This time of the year always brings of thoughts of change and transition, loss and renewal. As 2019 has rolled over into 2020, these reflections are much more intense, intricate, and prolonged for me, as I recently lost my mother…a major life event; a huge transition.
My father-in-law, not a religious man nor particularly self-reflective, used to have a timely observation in times of trouble. It went something like this: “The chapters of the good book begin with ‘And it came to pass…’ They don’t begin with ‘And it came to stay…”
The things/people/practices that we love don’t always come to stay, any more than the difficult or painful situations. It is one of the things that is interesting about mindfulness practice, that as we focus on the moment, the moment is gone. And then the next, and the next, and the next…
My understanding of mindfulness is more like riding a wave, the mind following each moment along the way with focused attention. I discussed this form of happiness as it applies to a creative practice in an earlier blog post, “Creativity and Happiness”.
And this brings us to the winter studio. As life is quieter and the colors less vivid outside of it than during the warmer months, the potency of the creative life inside intensifies.
Snow cover bounces light into the studio and makes a perfect neutral foil for open color exploration within. Instead of open windows and doors inviting in the sound of the stream and birds, I often play the radio or listen to podcasts or music. The summer feel of expansiveness is replaced by a distillation of energy as focus narrows and intensifies.
My winter work often feels sunlit. Without the canopy of leaves covering our hamlet in the central Catskills, the sun streams at a dramatic slant into my house, my studio, and the yoga studio where I practice and teach…and then is gone, as day moves quickly into evening. We count the minutes of returning daylight…
In December I ordered an enticing assortment of custom-stretched linen for my winter work, and now have, at the ready, this stack of canvases in an array of sizes and formats:
I started work immediately on the largest one, a 44″x66″, almost finished:
I am also generating ideas for my next Atlas Project installation, this one focusing on rivers and streams, exploring the ecology of my local watershed. In my Atlas/Forms of Water show I solved several problems that I saw carry over from the previous Atlas Project installation. At issue now are verbal/written components more than visual ones: how to get my “Mapping Memory” stories in a more accessible form; and how to bring more natural history and climate change discussion into the installation.
I am seeing stream-like formations wherever I go…including places I have been many (for this image, thousands!) of times. Can you tell what we are looking at?
And the other day I saw this gorgeous Motherwell painting in a catalogue that I have in my studio. Viewed vertically rather than as the horizontal that it is…another stream…
A few paint-mixing sessions with my good friend Jenny Nelson in her winter studio have yielded new teaching tools. My color-mixing workshop (next held at the WSA, June 22-23) brings the student back to primaries and how all color evolves from there, which is a very complex undertaking.
Our intention with this collaboration was to pretty much do the opposite of that detailed breaking down of color, instead creating simple, limited palette exercises—using mixtures or primaries from the tube— for new students or those who feel color-blocked.
I will use some of these prompts in my next workshop at the WSA. Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape (April 17-19) focuses on compositional strength, so a few structured color shortcuts to augment this emphasis are a welcome tool.
These were the palettes that evolved as we brainstormed and mixed, discarding some earlier versions. Now we will each re-do these on paper in our studios with better placement and clear labeling for sharing with our students.
Our ongoing conversations about our classes and workshops always include the abstract/landscape discussion, since Jenny teaches abstraction. Mixing color is one thing when you are using a reference of any sort, including working from life, even if you will likely want to tweak and adjust. It is quite another when you have not even a suggestion of a road map and mixing your palette is the first step in figuring out your abstract painting on the easel.
The collage exploration continues to fascinate me. I went from earlier just-barely-landscape versions (about 8-10 years ago) with altered papers, book bits, pattern paper, a bit of paint:
To the collaged maps, made with many bits of hand-dyed rice papers and other things (wasp wing, samara, dried leaves, pattern paper, old books, a bit of paint):
To a simplified version of the above, where I am working more with effects created while dying the papers, and then using larger swaths of them. Here are some of my latest:
I am very pleased with this beautifully produced recording of my December interview with audience Q&A at Albert Shahinian Fine Art, by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. The discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of my Atlas/Forms of Water show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
I am doing final updates on the blog post about this Atlas Project show, which was the highlight of my exhibition season for 2019. Here is the link:
On this day of pouring snow, everything else I had planned has been canceled. And so, I get to be in here:
And soon enough, it will look like this:
This last week of April/first in May I am hard at work preparing paintings to go to Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. My sixth season with the gallery—and 20+ showing on the Vineyard—we are in a good groove together, and both excited about this line-up for the season.
