Art: How T Garrett Eaton rose to an unusual online painting challenge

Art: How T Garrett Eaton rose to an unusual online painting challenge
T Garrett Eaton's 'Broken Stones'

Niall MacMonagle


The online challenge was straightforward: paint a graveyard, en plein air, using a limited palette. Dozens of artists, from Taiwan, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Europe, the US and Canada, entered and the seven finalists painted graveyards in Rome, Cornwall, Vermont, New Jersey, Bristol, California and Germany. The overall winner, T Garrett Eaton – the “T” is for Thad – born a mile from Mountain View Cemetery, in Oakland CA, painted his local resting place.

Eaton, who had never painted a graveyard scene, grew up in the Bay Area, attended college in Santa Cruz, and has an MFA from the New York Academy of Art. He returned to Oakland to live, and frequently walked in Mountain View Cemetery.

Established in 1863, the 226-acre rural cemetery – designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – now contains 24,000 graves. Many local dignitaries are buried there. One section is called Millionaires’ Row.

“I do not necessarily find cemeteries to be morbid. They do hold power over visitors and for this reason are often very peaceful places.”

Eaton found the limited palette “both challenging and liberating”. Using only cadmium yellow lemon, ultramarine light, burnt sienna and permanent white, he believes that “the constraint simplifies decision-making and can also lead to a more harmonious effect overall”.

Having chosen his spot, he spent three hours painting this 14 x 6 inch work. “Many headstones are broken and haphazardly lie about. The light changed significantly over the course of the painting and as a result, my sketch is an amalgam of multiple lighting conditions. I didn’t quite get the shadow depth completely,” he says, adding, “it’s an artist’s curse to always be unsatisfied with their own work.”

Though graveyards were a common subject for 19th-century Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, Eaton knows that a painting of a graveyard is “a tough sell”. He didn’t expect to sell it. “I still have it.” He called his gouache ‘Broken Stones’.

Oil painting is his first love but he finds watercolour and gouache “quick and portable” and his paintings of a bathroom sink, a pomegranate, a traffic cone, a cauliflower, an animal bone, a vacuum cleaner, and a loaf of bread are technically brilliant. For his subject matter Eaton prefers the world around him, “simple subjects whether man-made or organic because everyday objects and experiences are worthy of celebrating in art”. He admires Chardin, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Antonio López García, Euan Uglow and James Gurney.

He has also painted landscapes. “Apparently my ancestors mostly hail from Scotland and Ireland, and emigrated in the 18th century.” During his travels in Europe, he painted the Normandy D-Day landing site, and the great Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct near Nîmes.

Eaton moved to Vancouver with his Canadian wife two years ago for its “lifestyle advantages, great public healthcare and schools” and he’s now painting the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. “Here in the Pacific Northwest it’s exciting to see how wild spaces can thrive so near to civilisation.”

More than 50 million people die each year. The dead go on before us – and when we join them, will it be by burial or cremation? Some city cemeteries are running out of spaces. In 2007, Antwerp set about reselling 2,000 city graves, but in T Garrett Eaton’s painting of Mountain View Cemetery, the graves are old, the occupants are staying put. Headstones on a gentle slope catch the sunlight. It’s a truly rest-in-peace place.

New work by T Garrett Eaton features in the exhibition ‘Delicious’ at STUDIO Gallery, San Francisco, that’s also online:;; Insta @tgeaton

Percept (Luan Gallery, Athlone)

Brussels-based Irish artist Colm Mac Athlaoich’s solo show Percept takes its inspiration from personal photographs, and the subsequent oil on canvas works “retell an image” and “sit between figuration and abstraction, exploring the space between”. The show’s central image, ‘Flavian Garden’, is based on a holiday photograph of the Colosseum in Rome.

Home: Being and Belonging in Contemporary Ireland (Glucksman Gallery, Cork)

The Glucksman Gallery invited artists from the island of Ireland to submit works that relate to “ideas of residency, placemaking, identity and nationhood”. Works in all media by 267 artists were submitted:16 were selected, including Wexford-based Ciara Roche’s ‘Beacon’, an oil on paper featuring Mortlake’s Ocean Food, Concord, NSW, Australia.

Art: Breaking the glass ceiling and seeing stars  

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Art: How T Garrett Eaton Rose To An Unusual Online Painting Challenge

Lynn Creek I by T. Garrett Eaton 
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