Color on my mind… I have been teaching my color-mixing workshop remotely for the Woodstock School of Art and next will move onto another live-streamed class that starts with color-mixing that will be the immediate basis for paintings. In any style or genre, the artists will create three paintings in the color compositions covered: monochromatic, analogous, or complementary.
Surprisingly, I have never written a blog post about this information. So, to share with more artists than I can reach with my classes, I will analyze here seven paintings, discussing color composition as well as hue, value, saturation, and layering.
I have chosen works from some favorite painters, presenting them in order of less saturated, more tonal color, to brighter, more saturated color.
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Twachtman was a master of tonal color. In this piece, he is working in a very subtle complementary green-red palette. The greens come in more strongly and have black embedded within them for the deepest value and then move through a whole range of mid and light tones all of the way to the white of the clouds. The reflection in the water has both reds and greens in it in a lovely, soft color segue from left to right. Another way to look at the color composition would be that this is mostly a study in many colors of grey, which tend to harmonize with each other. Note the date on this very modern feeling, tonal landscape painting.
This Milton Avery figure painting uses a stunning, simplified palette in blues and browns, a combination that I have always found deeply satisfying. Blues tend to be be a kind of beacon color in the human psyche, partly having to do with the history of color—coveted, romantic, even sweet at times. The earthy browns ground them effectively. There are several value and hue shifts with both blues and browns, the lighter blue in particular is cool while the deeper blue moves to a warmer, slightly more purple hue.The deep greys and an off-black in the hair, while cool, look to be middle hues between the blues and the browns, linking the flattened shapes together into a well-knit composition..
In the Turner painting, below, a warm, desaturated monochromatic palette is used to very dramatic effect. There is not a full range of value contrast, the warm tones starting with a medium naples yellow and moving through deep, desaturated reds to to the deepest black, which is essential to the drama. The feel is of fairly bright golden colors, but in fact this is a tonal painting, relying on exquisite drawing and well-blended edges for the overall feel.
I selected this dynamic Frankenthaler in particular for it’s primary/secondary-color palette, red/blue/green. The three large shapes are equally desaturated, reminding me of slightly faded vintage cars that have been in the sun for decades. They are also of similar value and not quite flat, with canvas just barely showing through in some areas and breaking up entirely in the red. Also key to the success of the painting is the small shape of desaturated red on the right, presenting as a tint of medium value, somewhere between a pink and mauve in hue. (And of course, the graphic of that deep orange line!)
A still life by Soviet era painter Vladimir Yukin, this painting is interesting as a well-integrated color study. In a complementary warm/green palette, it does have a full range of value, from white to deep greens and reds to black, but most of the painting is in mid-value, rich but desaturated. I love this painter’s work, often distinguished by the similar treatment of fore- and background, both in terms of hue/value/saturation and paint handling. This makes the delightfully off-center composition and dark outlines key attributes, as the positive and negative shapes embed with each other within a uniform surface. Splashes of more saturated color with the red/orange flowers add drama.
I couldn’t possibly discuss color, or my comfort-art, or art of the 20th century, without including Rothko, my single most ever-present lifelong influence. He loved red, and used it oh-so well, and was the master of subtle layering. This is an almost monochromatic palette, but that top line of warm yellow-green throws that meaningfully off. The layering creates many shifts in hue and value, like the whiter color on top of the background red that goes to pink, leaving an uneven gutter of the deeper red around the orange rectangles to create a beautiful vibration. And while the narrow top rectangle has the most going on, the flattest area of the bottom orange one counter-intuitively draws my eye, enhancing that well-known Rothko mesmerizing effect. This is a perfect example of when less-is-more, the emptiest area drawing the eye more than the busiest (if you can even use the latter word in describing a Rothko!).
Kandinsky was my first true love, and immediately upon discovering his body of work at age 14, I was drawn most to his expressionist pieces over the early landscapes and the later constructivist painting. In the below piece we see seemingly all-over-the-place color, and yet it harmonizes. Several factors are at work here to create this effect of lively, dense painting that hangs together. One is that most of the surface area is actually in a neutral cream to naples yellow color, light on the value scale. This is often a factor in work that appears very bright at first glance—the brights are popped and prevented from fighting by the neutrals, which here include the black lines, as well. Two other factors are a composition anchored by those black lines that keeps the eye circulating within the painting; and that he pretty much left out purple—omitting one of the six primary/secondary colors or one section of the color wheel can be very helpful in organizing a cohesive palette.
Well, this is the most fun I have had all week. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much, and please feel free to comment—agree, disagree, elaborate!
In this post I will be documenting the planning, preparation, and creation of a 6’x8′ painting for returning clients through my Rhinebeck gallery, Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
The project has presented special challenges because of state restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. The planning began before our abrupt quarantines, and the piece was finished in late May, framed, and installed June 6th.
I met these folks at a reception at the gallery on February 15th. What followed was a 31 email chain discussing various possibilities for their beautiful, big wall:
They already had a good-sized marsh painting of mine, acquired from ASFA years ago when the gallery was located in Poughkeepsie:
A sea view was always the idea, either open sea or with Chatham sandbars or with big surf. I sent multiple jpegs with ideas and they sent me many others. It seemed that they liked several of the ideas and had to go through a process of narrowing down, until they honed in on their choice, a view of blue sea, sandbars, and Monomoy from a favorite bit of beach in Chatham, MA.
These were a few of my pieces that they were drawn to initially:
In an email about 25 in, the clients were dialing in:
- In the first attachment, Moving Clouds: we really like the way you have angled the beach in contrast to the horizon. We feel this will work well with your rendition of the CBI waterfront. We also think that having a more active sky would be good, since the water is usually tranquil inside the bar.
- The second attachment shows the near shore section of the beach that we hope you might be able to represent similar to the way you already mentioned, “show just a bit of beach, a simplified swath of beach grasses off to the right… And some sky interest.” We would like to see more beach than grass though. We recognized that you would not be painting the scene exactly as is, and that is fine with us. We are going for something that looks natural, but for those of us who know the area, we can easily imagine it as the same section of shoreline.
- The third picture can be found at the following website. We really love the colors and contrast of the water and the nearshore beach, the middle bars, and the bright sand of the outer bar. We are hoping you could incorporate these elements along with the above.
All of this made perfect sense, after the discussions that we had already had. And since all of it is also perfectly within a subject matter that I hold dear and in my signature style, I was more than happy with their choice. That it wasn’t a tweaked or reformatted version of something that I had done before made it exciting and fresh.
I was lucky with several of the logistics that could have proven difficult under quarantine. First, that I could have a stretcher made in the needed size through my Vermont custom stretcher-makers Brickyard Enterprises—that they were healthy and willing and had the supplies. Next, that when I contacted Claussens linen in Belgium I was assured that the weight linen that I like to use —for its lovely slubbed surface–would be fine for a canvas of that size. Lastly, that I could get a porch drop-off delivery from Brickyard, since this canvas would not come even close to fitting in my Volvo wagon.
I always start a commission with a study, usually oil on paper and small, in the 8″x10″ range but to scale with the desired piece. Approval of the study is sought before moving forward. I agreed with the clients that the size of the painting called for a larger study, and when I realized that I had a 30″x40″ on hand , perfectly to scale with 6’x8′, I suggested that we do a way bigger study…seemed to make sense with a way big painting.
The day before the delivery of the stretched canvas, the clients decided to come by for a porch-viewing of the 30″x40″ study, since they were having a hard time seeing the true colors from the jpeg. I was so glad that they did, since it put a few questions to rest, and they left very happy.
Priming with my usual off-black gesso proved to be a challenge. I usually do this flat, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach the middle section that way, so I opted to prop it on the ground against a table that I use for various outdoor jobs. I wired the back of the stretcher to the sides of the table with picture wire so that the wind wouldn’t catch it, which turned out to be a wise precaution later in the day when the breeze picked up.
I positioned the canvas so that the sun didn’t hit the front, since the gesso goes on more smoothly if it stays damp.
The first coat is wettest and the last coat the thickest, following an oft-used maxim in painting, thick over thin. I sand lightly between coats, and even very lightly, at the end.
By the end of coat #3, five hours later, I was exhausted. Using a 5-inch house-painting brush, the gesso has to be thoroughly worked into the fibers of the linen, and quickly. The physical part was one thing—wrist and shoulder of my right arm, though I did try to use the left a bit—but the mental another altogether.
My understanding is that repetitive motion releases serotonin in the brain, something that we enjoy with, for example, running or walking. So maybe that explains the level of brain-dead that I felt at the end of the afternoon. It was unlike anything I had felt before, like I was stunned into absolute mental disfunction. You might think that this would be accompanied with euphoria, but it was not!
The next day, canvas back in my studio, I was not satisfied with the evenness of my priming job and, knowing that once I started painting I would be stuck with whatever it was, I did a forth spot- coat and some very careful sanding, and then got the canvas back up on my easel (with help…a two-person job).
Next up: mix a palette, making a range of blues, sand colors, and a few greens, and adding nice amounts of my wax medium for easy spreading on the absorbent gesso.