For more, you can go to the gallery website:
A recent sale at Louisa Gould Gallery was the winning selection of a fellow who thoroughly researched my galleries’ websites and then sent inquires about pieces that he liked to five different galleries. After careful consideration, this is what he chose:
Reaching back to last winter…gone but not forgotten. I taught my Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape workshop at the Woodstock School of Art. This is a very structured course, especially the first day+, dialing in on compositional shifts and how they affect movement, directionality, and mood. I always love what evolves, and this incarnation was no exception.
Here are a few of the student-executed exercises.
First, just hillside and tree or two in black gesso. Then move them around; change angle and division of picture plane; different type of tree. Several thought to break up the hillside.
This workshop feels like a slow flowering from tightly following direction early on to a much more open expression, integrating lessons learned along the way. I feel grateful for the trust that I am given to lead this guided work, since at the beginning of the workshop students feel a little hemmed in and have to go on faith that there are reasons for this, and that we are headed somewhere quite satisfying.
The first quarter of 2019 has been busy not just in the normal progression of events, projects, and deadlines, but also unusually so in the shear number and complexity of sales. Some of these required a fair bit of waltzing on my part, often accompanied by one of my galleries or consultants and assisted by my husband.
As you can imagine, each of these has a story.
A few of these stories:
In late February a designer I work with in Piermont NY, Ned Kelly, called in regard to the large painting below, wanting to show it to a client who already owned a smaller piece of mine. So off we went, my husband and I, that painting and a few others in tow, to meet up with the designer at the client’s home.
The piece actually didn’t work in the planned spot, so Ned headed upstairs to look for another likely wall, finding it above the bed in the master bedroom, across from my smaller piece that they owned.
With five people in a huge house, conversations splintered off, grouping and regrouping. By the time the painting was settled upon and the below smaller piece brought in from the car and actually installed, we had ranged far and wide, through good-natured expletive-laced teasing and the performative appearance of a shot gun. Add in two gorgeous dogs and a couple of cute kids and you have the whole picture.
Shortly after that I picked up a phone message from a person unknown to me but with a familiar last name, inquiring about a piece on my website. She turned out to be the new wife of a long-time friendly acquaintance. He and his (now I am understanding) ex-wife had remained on my mailing list for some years since I had last seen them, and I had been picturing them together, with the visiting grown kids and grandkids, exactly where I had seen them every summer for about twenty years.
But big changes had taken place. His new wife wanted to purchase a piece for her husband for their 3rd wedding anniversary. Apparently, the first wife had gotten the painting that they owned in the divorce (something I hear fairly often, actually) and he had been forwarding my invitations and updates along to his new wife, expressing enthusiasm for my work.
I had assumed years of silence meant lack of interest. But this is why I don’t take anyone off my mailing list unless they ask to be removed—I never know who is looking and enjoying and who deletes without opening.
So, after much back-and-forth and a delivery of three pieces for a staged viewing on the anniversary itself, this five-part vertical seascape was selected. I even got to have lunch and catch up with my old friend when he brought the other two paintings back to my area.
There is something in this story that feels very rich to me, maybe starting with the fact that it spans decades of time. There is a lot of life-essence in it—changes, losses, new beginnings, time passing, reconnections, and tracing the timelines of entwined lives.
We did a pop-up house party, a big collaborative effort, in Riverdale, NY. I hadn’t done one of these since the several that I did about a decade ago with Asher Nieman Gallery:
My co-conspirators this time were Albert Shahinian Fine Art, my husband, and my sister and brother-in-law, who opened up their apartment for the event. With this crew I had a driver; art handlers; a chef; a party planner; and a galleriest. Lucky me!
Below, a few of the pieces that departed for new homes:
I have two very different workshops coming up in May and June in the Catskills.
At the Emerson Resort in Mount Tremper, for all levels, an exploration of the imagery of our beautiful Catskill Mountains in May color:
And in June, for more experienced painters looking to explore a different concept:
On deck in my studio is another incarnation of my environmentally -themed Atlas Project. Atlas/Forms of Water, a solo show, will open at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck this September, exact date TBA.
