Ireland.

In the same question session referred to above, he mentioned that when he first showed his recent work to some friends, one remarked that a particular piece was “like a map of the world.” And maps do come to mind. The linear underpinning of the Poulaphouca drawing even recalls the Mercator projection grid. So do symmetries of scale. He has observed that the closer you look at anything, the more it breaks down into smaller and smaller elements, just as the further and wider you look, the more your view encompasses – a range of mountains, an ocean, a starry sky, an endless expanse of stars and galaxies. So the idea of infinity is always there, and the idea of infinite scale.