Establishing the horizon line was the first step in applying paint. For such a large canvas, it is hard to see proportion while working up close and impossible get a level line without measuring. I used, as I have before, a standard equation for proportion, in this case x is to 72″ (the height of my canvas) as 30″ is to 40″, the height and width of the study: and so I came up with the placement for the horizon and measured across a few times. The sea does need to be level at the horizon, gravity doing its work. Then eyeballing it, I decided I wanted it a little higher.
Many passages in the painting of this large version can and will be spontaneous and based upon a lot of coming forward to paint and backward to examine. But given how hard it is to see proportion while working up close, it has been very helpful to measure based on the study and not reinvent the wheel at every turn. I calculated that one inch of study is equal to 2.4″ in the large piece, and then deviated a bit where I saw fit as the painting evolved.
This clip of video catches a bit of the of the process:
The next week, a pic of the painting after one layer was completed:
The composition and all of the major shapes have been worked out, following what was established in the study and then shifted a bit where it felt natural to do so.
I add layers of paint to an area based on what, to my eye, needs brightening up. For this painting, it ended up being three to four layers, with the original dark gesso showing through very subtly to mitigate flatness. I am at heart a minimalist, so often less is more in terms of detail; but within each area there is a good deal of color shift and soft brush work.
Going up in size means more play in each area of color. For example, going from a swath of green salt grass on the outer bar an inch high in the 30″x40″, to two and a half in the 6’x8′ gave me room to segue from varied warm greens (with quite a lot of white in them) above to some burnt reds at the edge of the sand. This created a visual link to the reds in the lighter sand colors, and also explores the warm green to warm red color-wheel interaction (think olive green to burnt sienna).
This is the final version, signed off on when the collectors visited for another yard viewing. You can see the difference in luminosity.
The way that I explain my version of minimalism is to point out that if you try to pack too many elements into a painting, it is hard to fully see and appreciate any of them. Further, the openness of large shapes and soft edges creates a strong composition that works with the image, or view, to invite contemplation. In that way my pieces are very much about the painting as abstraction, while also expressing a strong sense of place.
Named Chatham Bars by the collectors, signed in front with my initials and labeled on the back with my name, title of the piece, medium, dimensions and date, the piece was ready for framing. The final step in the whole process for me was to get the piece to my framer extraordinaire, Geoffrey Rogers, in Pine Hill. It’s a short hop from here, but still required hiring a mover, due to the size.
The clients had requested a walnut floater frame, so Geoff created his own molding, which he hand-finished. He suffered a broken collar-bone in the middle of the process after a bicycle mishap, so help from his son moved the project forward to completion. Here is the painting in the shop, awaiting pick up from Albert Shahinian.
I wasn’t there for the installation, which was carried off by Albert and another art installer that he brought on board, with help from the clients. As you can imagine, getting a large painting up on this wall was a process.
This project was particularly meaningful for me in the midst of staying home during the pandemic. It not only created a complex, multilayered point of focus for me, but also worked so beautifully as metaphor—a very large canvas of a particularly open and expansive view being created within a set of constraints unprecedented in our lifetime.
Special thanks to my husband Jack and son Tony, one of whom had to help with every out-into-the-sun and back into the studio later; each up-and-down from the easel to work different sections; and the final in and out of the truck for delivery to my framer. One day when unexpected dark clouds blew up and I was home alone, I managed to get it into the studio with no damage to myself or the painting…which made me appreciate all of the help even more.
May 9: I had thought to leave off posting until I complete my 6’x8′ commission and finish the blog description of the process, but find that I miss the diary.
Snow last night and today, actually quite dark and blizzardy at intervals this afternoon, alternating with sun flurries. It seems almost cruel that our spring is so delayed, when we crave the comfort of warm sunshine and a softer outdoor experience. For me, key to that is our screened-in back porch, my warm-season living room. A day in which I can have my siding door open to the porch and take my meals and do my online work out there is a good day .
But, while cringing on behalf of my snowy flowers and leafed-out plantings today, it popped into my mind that this weather might have its uses in slowing the spread of the virus. Warm days have brought with them prematurely reckless behavior. So maybe this prolonged chill will allow the curve to turn from its current level to downward, and save a few lives.
The news is not good at all and makes me despair about human idiocy, American and otherwise. So I unashamedly grasp at straws.
On this Mother’s Day, the first without our mom, I am fortunate to be doing the things that I have always chosen on this spring day in which I feel free to pamper myself. Sometimes the weather has been 45 and rainy and put a damper on my busy-in-the-yard plans, and yesterday’s snow would have been the kicker…but today we have partly sunny and in the 5os.
Ordinarily, I would have gone to Oneonta with my sister Carla yesterday, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to have lunch and a nursery visit for hanging pots and annuals with our mom. I always brought flowers from my yard on every visit from April through October.
When we finally scatter her ashes in multiple places, I hope it is during the growing season so that I can include some flowers.
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The crumbling world around us cries out for help…socorro, socorro! I can only think in small, manageable bits about it, or it threatens hopelessness that sabotages action. So, to begin somewhere, I created a fundraiser last week in collaboration with Albert Shahinian Fine Art. I offered to give a small collage from the eleven left at the gallery after an environmental fundraiser last fall to anyone who sent me a receipt for a donation of at least $40 to a food bank of their choosing. They all were spoken for very quickly and we raised about $500. Albert sent them all out a few days ago from the gallery.
Just a start. I’ll be thinking of more, and ASFA is on board for more collaborating. I do like to use my art to raise money because it is my ready resource that folks value. These little pieces went mostly to prior collectors and a few to a student or mentee not in a position to buy a market-priced piece. I used only social media so for the next thing could readily access my best outreach resource, which is my mailing list.
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I am also involved in a fundraiser for the Island Food Bank on Martha’s Vineyard through my gallery there, the Louisa Gould Gallery. Her shows this spring and summer are an opt-in for gallery artists to join her in donating 10% of sales for food security, with every dollar raised going for $7 worth of food.
We just made a nice sale of these two pieces, accomplished through shipping, as the gallery has not yet reopened.
Here is a link to the current online show of new work at the gallery:
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My big studio project continues to be the 6’x8′ commissioned version of this 30″x40″. I am creating an in-depth description of the process for an upcoming blog post.
Stay healthy, y’all, and let’s keep each other safe!
April 12: Today is our Dad’s birthday. We had a sweet Zoom party with family, just missing Tessa among the grandkids. Tony is not in this screen shot, but he hung out for the latter half.
Then Tessa texted a few hours later that she is out of the woods and at Zac’s house. We should get some more detail tomorrow about her plans.
I am creating a zoom painting workshop for a few students who are, of course, stuck at home. Like so many others, they thought that there would be so much lovely down time, but the experience may instead present itself as a big void, punctuated only by anxiety-producing details. (Like, for one student, that she is self-quarantined in a small nyc apartment and her immediate neighbors have the virus, with at least one of them being taken to hospital. So this would make her fearful of her own hallway.)
I am looking forward to the challenge of connecting within the technology, which in this case will be much more intricate than with my hour-long yoga classes. But I’m aware that it doesn’t matter how much we have to muddle through. While I am always conscious the of the information I want to share with my students in any workshop that I teach, I think that just now, being together will be the best thing about it.
April 14: Talk is all about how we will come out of this confinement. It is clear that is will be tentative, messy, little-by little, and still involve infections and death. This virus is so very intricate in all of its details. This was clear from my early reading about Wuhan as they were fumbling about trying to get the first handle on it.
It seems that it can spray way beyond 6 or even 10 feet just through conversation. It appears possible that the incubation period is, on outside, more than 14 days. They worry that a vaccine will not be useful due to mutations, so a treatment is vital. They know that infected folks can be contagious while symptom-free or pre-symptomatic, and that tests often are false negative (not that we are doing nearly enough testing).
So, it seems that we cannot open back up again, or even maybe live in the next several years, with any assurance that the virus is gone. Maybe it is now a part of life on earth, going forward?
In studio, so busy! This is the edition of my first three color reduction linocut, though they are all inked differently and so technically not an edition.
I planned this print for my Atlas/Watershed site map, in progress. It shows the streams’ normal flow, along with flood zones areas and the extreme breach cause by Hurricane Irene in Phoenicia. Shown are the Esopus; north of it the Stonyclove: Oxclove (which runs through our back yard) and Warner creeks.
I am thinking of one of these for the map, mostly as a color choice:
Still working on the oil-on-board pieces. What makes me happy? How I tweaked the line of the swash multiple times to create that subtle lift and almost vanishing to the right. Just that one thing, the last that I did, took me from liking to loving.
It looks like Tessa will stay in Minnesota for the time being. Reentry into her VT community would include her roommate, who works with (essential businesses) farming and food security, self-isolating, and she could not see friends nor work (like all of the rest of us!). So she is better off in Minnesota with Zac and the 5 others with whom she has been in the woods maple sugaring for the past few months.
Trump is becoming more and more unhinged. I am amazed that it is even possible. He does love conflict, and has reverted—after a short spell of acting almost presidential a little bit of the time, due to national outrage at his irresponsibility over the Covid-19 suffering—to fomenting fights among our states and backing demonstrators against stay-at-home restrictions.
He is severely mentally ill and cannot sustain even the appearance of normalcy for more than a few hours. It makes those of us who are rational scared to death for the future of us all.
