A 'picture'.....or a painting?

I should first say that I don't paint 'pictures.'   A 'picture' is simply an image of something---as if you were looking through an invisible window: you only notice the subject, not the physicality of the painting itself.    Also, a 'picture' often tells a story, or is a portrait of something---whether a person, a landscape, a unicorn, or what have you.

What I create, rather, are 'paintings'---not stories or portraits.    In a painting, the abstract qualities (underlying structure, composition, color, shape, line, rhythm, energy, the process of painting itself, etc.) are a major aspect of the work---like works of music, architecture or dance.

I want my creations to have, above all, a physical presence and energy.   As a result, the paintings are much more powerful and impressive 'in person' than they are as images on the internet, or illustrations in a book.   

The 'meaning' is primarily conveyed in the painting itself, in the act of painting---in the joy of creation---not simply through a subject.   Rather than simply being ends in themselves, my paintings are contrails, a palimpsest of where I've been and a glimpse of where I am going.


During the fifty years that Donald Archer has been painting, the landscape has most frequently remained the basis of his work.   Nevertheless, his subjects range from figures and urban scenes to the very abstract.

Though Archer often begins with a specific idea, the painting finally takes on a life of its own, and likely ends very differently than it began.    He considers the process and evolution of a painting its most important aspect, and rather than covering up the revisions, he embraces their mysterious presence---known as pentimenti.

Process, composition, and feeling are really the subject. Design, color, and form convey feelings and ideas that go beyond appearance.

Because of the power of their conception, Archer's paintings vibrate with a bold presence that is unforgettable.


I grow younger and more passionate about painting each year that passes, particularly since reaching my 60s.   For me, painting is a continuum of a long tradition of discoveries, not just of the visual world but of life itself.   I am grateful for those who came before me.

Two quotes of the amazingly quotable Picasso particularly resonate with me over the years: “…it has taken me a lifetime to paint like a child,” and “…painting is a sum of destructions.”

Howard Warshaw, a powerful presence in my university years, exhorted us students to “make vision visible” and grasped vision as going far deeper than the eye.

I am interested in finding the essence of my subject and in creating a bold, abstract structure to express it.   My paintings are about how things feel, not how they look.   As I’ve matured, color has captured me; and I have developed a great fondness for black---it is full of drama and gravity, and sets off the other colors.

I go where my heart leads me.   I have no hang-up about consistency.   I’m not the same person I was a moment ago---let alone a year ago---and my work reflects that.   I only want to do my best and be satisfied that whatever I do has energy and life.



"If I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed."

Any discussion of this artist’s work must begin with its unassailable clarity. His prevailing currency is full of radiant, pared-down truths.

What lifts Archer beyond the crowded realm of merely competent painters is his palette. His is a rare case of palette as weapon. He wields color to clothe these landscapes with emotion. They’re never impressions, but what Cezanne called "explorations of faith" in the importance of the landscapes.

And when a work is finished? "If I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed," Archer says.

Archer is very much a California artist, as this small, excellent show demonstrates. For the time being, let it serve as an introduction to one of our most vital, important artists!

Bill Beeson, art critic

New Times
San Luis Obispo, CA



As a collector and art dealer I am interested only in work that moves me.

Donald Archer’s work has power for two reasons: one, his reduction of the landscape to a minimum of planes and volumes; and two, the raw strength and Spartan selection of his palette. In a lesser hand this reduction might appear to be influenced by more utilitarian graphic advertisements. But in Archer’s hand it creates stark, bold and triumphant geometric planes. The use of adjacent contrasting hues helps accelerate the impact of Archer’s colors.

While other artists have tried this approach, in most cases their sense of composition is not vital enough or true enough to the landscape to carry it off successfully. (His work) radiates a geometric strength that comes from simplicity of palette and boldness of composition.

Donald Archer’s compositions are more dynamic than any other artist I know working in the watercolor medium.

Frank Goss, director
Sullivan Goss Gallery
Santa Barbara, CA



Archer has processed his landscape art instincts through the filter of an abstracting eye. An almost geographical-narrative undercurrent runs beneath the mixed media works.

A recurring point of reference is the painting aesthetic of the late Richard Diebenkorn, a master of divining elements of nature and the visible world, while creating compositions both free-feeling and coolly analytical. As with Diebenkorn, Archer relies on interlocking shapes and varied color harmony schemes, as well as a shifting relationship between the realistic and the abstract, to keep a sense of diversity going.

Although Archer has shown his work over many years in many different settings, it's rare to catch a solo exhibition of his art these days. What we find in plentiful supply in his venturesome show at Marcia Burtt is a dual spirit of maturity and exploration, working together toward a greater creative good.

Josef Woodard, art critic
Santa Barbara, CA


2020 Donald Archer

The Contents of this site are made available for downloading by non-commercial users only. Any further reproduction or redistribution of the contents of this site is a violation of the Copyright Law and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties, unless prior authorization has been obtained from Donald Archer.