“Garden Gate”
Oil on canvas 8x10 feet

Some artists paint with a deliberate aim. Randall Stoltzfus (Col ’93) is not one of them. Instead, he lets the work lead him toward its conclusion.

The Brooklyn artist sometimes takes years to complete a work, waiting for that signal of surprise, that moment when he sees strange permutations he hadn’t prepared for.

It’s his chosen approach, but one that Stoltzfus finds difficult to articulate. The easiest comparison he can make is with gardening. “You plant a seed and care for it with lots of patience,” he explains. “You accept what grows. My process encourages something to grow that maybe isn’t what I expected.”

His is a complex and labor-intensive method of building up layers of oil paint. The successive textures produce a shimmering, luminous quality, achieved by mixing powdered glass, iridescent pigment and hints of gold leaf. “The way I paint allows the many layers to show through, like layers of scrim, so the image is a sum of these layers,” he says.

A painting’s perceived image may shift over the course of the day according to the light, with ghostly images appearing and disappearing, crossing into abstraction and back again. Some viewers are adamant about what they see, Stoltzfus says, and he finds himself fascinated by the variety of convictions that emerge.

Stoltzfus, 35, grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in a Mennonite community. Many of his paintings have sources that are biblical, a product of his particular upbringing that has supplied him with “a rich reservoir of both narrative and faith from which to grow these images,” he explains.

After graduating from UVA, he received an M.F.A. degree from American University. He’s had solo shows and participated in numerous group shows, the most unusual in an insane asylum in Perugia, Italy. See his work this spring at Migration: A Gallery in Charlottesville (migrationgallery.com) or visit his Web site at sloweye.net.


“Gemni 1”
Raw pigment, pastel and gold leaf on paper, 18.75 x 23.75 inches.

“The Clearing”