I did some color-mixing and related painting conversation via Zoom today with a few students with whom I am friendly. We worked out some bugs and they were happy to take steps forward in their painting practice, as they shelter in place.
This is a spiffed-up version of our chart for mixing blues, using just three colors and black and white:
I did a few last tweaks on the new Path painting this morning:
I’ll be starting a blog post that will document the process of creating a very large commissioned piece, 6’x8′. This is a multi-step process even for a smaller piece and in normal times, and is involving even more logistics due to the size and the constrictions that we are living with. I’ll publish the post once the final piece is completed, some time in June.
Tuesday-Thursday, March 24-26:
In the past few days we have seen the news become worse and worse, with the NYC metro area suffering huge numbers of infected and new infections mounting exponentially. The issue of New Yorkers fanning across the country to flee—or just wait out— the problem is finally much in the news, with some states requiring quarantine.
This has been on my mind here in the Catskills, where every second or third home is a weekend place and many others are AirBnB investment properties, currently rented. I would do the same if I lived in nyc and had a place up here, but I would have come up weeks ago and then stayed, like my sister and brother-in-law did. It’s the recent arrivals that pose a risk to us all.
However, we are all supposed to be behaving as if we and every other person has it. I would say that, for those coming from the global epicenter, this should extend to face masks while shopping. And, since recently trailhead parking lots in the Skills are full when the weather is nice, remembering to keep your six feet from other hikers—it’s easy to forget while out in the fresh air. Gloves and speed at the post office, as many of us in this rural area have to pick up our mail.
On the whole, it seems that folks are good and buttoned up in their homes, as they should be, wherever they come from. Since we have a lovely series of hiking trails just up my dead-end road, our road is always the choice for neighborhood dog walkers and hikers, and it is so nice to stop for chats, as in the past, but with more distance between us. I haven’t seen many of the new arrivals in this mix, but we are all good as long as we maintain our six feet.
Cases are mounting in Ulster County, though we have had only one in Shandaken for quite a while now (maybe a week, in our new telescoped time). Otsego County, where my Dad lives in Oneonta, went from zero to five in the past few days. My dear friend Di (known locally as “Dr. Di” and also my Dad and his partner’s yoga teacher) is now City Health Officer for preparedness for Covid-19. When we chatted the other night she described their local efforts, but there had yet to be a known case in the county. I am sure that they are now on higher alert to avoid community spread.
In other Covid-19 news, the NY Times published an article yesterday by a woman in NYC whose husband has a pretty bad case—just teetering on hospitalization—and how she and her 16-year-old daughter are coping with nursing him and trying not to get it themselves. It is clear that at his level of misery, there is no way he could take even the most basic care of himself.
This brought it home in a very concrete way, since with this illness all previous protocols are out the window. Family is not supposed to step in, no one is supposed to get near—the only help can come from folks dropping off needed supplies, whether medical or food. Each household, no matter how small, is on it’s own, with a bit of doctor’s advice and the worst case solution of being hospitalized.
I am glad that we have worked so hard within our household to stay safe, though we could still, of course, be unlucky.
Daughter Tessa called yesterday, just a check in before she goes back into the Minnesota woods to continue maple sugaring until her original target date of April 13 or 14th. It was so great to hear her voice.
I had left her a voicemail with a little bit of info on what’s going on in this country, and she seemed unable to let go of the idea that Jack and I are reacting with outsized anxiety. It is such an unprecedented situation that if you are not living it, of course it would seem like that…
She is now with only six others of the original crew, all having ben there for over a month, safe and happily out of contact with the world. How she will get back here to pick up her car, and then onto her Vermont home has yet to be determined. I am dead set against using her plane ticket to Newark.
In the studio I finished the sand flats painting, Soft Glow over Tidal Flats, 30″x60″:
I wonder when I will see the sea again? Almost surely not the first of May, as originally planned, for my seasonal drop-off at Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard.
Work is also progressing on the watershed Site Map; here, a detail of the most developed sections:
I have started painting the planned small oil-on-board pieces.
I am so focused on these projects that the studio constantly calls to me…I would happily spend even more time there every day, but there are both necessary and lovely other things to do—yoga, hike, cook, yard work, read, paperwork and phone calls (Jack’s job is shut down for the duration and mine—who knows?—so we are applying for all of the things), and all of the email and phone connecting with friends and family.
As the finale of this show and thus this post, I offer a beautifully produced recording of my interview with audience Q&A by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. This discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of this show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
Water is ease, water is in our dreams, water kills. Water is 60% of our bodies and covers 71% of the planet. We float, swim, sink, ride on, drink, cook and grow with, own, fight over, drown in, boil, crave, gaze at, and are mesmerized by water. It bears repeating: Water is life.
Water use has also been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As thirst, water rights and fights; severe storms; droughts, fires, floods; and sea level rise become increasingly critical on much of the planet, I have been catapulted into creating an expanded rubric for water imagery in my work. This focuses in on our environment and the challenges it faces, while continuing to celebrate the beauty our planet provides.
Atlas /Forms of Water maps the environmental theme while mapping my body of work, revealing a web of meaning around and between the individual pieces that I create. The matrix that connects all of my landscape imagery is saturated with memory, both personal and collective. To make these connections, I have created a site map for the body of work on view.
Maps functions as an aid to find our way. In this context, I am mapping our bodies and states of water; the paintings in the exhibit; memory and self; and threats to our environment, among other, more elusive things.
The Site Map has small monotypes running up both sides that are interpretations of the major paintings in the show. The four other prints are a conversation about threats from global warming: bigger hurricanes in upper left; sea-level rise in upper right: and stream/river flooding in the two at bottom, before and after.
At the top, I have included topographical contours, a loose and flattened version of the Escarpment that curves around Woodstock and then runs north parallel to the Hudson River.
Mountains are the first source of our surface water, and the painting below includes that form of water visible as the Catskill Mountains rising above the back shore, as well as mists, a cloud, and the Hudson River.
Another new collaged map for the show is of the NYC watershed, water tunnels included. New York City has negotiated—and renegotiated, multiple times—a pass on national regulations that mandate the filtering of drinking water. This exemption is a huge deal, and requires constant monitoring and regulation of the watershed townships within the areas shown, and many mandates for property owners to keep the water flowing into NYC reservoirs clean. While this makes our relationship to our larger neighbor to the south a complex and co-dependent one, it also has transformed our stewardship of our land and streams.
The below same-size collage from the year before is of the Hudson Canyon, which is essentially an underwater extension of the Hudson River, extending southeast until it drops off the continental shelf.
Also in mixed media/collage, “Forms of Water: A Taxonomy”. This small tintype drawer contains the following seven categories, from the top row moving down: states and phases of visible water; geographical bodies of water; wetlands; types of clouds; storms; waves; and human made forms of water.
Creating pieces in vintage boxes, drawers, muffin pans, and child’s blackboards has been one of my ongoing series for some years now. It requires a listening attitude to select and then bend the imagery to work with the support that I have chosen, starting the process in a different way from a blank canvas. In the below piece, the box and the piece of wood that I painted on had elements that determined both what imagery I chose and how I painted it.
For decades now, I have been devoted to painting fog, suspended water that softens our landscapes, sometimes obscuring, sometimes defining:
Many of my paintings depict wetlands, so gorgeous and vital for controlling flooding caused by excessive rain events, storms, tidal flooding, and sea-level rise; as well as filtering sediment in water and providing habitat for wildlife. Visually, salt marshes in particular create color and shape that I return to paint over and over again.
Manmade forms of water are included in the show, as seen in the flood image near the top and in the vertical painting below, which depicts a wetland developed by humans to cultivate cranberries.
The pieces in the show include landscape imagery in oil on linen; monotypes; small works in oil on board; water imagery using vintage boxes, blackboards, and other containers/support; and map collages.
I was motivated in fall of 2016 to move towards creating shows that place my open, color-field landscapes within a complex experiential web. Three major factors came into play at just that time.
The first was anticipation of a residency in Nantucket scheduled for that winter, and this dovetailed with the second, some thoughts about turning 60 later on in 2018. Given that my background is in contemporary art and that I have always viewed my progressions in landscape painting through that lens; my question to self was—what do I want to do, now, that I haven’t yet?
Among my answers to this question was learning monoprint and linocut techniques, which I now employ both for stand-alone prints and also for the Site Map. Below, some recent monotypes.
The third factor was key. Feeling profound grief over the outcome of the 2016 election, my mind returned repeatedly to the single biggest issue on the table, climate change. The conviction that time is running out here and that four years could be critical was decisive in determining the direction that my work has since taken. The acceleration of bad news in this arena since then is eye-popping—sea level rise predictions alone are much, much higher and sooner than was predicted while I was researching the topic in my February, 2017 Nantucket residency.
Snow and ice appear in my work and in the context of Atlas/Forms of Water, depict one of the main three phases of water, solid.
Water vapor, the gaseous state of water, is invisible. The closest thing that is visible is steam, such as the image of a geyser below.
Globally, precipitation has shifted so that many of the wet places are wetter and the dry locales are dryer. For this reason, I decided to create and include several pieces that depict water’s opposite, fire.
