In the Studio with Michael E. Bartlett

Posted on July 11, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Jackie Lee | Sonoma Valley Sun

Michael Bartlett’s paintings are readily identifiable by their lush colors and luminosity. He has a unique method of applying colors in many glazes to obtain that effect, a time-consuming but rewarding technique which can only be possible through colors working on top of other colors.

“Jewel Gulch” (above)  is 9” by 15” oil on linen. “It was a spectacularly brilliant day at Timber Cove looking South, and the colors were off the charts,” Michael said. “I enjoy painting along the coast because the colors are so rich even during the mid-part of the day when it normally goes flat.

“I’m into color in a big way,” he continued. “It references all the different aspects of how it relates to our experience and how we use pigments and theories. When painters get it right, there’s something that really speaks in a way that doesn’t have words. It’s about luminescence. The first time I saw a van Gogh painting, I walked into the Chicago Art Institute and here’s this big wall and one painting of wheat fields that emitted so much light it made all the other paintings in the room seem dull. It was the way van Gogh painted. It vibrates.”

    Another one of Michael’s paintings, “Crossroads of the West” is of a tanker ship carrying oil crossing under Golden Gate Bridge where thousands of cars travel repeatedly. “I am deeply involved in sustainable energy,” Michael added. “We have to get off of fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, and Governor Newsom has announced that California will no longer sell cars with gas engines starting in 2035.”

Asked about how he was attracted to art as a child, Michael said “I painted all my life, from my first paintings of animals when I was eight years old. I copied pictures out of books, and I was fascinated with magazines like National Geographic. I chose landscapes as my MFA subject from San Francisco Art Institute. That was the time I really saw myself as an artist.

“Sizes of my paintings nowadays are small to medium, although when I had a larger studio in the past, I would go up to five or six feet. The luminosity comes from an underlying opaque paint layer and an overlay of transparent pigment, continuing until I feel it has balance and harmony and a kind of emotional contact.

A work entitled ‘Crossroads of the West’

Does his painting practice suffer at all from daily dramas?

“Yes, I do get affected by the news of the day, but probably not more than anyone else. Everything you take in becomes part of you and becomes expressed in paintings. There’s a term ‘ontological signifiers’ — the logic of being. My art is reflected from a deeper place where I look for peace, a quiet place that’s beyond what I’m doing. I am fascinated by nature, and I think there’s a song in color, a music we experience when we look at nature without the interference of humankind.

“Painting something is like a message in a bottle tossed into the ocean with the idea that eventually it will connect, and when it does connect eventually that energy wants to come back to where it started, so it’s about having that union with people. It’s the richest part of painting for me. It acts as an intermediary to connect with others’ experiences. Someone contacted me from my website reporting, ‘I have had a painting of yours for all these years, and I want to reconnect with you.’ That’s what I like, that other people can make contact with something that I also experienced.”

Although painting is a daily occupation for Michael, he is also working on a course and manual entitled “Modern Color Theory, the New Primaries and a Practical Mixing Guide for Painters” to share his love of painting and to inspire a new generation of artists in their own experiences with color. He will post updates on his website, His paintings are regularly exhibited at Arts Guild of Sonoma.


Jackie Lee is an artist and writer focused on individual artists as well as those represented by galleries. She may be reached at: [email protected].



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