There are few subjects I return to more often than the landscape and the still life. When I was younger I thought it was important to mimic what the legends did and felt like doing still lives and landscapes gave me a connection to the past. As if the greats and I had the same sort of common ground to which we could all relate. Even in college, while others complained about learning fundamentals and scoffed at 'boring' assignments, I always tried to get what I could out of them, create something 'good', and find value in aspects of art I wouldn't explore without a teacher forcing me.
Nowadays, I regularly return to both subjects, though usually with very different purposes for each.
The Still Life has always been "easy". You simply paint what's there and usually there's some interaction of shape, pattern, or object that creates intrigue. Inject some symbolism into those objects and you not only have a nice painting, but one that has a message as well. It's a subject matter that doesn't require more thought, but can be enhanced with it. It's a great exercise for the pure enjoyment of painting, and also one that can lead to something more.
The landscape, for me, has always been a little more of a self-portrait. Yes, you could address it similarly to the still life and just paint what's there, but counter to the indoor nature of a still life, you have the built in expectation of "atmosphere". Is the wind blowing? Is it hot and humid or a cool comfortable morning? Is the sun shining brightly, peaking through clouds, or unseen? Are we in the open or under a canopy? What animals and insects are buzzing around or is it before the first snow and the animals have gone silent? All these aspects add to the scene and automatically bring an emotion or start of a narrative. Add in figures and the landscape becomes a stage just waiting for the performance.
In some sense I approach the still life like a snapshot...a still taken from life capturing a moment in time. It may be metaphorical, but is defined by its stoicism, almost sculptural in its stillness. The landscape is more like the beginning of a movie. A scene is revealed, figures find their place, and we're left with a glimpse at a developing story.
I suppose I've always looked at a still life as representative of something that has already happened, the remnants of activity. Landscape is activity itself, fleeting and hard to define. Though many see still life and landscape as boring vestiges of traditional style and technique, I've always seen them as far more than that and have always been enamored with the ways "contemporary" artists of the day dealt with traditional subjects. While I once worried that my art was old-fashioned and fought any inclination toward tradition I've come to treasure the exploration of these time-honored subjects in my regular practice and value that connection to history that, even in grade school, made me feel like I was engaging in a secret hand-shake of sorts with artists of the past.