Timothy Greatbatch
Transposed Landscape Artist

by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater

By the age of forty, Timothy Greatbatch had already achieved national recognition as a composer of contemporary Orchestral and Chamber Music. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania and guest lecturer at Swarthmore College and Princeton University, his career was firmly established. Tim’s wife, Lisa Philabaum, also enjoyed success as an accomplished cellist, and the couple lived comfortably in Philadelphia.

Despite their established professional careers, both Tim and Lisa began to implement a major change about ten years ago. Tim’s lifelong interested in fine art grew stronger with time. “When I was very young, my parents thought I would go to art school, just from my early drawings,” he said. “But I started getting music lessons fairly young and I excelled at that. By the time I was twelve I was playing concertos, and I think it kind of snowballed. When I was a senior in High School, there was no question that I would follow a music career. I think there was a part of me that wanted to paint but I sort of got channeled into this one thing…

“When I got to be forty, I began to think, ‘When am I going to do this (try my hand at art)? Am I going to wait until I have arthritic hands and can’t even pick up a paintbrush? I’d better start to do it now.’ ” So in the 1990s, Mr. Greatbatch gradually shifted his creative efforts to the visual arts.

In the meantime, Lisa found herself drawn to the challenges of helping people using the science of physical therapy. “Now, she did the right thing. She went into the medical profession and I went sideways,” Tim laughed. “While she went back to school in the early 90s, I wanted to paint but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to pay the mortgage so I started a decorative painting business. It was good for me because I had these huge walls and ceilings and murals. I had to learn to paint quickly. When working on a wall, you can’t think by the square foot. You have to create something with impact.”

When Lisa finished school, the couple explored the possibilities of relocating. Tim had grown up in Indianapolis and visited Brown County as a child. “We thought about Taos (New Mexico) and Brown County because they both had a history of being involved with art,” he explained. “And the physical therapy opportunities in Bloomington and Columbus were available. So we started checking housing possibilities and the Taos real estate was very high.”

The couple moved into their quiet wooded home and converted studio off State Road 46 about one year ago. Lisa found employment with Columbus Regional Hospital and Tim began creating fine art. Although he had previously painted images from his imagination, Mr. Greatbatch, like the early Brown County artists, began concentrating on landscape painting. As Marty Krause, Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, once wrote about the early artists, “As long as artists stayed in Brown County, they were free to draw whatever they pleased—and in Brown County what was most pleasing was the landscape.”

When he began painting in the mid-1990s, Mr. Greatbatch recalls, “I went to the museums and looked. Some of the first things I did were very surreal and much more contemporary than what I do now. As I kept going to museums I became particularly fascinated with Monet (Claude) and Pissarro (Camille). And Sisley’s (Alfred) winterscapes—the very subtle colors and to be able to handle colors that way. I’m still teaching myself.”

Though landscapes are now his passion, Mr. Greatbatch does not yet paint on location. “I don’t do plein air,” he admits. “I go to the site and take photographs and sketch. I come back in and reorganize them lots of times, using the photos for reference for shadows. The coloring is very different. I probably will start painting the pond (in the yard) this year and see what happens. Right now the studio gives me consistency of light and consistency of work place where I’m not dealing with other issues (like wind and insects).

An artist who works daily in the studio, Mr. Greatbatch often paints late at night. “I block out shapes, then values, and then do an underpainting—usually ending with about four layers,” he revealed. “I like to build textures. When I look at paintings, when the values are right the colors don’t really matter… I’ve pretty much switched over to acrylics. That’s made it a lot easier when I want to build up a painting quickly, if I want to use more glazing techniques (many thin layers). The one thing oil paint gives you is a much more buttery feel, but my work involves a lot of small brushwork. So the acrylics work very nicely for me.”

Mr. Greatbatch’s mastery of technique is rapidly gaining recognition in Indiana. He was commissioned to do a large 4’ X 8’ painting for the Columbus City Hall in 2001. Most recently, he received the Award of Excellence as well as the People’s Choice Award at the Indiana Heritage Arts annual exhibition in June, and has been accepted in the juried annual Hoosier Salon exhibition, to take place August 17 through September 21 at the Indiana State Museum.

Timothy Greatbatch signs his paintings with a mark containing his initials only, then signs his full name on the back of each piece. “When I first started painting, I mostly worked really small and I realized when I tried to paint “Greatbatch,” particularly on an impasto surface, that it was illegible. It also took such a big chunk of the painting. So I figured out a mark that people would recognize.”

To learn to recognize Timothy Greatbatch’s unique mark and/or to find his paintings for sale, check at Donna’s Custom Framing in Nashville’s Salt Creek Plaza or Cindy’s Picture Framing at 11th and Washington Streets in Columbus. He also has works available at the Hoosier Salon Gallery in Indianapolis.