My imagery is heavily weighted toward the Northeast of the United States, as that is where I have spent much of my life. But I could be anywhere on the planet, exploring the same themes, and I bring with me memories of living in the arid Andes and central Castile; painting in rain-soaked Western Ireland; traveling Northern California to capture the coastal golden hillsides of late summer; and returning to the Nebraska flatlands of my early childhood. It all informs the matrix. It is all water.
This show builds upon my Atlas/Hudson River Valley show in March of 2017, which you can read about here:
We are collaborating with Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper on a fundraising benefit October 12th, 5-8. That evening, 15% of sales will go to these vital local environmental organizations, as well as the proceeds of a raffle for this 12″x12″ painting:
(Note: Raffle was drawn on 11-16. Tickets were $20. We raised almost $1,300 from the raffle alone!)
In 2011 I wrote a post describing some quirky and heartwarming stories that led to a sale or sales of my work:
Since then, I have accumulated a few more that I want to share.
My seven-year-old collector:
Several years ago I was approached by acquaintances who live in our little hamlet. Could their younger daughter interview me for a school project on her favorite artist?
Juliet had accompanied her father Brett to an open studio I had hosted several months prior, and so thought of me (the other kids did mostly Picasso or Van Gogh, I think!).
So we did that, and then Juliet returned to my studio for a private art class. Her mom, Rebecca–who I barely knew, at that point—read in the yard while we did our session, and at the end she came into the studio and we chatted. Juliet was still quite shy at that time, but summoned her courage to ask me how much I charged for my paintings. Her mother feared that the question was rude, but I said, no, that asking for price in an artist’s studio was perfectly acceptable.
So I pointed to a 36″x36″ and said, “This painting will go out to one of my galleries shortly and is priced at $6,000”, and then I pointed to a few other pieces in a stack and continued, “but those pieces in this stack” and I pulled out one that had been in the possession of my sister for years, “are much, much older and I will sell to a friend for a few hundred dollars”.
Her mom and I continued chatting, and then Juliet tugged on her mothers clothing. “MOM, I want to buy a painting.” Rebecca was floored and a little embarrassed, so I picked up what I thought was just a conversational ball. “Juliet, if you were going to buy a painting, which one would it be?
“That one”—she pointed to the stack, where I had stashed the earlier piece behind a few others. I pulled it out again. “I want to buy THAT one.” Her mom tried to backtrack, or at least table the conversation for later, but Juliet was having none of it. “How much would you charge me for it?”
I thought quickly. I could certainly have happily gifted her the piece, it was clear that she wanted to purchase it. So I told her that I would sell that painting to her for $150. “MOM, she said, I have savings and I WANT to buy the painting.” It went back and forth like that for a bit, Juliet also insisting that they take the painting NOW.
And so they did.
Her parents made the great call to have her go with them to the bank and make her first ever withdrawal and then bring me the money herself.
The angelic-looking and very strong-willed young artist:
I have since enjoyed getting to know the whole family better, as Brett and Rebecca have acquired a few pieces of their own and we have shared a glass of wine or two.
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She googled “Moody Greenscapes”:
And the study for the piece:
So that was just about that for that, as she explained:
Painting from 1987:
A few months ago I received an email from a fellow asking about the inspiration for this painting:
I have to say, I was very excited to see this piece, to me a standout from my abstract figurative period in the 1980’s when I was living in NYC. I remembered the sale of it to a woman who was accustomed to collecting high-end work, and I had always wondered if/how long she had held onto it. Frankly, given what else she had on her walls in her Sutton Place apartment, I was afraid that it had ended up in a dumpster.
It turned out that she does indeed really love her art–all of it, no dumpsters—even those pieces that have been switched around to different residences and in and out of storage. A few years ago, she offered to gift this piece to her sometimes personal assistant/friend and her husband. And so, it ended up in their California home…and sparked the inquiry.
I was communicating with Rich, the husband, batting info back and forth. Eventually, it was his idea to purchase two small pieces to go on either side, accommodating their budget. After studying the photo of their living room with the painting (which we started calling simply the “Sisters” painting, as is is a stylized image of me with my sister Karin behind me), I realized that monotypes would be the best bet, both for color/affect and for price. I recommended going with the pop of warm color that is in the painting, rather than trying to match the greens.
Then the couple decided that they wanted two more prints, for other spots in the room. I sent the four of them off and the next day got the email below:
“Love them! Thank you. I can’t wait to get them framed!
These are the other two that they acquired:
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Does a gift qualify as a sale?
Some 12 or so years ago we had a holiday party and Gary Alexander, art and science writer from Woodstock, came with his girlfriend. He had been introduced to me years before by my then-gallery, the James Cox Gallery, and had gone on to, over time, write extensively about my work. (This included an 8 page article that got into Freud and brain science and required some serious focus, even for me.)
I had my studio heated and lit that night for those who wanted to take a look, and Gary, of course, did. After a bit of circulating on his part, we went out together and he pretty quickly got snagged by a 36″x36″ painting that was almost totally in black and white, big stormy sky gleam over our Catskill mountains backlit to black.
I can’t find a jpeg of the piece, but it had a look very similar to this one, but with a black mountain range in front:
A bit later, when I went back out with another friend, Gary’s partner was kneeing on the floor, rapt, in front of the same painting.
A few months later, this piece began to—ugh!—develop fine cracks in the surface. It was a new brand of stretched linen I had tried, quite pricey, and I think now was actually stretched too tight, a rare thing. Sadly, this painting was not going out to one of my galleries, even though these cracks were not visible from a few yards back.
I knew immediately what to do. I called Gary and left a message on his machine. Can you come by the studio, I have a surprise for you?
He was there within the hour. A gentle, laconic fellow, he did not stay around to chat after I gave him the painting, but his face said it all.
I am quite sure that it was the last time I saw him. He passed away in 2017.
I hope his girlfriend is still enjoying the painting.
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To Madrid on the private jet:
One more, a quick one, because that is how the sale happened.
In June of 2017 a fellow was drawn into my gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, the Louisa Gould Gallery, by a very large marsh painting in the window. That piece was too big, but sitting still wrapped in the gallery was my season’s delivery, dropped by my husband earlier that day. The fellow, from Madrid, helped unwrap a new 44″x68″, and fell in love with the piece instantly. His wife concurred. Problem was, would it fit in their private jet?
Just then, his pilot walked by the front of the gallery and was promptly hailed. Would this piece fit? Hurried consultation in Spanish. Yes, it would!
The piece was wrapped back up and invoiced and paid for, and out the door it went.
The whole encounter took about 20 minutes.
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I have been steadily selling my work for decades, resulting in many hundreds of pieces going out to homes, offices, and public collections around the country and the world. These stories remind me to be grateful for each and every one of those sales, but you can see that most of the ones that stick with me are not necessarily big in dollar amount, but big in heart.
Deep, happy, exhalation—spring is here!
I recently delivered fresh work to Louisa Gould Gallery on the Vineyard. She is currently hanging her first show of the season, including my new work, and then plans a big 15th anniversary show with a reception mid-summer. Here are a few of my additions to the gallery walls:
In other shore news, I am very pleased to announce new representation on Nantucket at the Thomas Henry Gallery. I am still working on the pieces that will be delivered in early June, but here is a sneak preview:
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My solo show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, Atlas/Hudson River Valley, was very well received. I will continue updating the blog post on the show to label what has been been purchased, as the gallery has kept many pieces for follow-up viewing and acquisition. I have also labeled with a G the pieces still at the gallery.
Most of my spring sales have naturally come from this Chatham show, and have included oils, a pastel, monotypes, and a collage—a nice affirmation for all of these explorations. Here a is a handful of examples:
Sold, happily, as a pair:
This show was a wonderful experience for me from every standpoint. Parting words from them when I was done with pick-up—after expressing my deep appreciation for how well-handled every aspect of our interaction was—“happy artist, happy gallery”.
Those works that have returned to my studio are back on my available work post, as well a number of other pieces:
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Iconic Cloud recently came back to me and I just touched it up, brightening both hillside and sky. I’ve done that a few times recently—must be a shift in my mood.
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Here is a schedule of my workshops in Woodstock, Nantucket, and Provincetown. My color-mixing workshop has become very popular with painters of all levels and styles, so some version of that is being offered in the three locales.
I will participate in the Shandaken Studio Tour July 21-22. More on this as it approaches—it is such a pleasure for me to set up my studio as a gallery and host visitors both new and known.
Moving forward, a September show at Julie Heller East in Provincetown and the Luminous Landscape at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck later in the fall. Plus some as yet unknown opportunities will likely arise, as they usually do…
My first fully realized Atlas Project installation opens at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, on March 31st, 2018. Elaborating on my artist’s statement for my discussion below, I am also including photos of all of the work in the show.
Here is the gallery’s press release, nicely weaving together my previous artist’s statement about my paintings with my new Atlas Project statement. Thompson Giroux Gallery and I are very pleased to be pledging a donation from sales to benefit two local land conservancy organizations, a small thank-you to the earth for the beautiful vistas and open spaces that I have been painting for the past decades.
The artworks in Christie Scheele‘s solo exhibition Atlas/Hudson River Valley take the viewer on a walk through the Hudson River Valley’s open spaces from Albany south to Manhattan.