This show will feature all sorts of water imagery along with a new site map, in progress below. Along with the oil paintings, look for map pieces in collage and lino/mono print exploring climate change and sea level rise/storm flooding.
This builds on the show that I had at Thompson Giroux Gallery last spring, Atlas/Hudson River Valley (you can see the site map for that show in the upper left background). If you missed seeing or reading about the show, here is the link to my blog post on it:
Forms of Water explores a more a global rather that locale-specific theme, though my personal forms of water have most often been experienced in the Northeast.
Also upcoming, a small duo show with my friend Polly Law at the Roxbury Arts Group; more workshops; and fresh work heading to Nantucket. More on all of this soon!
If you are not on my mailing list and would like to be, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are works on paper, many of them unframed, currently in my studio. Often works on paper are an option that is more affordable than oil paintings. Several of my galleries and consultants also have a selection of framed or unframed pastels, most notably Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; JSO ART Associates in Westport CT, and Megan Peter Fine Art in Redbank, NJ.
Oil on paper:
Mixed Media/Collage (Of paper and other things, on board):
Coming from a contemporary background, it never occurred to me to question the notion that any and all tools that enhance your process and get you to where you want to go are a good thing.
Even while studying in Spain at the Royal Academy, the most traditional of places, once students had put in their years working from plaster casts and very extensively from the model, it was assumed that by year four each student needed to load up their own tool bag with materials and techniques uniquely adapted to their emerging style.
After settling into my contemporary style of landscape painting in the early 1990’s, however, I began showing with realist and plein air painters who—often very aggressively— eshew the use of a photograph. With my first real gallery representation, the James Cox Gallery, Jim encouraged me to develop the discussion of why and how I use photographic reference, since in the context of his gallery of representational art, that had heretofore been unheard of.
Decades later, my discussion has evolved as follows below, honed by years of teaching and writing about my work.
There are considerations of style, technique, and subject matter in my choice to use photographs to create my landscape paintings. My technique involves applying semi-transparent layers of color over a dark ground, allowing them to dry in between. This, of course, would be difficult to do in the field. Working this way builds up the luminosity that I achieve with the finished piece, and also enables me to softly flatten the shapes that make up the composition while retaining subtle variations within. This is an important ingredient in my intent to hover stylistically between representationalism and abstraction, exploring the narrative of the land within an aesthetic of color-field painting.
A key practical consideration is my love for ephemeral weather moments, late day light, and road, bridge, and highway scenes. How would I set up an easel on the West Side Highway, the road opening up with dramatic painted lines right in front of me? And what about a twister, wending toward me, or late sunset, viewed in the almost dark?
Traditionally, it is argued that using a photo rather than working from life creates an image that lacks vitality. It is true that a photograph is already two dimensional, and so creating a painting from it is less of a leap than working from life. For me, this works in my favor, since I am a minimalist and flattening and reducing detail while looking at a photo is far easier than while standing in a field. The photo is just a tool, and so I can move things around at will, crop, change the color, use four photographs if I want, and make whole landforms up. Always, the reference serves the painting, and not the other way around.
I often tell a student who is stuck to first look carefully at the reference to see if it has any information that will help solve the problem. If that doesn’t help, then resort to the opposite strategy—put the photo away and scrutinize the painting from an entirely different perspective, considering elegance of and variation of shape, directionality in composition, and melding of color as being fully as important as a notion of accuracy.
One of the first things that I often hear from a student who has not painted landscapes before is how much the experience has changed their ability to see. This is a gift in itself, of course, but also essentially part of the process if your work is studio-based. Hiking, walking, swimming. driving, flying…looking, always looking, and then bringing the impact of that feeling back into the studio.
I love photography as an art form, as well as appreciating the information that photographs convey. The color that exists in a band of blur: the vignetting that happens with old cameras; and the work of contemporary landscape photographers who are exploring mystery and ambiguity—all of these strike a deep chord for me.
Nonetheless, I am obsessively wed to the process of painting. As a finished artwork, paintings also offer a rich experience in the viewing, changing when seen from afar and closer up. I feel fortunate, though, to have access to photography both as inspiration for my specific images while working and as an art form that I identify with.