Story & Photography by Alison Ball
Many artists and creative minds call Franklin home. This is no new news to Williamson County residents. What may be new news to some is the accomplished life of two artists in the area, Joseph Sulkowski and Elizabeth Brandon.
After numerous years of schooling, traveling and teaching, this pair of artists has raised a family in the city and now enjoy their picturesque landscape and backyard studio in the beauty of Everal Hills.
"We live to paint, even when we don't have a show we are still painting," Elizabeth says. After spending only a few minutes with the painting duo anyone can easily feel every bit of truth in the statement through seeing the joy in their eyes when they speak, show or think of their common love - painting.
Joseph's creating began when he was just a toddler. Looking at his earliest work saved over the years by his family members he saw technique in the untrained work of his youth. As he grew older, Joseph continued to create. He was known as the local artist in grade school and it became "an identity" for him. After discovering masters of the arts such as Michelangelo in his father's art books Joseph says the "magnificent obsession began."
The artistic path of Elizabeth is quite different than that of Joseph. Her connection to the arts began during her schooling for interior design. The connection grew to a way of life when a close friend talked her into taking a summer painting course in Connecticut with Robert Brackman. Her indestructible love grew strong almost immediately. Something inside of her would not let her leave painting, she new this was the start of a passion she could never stifle. Brandon wanted to learn more. She wanted to grow in the art form. She new this would happen if she took a couple month-long courses under legendary Frank Mason and Robert Beverly Hale.
These instructing greats were found with hundreds of other creative minds in what was then one of the artistic Mecca's of the time, New York City. Little did she know that a fellow classmate at The Art Student's League would be her life-long companion - Joseph.
"The first thing Frank said was, 'it will take you five years to understand what I am saying,'" Elizabeth recalls. Students like Elizabeth and Joseph would remain in the studios all day, until light was void of the room, gleaning knowledge from their seasoned instructors. In this time the two realized that their instructor was right. The pair spent five years in the program before "graduating themselves."
Learning an art, Joseph says, isn't just copying. It is learning a principle. "You have to paint 1,000 heads before you get a good one, and you know when you get it," he says. The pair new they could not leave the program before they "learned the principle."
Joseph says when you are an artist, "you have to like being alone." This is not something he or Elizabeth have had to experience for much of their life. During their time of study Joseph and Elizabeth fell in love and were later married. Neither of them were searching for love when they arrived in New York but long hours in shared studio space allowed their friendship to grow into a years of encouragement.
Both of them understand knowing more than just the basics of painting is required for a masterpiece. Joseph, for example, has spent long hours studying anatomy and has built his own model horse complete with anatomically correct layers of muscle. He says so much changes in a painting (for the better), "when you know what makes the bumps" of an animal. Learning the anatomy aids an artist when painting any living form he says. Elizabeth, like Joseph, has always stretched herself by learning to paint everything. From portraits and landscapes to still lifes and interiors. All things are found on their canvasses.
While they do paint a variety of subjects the two are known for some particular subjects. Joseph for instance is known for his timeless Fox Hounds and she is known for her flawless still lifes. Some of Elizabeth's best work has been featured on the cover of Cook's Illustrated magazine while others have sold out in galleries in cities like Carmel, Calf. This is all without mentioning a piece that will be presented to Tennessee's First Lady later this summer. With equal success Joseph's work has found its way into the hands of private owners like George Michael and others like the Duke of Bedford where his pieces hang among family heirloom masterpieces from artists such as Rembrandt.
The couple has taken may art inspired excursions. One of most memorable was a teaching trip of Joseph's. During the journey they, along with his class, were able to have Monet's entire estate, Giverny, open only to them for an entire day of painting. Both say they have never experienced anything quite like their time in Giverny.
Though beauty like Giverny provides a wealth of inspiration for work; the artists are most inspired by light. "Light is a powerfully positive force... and to paint it, is never to be bored," Joseph says. Elizabeth adds, "the movement of light is a fascinating subject in itself and a challenge to explore in all its forms and rhythms." When the two purchased their home the selling point was the unfinished garage with that received perfect northern light behind the home. The unfinished garage is now a studio large enough for two large windows allowing the inspiration to pour in through the panes onto the workspace the artists use daily.
The materials the two uses are just as important as the subject and the quality is of the highest caliber. The imported linens provide a canvas for the prepared oils and varnishes used to depict the light and subjects they observe. The colors in their paintings are born from European pigments ground by their own hands into gum resins from Greece.
Creation for the two artists is a way of life, it is a need; "I think we live for connecting moments and to capture them honestly is my desire in art,"Elizabeth says. In addition for the need to create, Joseph feels that in every person there is a need in the spirit for art. Joseph says, "it is my goal as an artist to create through inspiration and personal interpretation a visual image of an abstract idea that people can relate to."
Joseph and Elizabeth will continue to grow and create in their local studio as they enjoy life in the hills of Williamson County.