In this exhibition Scheele brings together paintings, drawings, printmaking and mixed media and explores the personal and collective connection between our lives today and our increasingly fragile environment. Scheele continues her immersion into open spacious landscape painting. Using soft lines Scheele allows the viewer to sense and experience a particular place in our local environment; the way the light makes you feel at a specific time of day, how a place has it’s own color palette reflecting memory and process. Scheele’s use of color and atmosphere creates a suspended moment to experience the intangible power of nature.
With each destination on the “Site Map” we are invited to take an intimate look at how process, history and memory play a crucial role in our relationship to our natural environment.
In an effort to support our local land conservation initiatives, artist Christie Scheele and Thompson Giroux Gallery pledge 5% of any sales by the artist during Atlas/Hudson River Valley on view March 31-May 6, 2018 to benefit the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Woodstock Land Conservancy.
Please join us Saturday March 31st from 4-6pm for refreshments and live music by Josh Connors & Otto Gardnier.
Gallery hours: Thursday – Monday 11am to 5pm, Friday 11am to 7pm.
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday
Closed Sunday April 1st
Image credit: Christie Scheele, “Forms of Water”, 2016, Oil on Linen, 30″ x 36″.
Land and water use have been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As these issues become increasingly critical, I have been catapulted —but also eased, nestled— into expanding the environmental discussion that until now has been mostly implied in my work, putting into context my decades-long celebration of the powerful beauty of our planet.
My new Atlas Project maps my work while mapping the world, revealing a web of meaning around and between the individual pieces that I create. The matrix that connects all of my landscape imagery is saturated with memory, both personal and collective. To show these connections, I am working in one thematic grouping at a time, creating a legend, or site map, to each body of work. The Site Map is a key both to a given installation and to the region or theme that it explores.
The Site Map for Atlas/Hudson River Valley, the first of these exhibitions, is created with collage on a Rand McNally road map of the river valley, the Catskills, and our wider region. It contains numbered mini-monotypes of all of the oil paintings on view and corresponding map tacks showing the locale depicted on the map.
Extensions of the Site Map include Mapping Memory, lino/mono prints of regional flora and fauna with written personal observations; a collaged and monoprinted map of the source of the river in the Adirondacks; a collage of the Hudson Canyon, extending 400 miles out to sea from NY Harbor; and a fourth extension discussing climate change and local impacts.
Using drawing, printmaking, pasteling, writing, and mixed-media along with oil paintings, I am exploring the interrelationships of process, history, and memory. These are revealed not only by air, land, and water but also by my materials and personal history as an artist, family and community member, and frequent inhabitant of the outdoor world.
The Atlas Project text is therefore a blend of natural history and personal memory. For the Atlas/Hudson River Valley site map I decided to tuck the text of my stories into an envelope that I created with rice paper. You can see these along the left-hand side of the Site Map, and an open one below:
Other bits of writing get more into the life-cycle of the wildlife depicted. I chose the species included in the map based on my interactions with them but also on a long-standing fascination. We probably all have these — how amazing, to me, is the Red Eft, so bright among the fauna of the NE United States? How cool is the life-cycle? Here is my story about these creatures:
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the salamanders that I caught as a child near Oneonta, NY, are the same creatures as the Red Efts that I greet after every rain or heavy dew on the trails of the Catskills.
They have three life stages: the first after hatching in ponds; the second when they turn from brown to red and lose their gills, traveling on land for several years to find a new body of water. Finally, in their adult phase the tail widens, and they turn back into a greenish-brown color, living and breeding as aquatic animals with lungs to complete their 12-15-year life span.
At eight I was enamored of catching and releasing in a pond that we swam in during summer months. On one occasion I brought two newts home in a mayonnaise jar, stocked with moss and bits from the bottom of the pond. I changed the water every day with nearby creek water and left the jar under a big tree on our lawn, dropping in small insects from time to time.
One day I spotted eggs in the moss. Such anticipation!
A few days later we heard young voices coming from our front yard just after dark, and looked out to see two boys walking away. The next morning, I found my jar empty of water and newts, the eggs drying in the sun.
Printmaking become an integral part of Atlas/Hudson River Valley. Below are two monotype versions of the image used in “Reflected Suns”, exploring the more graphic possibilities of the medium.
And the mini-monotype on the Site Map (placement of these had to do with compositional concerns, as the numbers and map tacks are what identify the precise locales):
The first energy and ideas for this project evolved in 2016. That fall, I was experiencing profound grief over election results and their potential to set policy that will accelerate climate change. I was also contemplating a scheduled residency on Nantucket in February of 2017, and my upcoming 60th birthday later on that year. The second two factors prompted a question—how do I want to expand and deepen my range as an artist? The first, my accelerating concern over the health of our planet, gave me direction.
This extension to the Site Map addresses the issue of global warming:
These two recent monotypes reflect a view of a section of the Schoharie Creek valley in summer and then during the massive storm flooding caused by Irene:
And two additional monotypes of our region:
The Nantucket residency produced a prototype Site Map where I first used the idea of making small monotype prints of the oil paintings to be included in the grouping or show. It is a very rich process, artistically, entering a new world as you are creating it, and also full of the discomfort of facing the unknown. To read about my residency, go to this link to my blog post:
I so loved the collaging-on-a-map process while working on the Site Map that I decided to create some of these as stand-alone art pieces. The first, below, leaves much of the under-map showing, and in addition to pattern and magazine papers; samaras, wasp galls, and other bits and bobs, I hand dyed some of the green papers used for the Catskill Park area.
I live in the High Peaks area of the Catskills, so many of the pieces in this show are images of the mountains, roadways, streams, and of course, the Ashokan Reservoir, seen above in blue within the Park.
Another collage, also of the River, is more tightly composed and with more contrast than the first, and includes the small river towns of Kingston, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie, and Newburg.
For the third, following my own lead with the Site Map extension, I hand-died rice papers in varied blues to reinterpret the Hudson Canyon, the below-water extension of the river itself.
The Hudson River originates in Lake Tear of the Clouds, in a remote area of the Adirondacks, as pinpointed in the upper extension, above. It empties out into New York Harbor:
Many images are Hudson views between NYC and Hudson, NY. The stretch between Poughkeepsie and and Saugerties is well-traveled in the summer by us in our small lake boat. Lower sections are often views from bridges and the train.
This is not a catalogue of all of the wonderful views of the HV and Catskills, but rather an organically created collection of a number of the paintings that I have done over the past 10 years or so of our region. In this way, the grouping is a bit of a retrospective.
I am frequently hiking and driving around both the East side of the Hudson, into the Berkshires, as well as the West side, reaching into of the foothills of the Catskills, providing sources for some favorite views of the river itself as well as farm fields and hillsides.
The final study done for a large piece in oil, now sold, inspired by the Maya Lin Wave Field at Storm King:
My upcoming groupings will include Atlas/Forms of Water, and Atlas/Cape Cod, the former creating overlap with the place-based themes and requiring a different solution for the map (I am thinking maps, actually).
I alternate between focusing on aspects of this work that I am currently inventing and my continued immersion in my open, spacious landscape paintings, looking to draw it all together into a cohesive whole, mirroring the wholeness of life on earth.
A link to the Violet Snow article in the WoodstockTimes:
Many thanks to those who have helped this project along: my husband, Jack, for design and paste-up help; Kate McGloughlin of the Woodstock School of Art for teaching me monotype techniques; Mary Emery for inspiring my rediscovery of printmaking; The Artists Association of Nantucket for hosting the residency that advanced this work; Polly Law for brainstorming titles (including “Atlas Project” itself) and language with me; Jenny Nelson for being my sounding board; Loel Barr for showing me some of her cool collage techniques; Thompson Giroux Gallery for planning and mounting this large and complex solo show; Geoffrey Rogers for his expert framing; and Mark Loete for the perfect photographs of the Site Map and extensions.
This spring my mind has been on many of the seasonal imperatives, like creating new work for my galleries on the Cape and Islands and sorting through and shipping or delivering their selections. It has also, after a huge jump-start on my Atlas Project during my residency at the Nantucket Arts Association, been very much on advancing that exploration; and the spring has been spiced up by a few other new projects.
I have scheduled a talk to discuss my Atlas Project for July 15 during the Shandaken Artists Studio Tour, 4:30-6pm. I am currently developing the third sequence, Atlas/Hudson Valley segment. This means that, in addition to other work in my studio, I will hang a grouping of each of the sections that I have been working on this year: Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow; Atlas/Island (Nantucket); and the most extensive sequence to date, the Hudson River and Catskills work and mapping thereof.
In my studio work progresses on my third prototype map for this grouping, which will include mini-monotypes of the paintings involved; maps of various sorts of the area; and a number of other elements, both descriptive and visual. I am hoping that this map will be the working template that clicks for me so that I can use it for new groupings/exhibitions going forward. This involves lots of trial and error, applied problem-solving and then experimenting with the materials (maps, acrylics, printmaking, rice paper, collage, river mud, etc.).
I have found that when I pose myself a complex creative problem to be solved, following a simple process works quite well. I start by seeing how far I can think my way into it, often using moments when I am driving or walking, and when I hit an aspect or aspects that stump me, I plant those as a seed, and then let go of the conscious effort. Some time later—usually weeks—the answer will pop into my head, my subconscious having been at work on it all the while, sometimes aided by new information that comes my way in the interval.
