Michael Pfleghaar’s out-of-this-world landscapes

Michael Pfleghaar’s out-of-this-world landscapes

PRESERVED! Artist Interview Series

Michael Pfleghaar’s landscape painting process begins in the field, but it is rarely finished there. Instead, Pfleghaar captures what first strikes him—features with abstract or asymmetrical qualities—and then he takes what he’s started back to his studio, where his approach to the painting takes a new shape.

Michael Pfleghaar. Image by M-Buck Studio, LLC.

“When I go into the studio, I force myself from that reality and my focus switches to making a good painting,” Pfleghaar said.

Separated from the landscape’s original context, Pfleghaar can exaggerate and de-emphasize parts of his composition as he pleases. He’s less interested in creating a realistic interpretation of a scene than he is in creating a painting that consistently engages its viewers. As a result, Pfleghaar’s landscapes feature bright, exaggerated colors, bent horizons and simplified shapes. 

“I have always felt that the role of artists, especially painters, is to create something that is not of this world,” Pfleghaar said. “If you’re able to bring something new to it, some drama or some things that don’t make sense for your mind—a little bit of abstraction, I think that makes for a much more interesting work of art.”

Pfleghaar paints a lot of interiors, still life and more abstract, geometry- and form-driven pieces. He’s inspired by the aesthetic of mid-century modernism, which he characterizes as focused on simplicity, material and design. When Pfleghaar paints a landscape, he paints it like an interior. 


“I like to simplify and compartmentalize the objects in the composition—fields are simplified, trees are simplified into shapes,” Pfleghaar said. “I think that aesthetic of simplification and attention to materials maybe carries through from the mid-century modern aesthetic.”

Pfleghaar began landscape painting in Aix-en-Provence, France, as part of a study abroad program during his studies at Grand Valley State University. He later worked as a studio assistant for acclaimed landscape artist Stephen Duren, where he learned to work in oil pastel and further developed an interest in the landscape and depicting it abstractly. 

Preserved! gives Pfleghaar an opportunity to come back to landscape painting and engage an audience that loves the subject matter. He finds that in West Michigan, people really respond to depictions of our shared landscape.

“The landscape seems to be something that people are attracted to and relate to,” Pfleghaar said. “It reflects what people love about this area.”

You can see Pfleghaar’s pieces inspired by Land Conservancy projects this fall at the Preserved! gallery receptions and exhibits. Learn more here.

Featured image by M-Buck Studio, LLC.

Michael Pfleghaar paints at the Highlands Community Celebration. Image by M-Buck Studio, LLC.

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