Here is where I am so far with the latest Site Map and associated prints:
Above and below are a few of the Hudson River & Valley/Catskills paintings that are part of the new sequence:
My new series is bringing me ever closer to the many aspects of the natural world that I have in the past observed, researched and delighted in. Which of these things and how they can manifest in the work is the adventure. As is true of most meaningful new endeavors, the space this holds for me is both stimulating and disquieting.
My first gallery show of Atlas/Hudson Valley is scheduled for 2018 at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
To view more oil paintings that are currently in my studio, click here:
During spring I am always preparing to deliver or ship new work to my galleries in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and/or Cape Cod. Below are some new pieces at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. She always has a beautifully installed grouping of my work on display throughout the year, so please stop by if you are on the island.
My residency at the Arts Association of Nantucket in February resulted in many advancements in my problem-solving curve for the Atlas Project; a number of small paintings; and some monotypes (see my blog post on the residency):
The five monotypes hanging below are a the results of printing sessions in both Woodstock and Nantucket.
And a few others:
See more of my prints and pastels here:
In April I flew to South Florida to do a large painting for friends with a new house there. I managed to pack in one big suitcase everything I needed, including the 16″x20″ version of the wave image that I had painted ahead of time. The one thing that did not fit in my suitcase was the 48″x60″ stretched linen canvas, which we had shipped from my wonderful stretcher-makers in Vermont, Brickyard Enterprises.
I had exactly one week to do this large piece and so, concerned about the possibility of things going wrong, I put in long days for the first several, working under an overhang in the pool enclosure.
Happily, nothing did go wrong, so we had a finished piece on the wall ahead of deadline and then I got to play, spending time at the Morikami Gardens and the beach (more wave paintings to come!).
My winter-spring show with Albert Shahinian Fine Art wrapped up in early April. We had a nice run of of two receptions—one at the gallery and one at my studio; a number of sales of pieces small and large, old and new; and an interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal containing questions that I quite enjoyed:
Several of the pieces that went to new homes from our show “Gallery/Studio: A Symbiosis”:
I am teaching four more workshops in 2017, several of them new. In my workshops I emphasize composition as well as color, and share not only my techniques, but also an eclectic delight in many styles and aspects of contemporary and historical art.
The Woodstock School of Art:
I have plans for some new pastels in the near future—its a good time of year to approach these, with the studio windows wide open (ah, and I must mention sounds of birds and the creek behind my studio), mitigating any effects of flying dust. Below is a fairly recent one, in which I was pushing the color somewhat.
Over the years I have at times felt pressure from some of my galleries to work brighter. I am very often a moody painter, though I don’t ever want to limit myself to any palette, locale, format, or mood. I do love a bright sunny day, but painting dramatic clouds and subtle, tonal color often draws me, and many of my collectors will follow me into that terrain.
With the pastel above, I set myself the intention of not going as dark along the horizon as I often do in a seascape, and in general keeping the colors more saturated or desaturated with white instead of grey. I wanted to see if I could make myself happy with a lower contrast, brighter image. And I did.
This is turning a request, essentially, into a creative problem. When people ask me how and whether being a full time, self-supporting artist affects my decision-making in the studio, that is part of the answer—that if I feel that I am being nudged in a particular direction, can I turn that into an interesting problem? And after I work that one out, what else can I do that is generated exclusively by, to use Kandinsky’s term, inner necessity?
Additional works at the gallery:
Additional images can be viewed at:
I am very pleased to have new representation at Gallery 901 in Santa Fe, NM. Please check out the gallery if you are in town:
I have just added some newly returned work to my data-base, and taken off the aforementioned holiday gifts. If you are looking for a large painting, this is a rare moment to peruse the many choices:
Since I sold the piece in October that was on my large living room wall, I have had the pleasure of replacing it, temporarily at least, with this favorite that I recently had returned to me:
Looking ahead, my thoughts are on the project I am developing for my residency in Nantucket in Feb.-March. This will involve an expanded and more experiential exploration of place, using drawing, printmaking, painting, writing…and who knows what else? Memory will be a theme.
Also coming up this winter, a special show/sale starting in early February at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY. More on this in a few weeks.
Finally, for those of you who do the drive from Kingston, NY up Route #28 to your home or weekend place, or if you just want to listen to a very well-produced culture/history/arts audio tour of the Catskills, check out this piece by neighbor and friend Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio (who Catskills/HV/Berkshires folks will know from the segments that he does on WAMC). My bit is about half-way into it, but with Brett’s interview prompts that created the individual discussions followed by skillful editing, the whole piece is beautifully interwoven and well worth listening to.
I am wishing us, individually and collectively, a year of truth-seeking and compassion; of finding community; and exploring our deepest joys.
In the postscript to Umberto Eco’s dense and philosophical historical novel, The Name of the Rose, he observes: “…I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.”
Such interesting language, and of course relevant to all art forms. I have often mused on the first part of this observation, knowing that the art that moves me the most and that I am intent upon creating invites interpretation and projection on the part of the viewer. But the second part is so delicious—“without ever being completely consumed.”
So which pieces from my formative years, my “comfort” art, can I point to that continue to nourish with new information, new sensation, never being finished?
The four paintings below send me into an almost conditioned swoon. So, pulling myself out of my art-induced trance, I will take a close, fresh look at them.
Rothko said, “If you are only moved by color relationships, then you miss the point. I’m interested in expressing the big emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”
I enter into a Rothko like looking at the ocean. This phase can last for quite some time. Eventually, as the eye wanders toward the edges, my consciousness is popped back out again and onto the surface of the painting, the blues anchoring me to the here-and-now. The gorgeous uneven edges of the main shapes going into the brighter blue…they make me feel stirred up and moored at the same time, as does the color. On the whole, I would say, deeper than tragedy, ecstasy, or doom… way down deep, sub-verbal.
“I have always been concerned with painting that simultaneously insists on a flat surface and then denies it,” Frankenthaler has said. The flat surface at work here is quite evident—and beautifully so. The mauve shape has the illusion of sheen that brings silk to mind. The most complex shape in the piece is without paint at all, bringing the eye firmly to the surface of the raw canvas. The small dark shape in the upper left looks like a piece of tape or paper placed on top, emphasizing flatness.
What is denying the flat in this piece? I see a subtle vibration in the mauve field that is full of movement, as if rippling in the wind, inviting the viewer to float into it.
What delights my eye the most is the interaction of shapes. The edges are softly stained and jagged with lovely variation. Each shape is a statement in its own right, but all are nudging the eye toward the unpainted angular form as it moves across the canvas. The dark corner at the top left presses the eye down and into that shape. The spot on the lower right where it almost but not quite goes off the canvas also leads the eye back into the piece, and both of these elements create a needed tautness to the otherwise open surface.
It is nowhere clearer than in minimalist non-geometric abstraction how much a play of edge and composition can directly reach the viewer’s heart. Without the descriptive content of a representational image, it is much easier to see how these shapes interact. There are good (dynamic, interesting, disconcerting, playful, assertive, and/or pensive) shapes and not-so-good (boring, overly regular, static, needlessly complex, and/or repetitive) shapes. Even more importantly, their interaction and directionality define the feel of the painting.
“With color one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft. “
Clearly, I love color-field painting. This iconic Matisse painting was already there back in 1911. It does as beautifully as any painting I’ve ever seen what a non-realist representational painting should do: both describe the space and flatten to the front of the picture plane. This is much like Frankenthaler’s observation above, made more complex by the descriptive aspect of the subject matter.
I have always delighted in the way that the white lines, created from negative space underneath the red, are the drawing element. (The grandfather clock is brilliant!) I am now noticing for the first time that it is the perspective, I think quite accurate, that really describes the room for us.
Whites and pinks punctuating the space and a handful of curved shapes keep the eye circulating and create clusters of compositional interest.
All of this is embedded in one, flat plane of red; a red so rich you can almost breathe it in.
“Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal.”
Shapes, stunning shapes. This painting has a complex composition that still leaves the piece feeling open, mostly due to the reduced palette. The whites and almost whites along with the Chinese Lantern snaking up behind create the most startlingly interesting element of the piece, to my eye—the small white shape sitting on top of the shoulder of the figure.
There is narrative here both in the painterly treatment of the figure and in its placement and expression. Schiele depicts himself with his signature angular shapes and dramatic cropping. The harsh texture on the face projects a view of self while the subtler texture of the black shirt brings movement to the largest single shape in the painting. One is pretty and the other is not.
The head is cocked and the gaze quizzical but challenging.
Knowing that Schiele died at the age 28 of the flu, and viewing this piece from my current age and perspective, I can’t help but feel that along with its pictoral brilliance, the painting projects a young man’s working-it-out doubts and hubris, all very raw.
Some of these emotions I remember feeling at 17 or 25, and other observations are fresh. Looking at these pieces today, I find the sensations that they provoke, familiar or new, more exciting and moving than ever.
So it is a conversation that never ends.
SALE!! Almost all of the work included in this data-base is now priced $200-$500. Inquire for details. (Through the end of May.)
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 and monotypes, most notably Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; JSO ART Associates in Westport CT, and Gallery Jupiter in Little Silver, NJ.
Oil on paper:
Mixed Media/Collage (Of paper and other things, on board):
The three below show the pressed edge and different colored papers. Prints are normally framed showing the distinctive edge, and a little float of the paper, where they are signed:
Three framed prints, 8″x10″/ea.:
And how a collector framed his:
I recently had an invitation to place my work in the newly renovated space of Terrapin Restaurant in Rhinebeck, NY. The designer, also a collector of mine, thought that my work work be perfect to bring views of the Hudson Valley into the restaurant, long known for its locally sourced food.
Immediately looping my gallery—Albert Shahinian Fine Art, located just a few blocks away— into the process, we came up with solutions to some of my concerns. Lighting, in restaurants, is always a big one, as well as how to make clear to diners the names of the artist and gallery; that the work is available for purchase; and that a price list is available, without overly obtrusive wall cards and signage.
At chef Josh’s suggestion, we settled on using mostly farm field and meadow imagery.
Fast forward several weeks and the designer, JT, and Albert and I arrived for the installation. Dodging the still working painters; metal fabricators; and workers with a lift to do the lights in this vaulted space, we commenced hanging on the walls that we could, and Albert finished the job through the course of that week.
After all was said and done, the space looks like this:
Before the launch party, Abbe Aronson, PR person for the event, asked for comments from us and composed this:
MODERN UPDATE OF “FARM TO TABLE MEETS BARN TO TABLE”
RHINEBECK, NY – After drawing gasps of appreciation for food, décor and setting for 15 years in its current location in the historic circa 1825 “First Baptist Church,” award-winning Terrapin restaurant is undergoing a stunning renovation in its main dining room, to be unveiled on Thursday, May 5th at a “First Look, First Taste” cocktail party.
“First Look, First Taste” celebrates not only the redesigned space but also the new spring menus in both the dining room and adjacent Bistro. The party takes place from 6-8 p.m. by invitation only, after which the dining room opens for reservations. As always, emphasis on organic, local cuisine shines at Terrapin, but now will be presented in a chic new setting that, while refreshed, still evokes key sensibilities of the Hudson Valley.
“It was time for a change,” said Chef Josh Kroner who said long-time restaurant patrons as well as new guests were defaulting more and more to Bistro, not because they necessarily preferred the casual menu there but because the dining room had become known as ‘formal’ – “and that’s not the way I intend for people to eat at Terrapin.”
Enter JT McKay of bluecashew Design, an offshoot of neighboring bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy and longtime friend of Kroner’s. “Josh was ‘farm to table’ before farm to table became a marketing term. That sort of food wasn’t a gimmick for him. So when we began to discuss the dining room redesign, we decided to give a proverbial ‘nod’ to this world.”
McKay continued, “There’s a real sense of bringing the outside inside with the new look here. We’re focusing on modern earth tones in the palette and using furnishings and design elements that evoke history and substance, so the two-inch thick red and white oak tables, which are old barn wood with contemporary finishes, are more than just reclaimed materials – they have real presence. Their age and history inform the energy of the entire room.”
Kroner added with a laugh, “I’ve wanted to collaborate with JT for years. The first time he came to my house, he rearranged all of the furniture and the lighting, so I know he was dying to get his hands on this place!”
Nearly all the key elements in the redesigned Terrapin dining room are new, including the lighting scheme, carpeting, place settings, metal railings and chairs, much of which are sourced locally and some of which are available for purchase through bluecashew Wabi Sabi Wood (WSW), based here in Rhinebeck, was tapped to create the dining tables, the true anchor of the room now that the restaurant is abandoning tablecloths in lieu of a more updated look. Company co-owner Patrick Neri explained that in this project, Terrapin and WSW “have focused on bringing the highest quality ingredients into the hands of skilled craftsmen. WSW uses wood reclaimed from the hand-hewn beams of 18th century barns. These beams once stood as trees in the Hudson Valley’s long forgotten old growth forests. The material represents some of the finest wood that ever grew from American soil. With these ingredients we built tables to be the foundation on which the craftsmanship of Terrapin will be displayed. Beneath every dinner plate lays a stunning display of hundreds of years etched in wood grain and patina. This truly will be ‘farm to table meets barn to table.’”
Paintings from Hudson Valley artist Christie Scheele will grace the new walls, curated and installed by Albert Shahinian he of the eponymously named fine art gallery also located in the village of Rhinebeck. Says Scheele, “The single most distinctive aspect to what I do as a landscape painter lies in my ability to reduce a scene to its essentials. This gives the viewer what is important, without the distraction, or visual clutter, of too much detail. Both by providing this overview and by using soft ‘scumbled’ edges, my paintings can quiet a viewer’s mind and evoke a direct response.”
She continued, “My work is, above all, about creating space—within the image of the painting, most often a wide-open vista—but also emotional and mental space for the viewer. The large, open space of the restaurant and the new color scheme in soft cream and a deep, slightly grayed green are perfect for my work. The elegance of the off-black metalwork that accents the room, with its strong, clean lines, also meshes beautifully with my strong, albeit soft-edged, shapes and sweeping contours.”
Shahinian said working with Kroner and Terrapin was a very natural and important collaboration for the neighboring businesses. “Many of our gallery visitors ask us about dining in the village. For years we’ve suggested Terrapin as one of the top places to dine. It seems logical that part of a Terrapin ‘experience’ could suggest a visit to the gallery! There is synergy between such diverse businesses: we both present high standards of quality, presentation, respect for our product and clientele, and offer high value for our visitors. One could say, ‘It takes a village to support a village!’”
Rhinebeck is a great town for a day trip, which could include a glorious stroll to the Hudson at Poet’s Walk; a visit to Albert Shahinian Fine Art; and dinner at Terrapin, where my work will be up for at least the next six months. Hope you make it!
The specifics of how to create a less literal landscape painting seem to be a constant topic of discussion with my students, especially those who don’t come from an art-school background where the artist spends formative years in the mix, constantly exploring or discussing different ways of making art.
I have previously written about the toggle between formal concerns and storytelling in representational work in the following post:
And about pure abstraction in this post discussing the shows of Ellsworth Kelly, Jenny Nelson, and Melinda Stickney-Gibson:
Stepping further into how to break down this discussion, I see that most non-realist landscape painters are combining several ways of achieving this, and that the methods fall broadly into the two categories of what you choose to paint (and leave out) and how you choose to paint it.
In the image selection arena, the artist can either choose a view that had reduced detail for an open, minimalist landscape, or a macro view that has a prominent pattern —-for example, a rock cliff , sundappled water, or a glen of tree trunks.
The tools that the artist then employs in the painting process to emphasize abstraction can include simplifying, flattening, or distorting the shapes: reducing the amount of elements included; changing naturalistic color to non-literal choices; and/or unifying the surface with brushstroke or other technique to create overall texture or pattern.
I have selected pieces from a number of contemporary artists who explore this terrain, many of whom I know or am friends with. In most cases artists are combining several of the approaches mentioned above, using pictoral tools that we, in this generation, have been fortunate enough to inherit and absorb from centuries of painting. The contemporary landscape painter then draws from the smorgasbord that art history provides and, putting it all in a sort of personal artistic blender, comes forth (usually over time) with their own version of the abstracted landscape.
Because the combinations are personal and often subtle, I have chosen to discuss each painting on its own merits rather than sift them into the categories introduced above.
I should add that I love gestural and color field abstract painting and generally am not so interested in realist landscape work. But having long ago chosen for myself a stylistic swath that lands somewhere in the middle, I find these explorations to be endlessly exciting, both in my own studio and in the work of other artists.
I couldn’t resist selecting this piece of Stuart Shils, as I have also painted this dramatic locale in Western Ireland. It is just clear enough that in foreground we have farm fields, but the second shape is so peculiar that the mind could read it as abstract. So, by choosing to paint this bit of cliff that wends its way out into the Atlantic in a long curve, the artist has chosen subject matter that lends itself to abstraction and has also painted it in a broad, loose, and painterly way, emphasizing the color field aspect of the shapes within.
Deborah has selected as her subject matter in this painting broad areas —and only two–that lend themselves to a patterned surface. It is key to the painterly beauty of “Sparkle Square” that the flecks of reflected light are varied in placement and shape, as are the shallow waves and subtly shifting color. Mystery is created by the dark shape of the shore. This is an example of the artist both selecting an image that is abstract in its simplicity and rhythm, and enhancing those aspects in the surface treatment.
Hannah, who also paints pure abstraction, selects material for her landscapes that has a feel that suits her sense of shape—squared off rhythmic forms that repeat within simple divisions of sky and land. In “Windham” I love the way the sky is so different from the ground—the sky like a Rothko and the ground a de Stael. At the same time, the mind reads them perfectly as an ethereal sky and cultivated sweep of land.
In Eric Aho’s ice series, the view is more pulled in than expansive, creating opportunity for very strong compositions that play with the formal elements of shape and line within a reduced color composition. The black shapes have depth when the eye reads them as descriptive—cracks in the ice leading to water below—but also emphasize the directionality of the fractured shapes as they point toward each other and the center of the piece. My eye delights in the play of shapes with this piece every bit as much as it does with a completely abstract painting.
As I have long influenced by the mid-century generation of American color field painters, this piece of mine reads as near abstraction, sitting on top of the picture plane almost before it reads as landscape. My selection of tidal flats as subject matter—already so stark and minimalist—is the starting point, enhanced by flattened shapes with subtle variations in color but no descriptive textural detail. The strong horizon evokes a vista, but turn this piece on its side and you have an abstract painting.
Brighter-than-literal color is not of itself abstract, but combined with the simple fields of color that Wolf Kahn is known for creates a painting that sits right up on the surface plane. In addition to his famous barns, Wolf has also worked extensively with the repeated motif of tree trunks moving across the canvas, creating the patterned effect discussed above. In some paintings this is a more regular and more pronounced repetition, but I particularly liked the color in this piece and the way that the folliage is treated as diffuse scrubs of color. Look carefully, though, and you can see that as soft-edged as these shapes are, they are very particular, varied, and elegant.
“Waves at Jenner” uses brush stroke to create both an energetic expressive field and at the same time capture the feel of big surf crashing on rock, all of this using low-key, tonalist color. To my eye, the mind reads the scene perfectly for what/where it is, but the white strokes are actually more abstract than descriptive, sitting up on the surface of the picture plane. Arnold works in both abstraction and landscape painting, and this piece falls beautifully somewhere close to the middle of that spectrum…but rather closer to abstraction.
Heather very much starts with the first strategy, reducing the content not only by choosing the simplest sea and sky imagery but also by eliminating detail within that. The subject is just recognizable, mostly because of the horizon and the gleams of light in the sky. The color is dense and murky–and also gorgeous—evoking one of those heavy weather days, but even more so a color field painting that sits on top of the scumbled and blended surface.
In “Outlook XVI”, as in other work by this artist, the soft blend is a wet-into-wet technique starting with a little more detail than many of the pieces discussed here. The surface is so heavily blended, however, that the subject matter takes a back seat and the viewer’s attention is brought to the movement that Jeorg made to achieve this effect. The result, in a descriptive sense, feels both like moving weather and as if we are witnessing the scene from a moving vehicle. As a whole, the technique crates both dreamy narrative and energetic abstraction.
This monoprint of Steve Dininno’s is a study in monochromatic color and and reduced detail. To abstract an urban view—a scene that is inherently busy—certain light/weather phenomena are generally employed. In this case the image is being swallowed in fog, allowing the graphic elements to swim out of its implied depth even as the lines of perspective lead the eye forward into the scene. That there is so much interest in “Boardwalk” while at the same time so much empty space is a clear demonstration of the power of the less-is-more phenomenon, when skillfully done.
These trees and, I presume, a light pole, are about as un-fussy as they could be. They, and the blended and scumbled surface relate to the Wolf Kahn piece. However, the eye here is funneled back in space, much like in the Steve Dininno above, and the analogous color composition is quietly moody. The foreground blacks help anchor the piece, creating contrast within the otherwise low-light scene. This piece balances beautifully between capturing the mood of a moment and place and pure, delicious painting.
In this piece Kate uses surface texture to work the sky into a color field that is only just recognizable as a cloud bank. The shape of the shore is simplified, color exaggerated, though she did create a juicy reflection–so much a part of the land-into-water visual experience. The water is quieter than the sky, as is often the case. The white line that was scratched into the pigment on the left is a lovely graphic element that is entirely non-literal. Examining the elements, there is clear back and forth between those that are more descriptive of the scene and those that are more abstract.
Thomas is doing several painterly things in this piece that move it away from realism. There is clear patterning and brush stroke both in the field and the sky above that break up the surface into rhythmic abstraction. Combined with the soft band of fog in the middle distance, this creates a duo perception of paint sitting on top of the picture plane and a recognizable field/sky with atmospheric perspective. The relative symmetry of this image also illustrates the point that when a painter reduces the number of elements, those that remain hold an enhanced interest.
Staats is a master at relating shapes and creating light. Similar to my aesthetic, the number of shapes tend to be reduced and surface of them flattened, but the outlines of the shapes themselves have a good deal of subtle variation. In this piece, the paint handling within the shapes is also beautifully varied, the strip of light in a way that describes light itself and the shapes within the buildings in a more abstract manner. The blur on the left encroaching on the foreground building also seems to be more about the movement of the watercolor than about any recognizable visual phenomenon.
On the whole, what makes these all good paintings is that they are successful in capturing both the feel of the scene depicted and the surface, compositional, and color interest of pure painting, allowing the viewer to delight in both aspects. As for all painting, drawing ability is essential, since the artist needs the hand to do what the eye requires; creating dynamic compositions made of compelling—and usually highly edited— shapes, palettes, and surface.
Occasionally, there is an element that is barely or not quite recognizable…but interesting or gorgeous. My comment to my students when this emerges in their work is “I don’t know what that is…but I really like it so I don’t care”. This observation would apply to the irregular light shape on the right in the Fasoldt piece and the field in the Sarrantonio. In many of the other pieces, there is an element or shape that we think is probably this or that…but we are not sure: the cliff in the Shils; the dark shore in the Munson; the orange band in the Kahn—field or hill?; the tidal pool in my piece; the light pole in the Elder, and so on. These mysteries serve to create complex interest as the mind works to accept the mixed metaphor that they provide.
I would like to mention the galleries that I share with many of these artists: Julie Haller Gallery in Provincetown, MA; Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; Gold Gallery in Boston’s South End; and Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury VT–check them out to see additional work!
This post, designed primarily for the galleries and consultants that I work with, serves as a data-base for oil-on-linen paintings that are currently in my studio. As work sells or is consigned I will remove it, and new or returned work will be added.
My website– created by Stephanie Blackman Design—was beautifully designed as a calling card. Since I create/sell/move work around frequently, it was never my plan to keep it current at all times. With this data-base I will have a comprehensive selection for you all to peruse and can reduce the number of emails that I send showing dealers my currently available work, as those become outdated quickly also.
Often I am expecting some work back imminently or have a painting on the easel that is almost finished, so please feel free to inquire if you have a particular need: email@example.com.
For works on paper (pastel; oil on paper; mixed media/collage; monotype) consult this blog post: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/available-workstudioworks-on-paper/
Additional work can be found at my galleries: Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; Julie Heller Gallery in Provincetown, MA; Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Butters Gallery in Portland, OR; Thomas Henry Gallery on Nantucket, MA; and Thompson-Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
Oil on Board
“Contour/Distillations” has been extended to October 11th.
We are tremendously drawn by stuff. The content of our lives—acquiring possessions; taking care of or replacing said possessions; packed schedules; busy brains—loudly demands attention. What we need the most for balance is intervals of the absence of our stuff, and yet it is hard to reset and choose openness over content.
Creating space in my life is an ongoing project, and has long drawn me both to spend a great deal of time outdoors and to paint my landscapes in an open and minimalist manner. This approach quiets the mind, evoking a direct response. Abstract elements can elicit deep, complex feelings, (a theme beautifully explored in Vassily Kandinsky’s 1910 “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”) and larger, flatter shapes with soft edges awaken the wide-open feeling of being outdoors in our atmospheric world.
Delving further into the less-is-more discussion, I think that less is different. If there are many details to look at in a painting they tend to compete for attention, creating an experience that remains purely visual or intellectual without going deeper. With fewer elements and more open space, both the emotional and formal content have enormous impact, often visceral. At the same time, what is there has to hold up under analysis, as there is no hiding.
My process in the studio is comprised of long swaths of time in which I am intensely focused and living within the emerging painting, punctuated by intervals of scrutiny and analysis during which I observe the elements with as much distance as possible. This rigor is, ultimately, what allows the viewer to sink into the piece—-many small just-so decisions to create a seamless whole.
The landscape inevitably holds powerful associations, so painting it becomes a back-and-forth between exploring the narrative and focusing on the formal elements of shape, composition, surface, color, and edge. In this body of work, drawn from the past several years, I am presenting the most open, color-field aspect of my work. Viewers can bring their own memories to these paintings, as mine are only suggested, or simply experience them as a conduit for feeling.
Both the above and below are from my Affinity Series. These pieces start with fraying the edges of raw linen; gluing it down to the board; priming with dark primer, and gridding the whole thing with graphite. Then I do the actual painting, and when it dries some selective regridding. The series evolved from the desire to manipulate my support in a way that moves my other choices in a more abstract direction, and brings attention to the surface.
Sometimes, as in the new postcard piece, “Tender Reds”, there are more shapes included. I see this as being a rhythmic approach—repetition of similar shapes moving across the surface of the painting.
This piece is less minimalist, but just as abstract. The reduced palette with a white sky allows it to hover between a dreamy in-the-moment being there and an on-the-surface color-field painting.
If one were to consider this as a totally abstract piece, the exercise would be to turn it sideways, or upside down. Compositionally, upside down would work very well, but not sideways—too strong of a horizon line, now going vertical. This would be true of every painting I do—abstracted, but not abstract, and usually with a clear horizon line as an anchor.
“White Trail” has a number of horizons, but the strong line in this piece moves on a skipping, slightly diagonal vertical, emphasizing the format. This piece, too, has a sense of rhythmic repetition of forms.
I have been exploring for this show how a large composition can be successful in small format with these oil-on-paper pieces.