Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Posts tagged “Julie Heller Gallery

Late Summer 2017 Newsletter

June brought two great-story sales. The first was of this piece, a favorite of mine since I did it a few years back. My husband delivered it to Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard in early June and a few days later it was headed  to Madrid on a private jet. The collector even helped unwrap it after being drawn into the gallery by my 50″x90″ piece in the window.

Rolling Cloud, 44″x62″.

 

This octych has received a great deal of attention, including a blog post of its own. It was shown and appreciated at Gold Gallery in Boston, and then at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck this past winter.

Green Waves, 13″x76″ overall, oil on linen.

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/the-evolution-of-a-new-concept/

In May I was contacted by a woman in NC who told me that she wanted to buy it, and had the perfect spot for it. She had read the blog post and loved the story. She had never bought original art before, except for one print. She found me through a google search.

After much back and forth, it turned out that she had seen the price on the small oil-on-paper study that I had done leading up to the final piece, and the actual cost was way beyond what she had anticipated or budgeted for. So I offered her some other, smaller pieces in the green palette that she prefers…and then didn’t hear back from her for a few weeks.

This happens with some frequency. For a discussion of why original art created by a career artist costs what it does, you can read this blog post:

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/this-painting-costs-what/

In the end, she could not resist the piece and I could not resist making a price accommodation to enable her to have it, though it was still a huge leap for her both in cost and in faith, as she hadn’t set eyes on the actual piece.

My galleriest Albert Shahinian, who had the piece and is also an expert art handler, did the packing and shipping, and here is Green Waves in its perfect spot:

 

 

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My Atlas Project is gaining momentum and focus. I earlier began a description of the evolution of this  endeavor and got so carried away that I found I needed a separate post, which I will be working on going forward.

In brief, motivated last fall by a number of factors including an upcoming residency on Nantucket and my fears over an acceleration of climate change with the new administration in Washington, I decided I needed to marry more concretely my deep love of the outdoor world and its complexities with my visual expression.

The third and most complex grouping, Atlas/Hudson River Valley had a trial run during a recent studio tour/open studio. Each site map circles closer to what I want, this most recent one being a collaged road map with map pins showing the locations of the paintings in the grouping and monotype thumbnails of the same. Like the earlier versions, this folds up into a small map.

I ran out of time—this was an excruciatingly slow process, with many design elements and much trial and error—and didn’t get any of the written piece figured out, but in discussion during the open studio I figured out how to approach this in a way that has integrity with the map.

This will all coalesce into a large solo show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY,  March 31-May 6 in 2018, of Atlas/Hudson river Valley and Atlas/Forms of Water. There will be many more paintings and therefore more thumbnails on the map; most likely an off-center extension at top right to show the source of the river in the Adirondacks; and a narrow extension the length of the left side to add written and visual detail about our area. The show will feature monotypes, collages, and pastels as well as oil paintings.

Overlook with River, 24″x36″, the last piece finished before the July Tour.

 

The Studio Tour overall was a sweet weekend with folks from my mailing list coming through as well as those who were new to me. Usually it is a low-pressure event for me and I have a lovely time at the outset setting up my studio for viewing. I had knocked myself out working on the Site Map and printing linocut wall tags for the Atlas Project this time around, but it was well worth it for how the deadline brought the project together enough for me to hone many aspects and trouble-shoot the things that are not yet quite right.

 

Front wall of studio arranged as Atlas/Hudson River Valley, for Studio Tour 2017.

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The day after the Studio Tour ended I was off for a week to teach on Nantucket. So lovely to see the island wearing its summer color, after spending two weeks there in February! I taught my composition workshop, Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape, to a receptive and able group of six. These are the exercises that they had finished at the end of day #2.

For demo purposes I did several small oil-on-paper pieces, choosing subject matter according to the requests of my students:

Horizontal Wave, 5″x12″.

 

Warm Fall Fields, 5″x12″.

 

Dusk Palms, 5″x5″.

 

After my workshop was over I spent a long afternoon in the print shop, rediscovering what works for my imagery in monotype (there are always a row of failures before some successes). This is my favorite of the batch:

Monotype Sunset over Tidal Flats, 8″x10″.

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In June I had a discussion with some of the artists who I mentor about curating a show of their artwork, and got a very positive response. I contacted what I thought would be the perfect venue for a show of such an eclectic group of artists, the ArtBar in Kingston. The only slot Allie had open in 2017 was for August, so this exhibition of 18 artists had to come together very quickly!

It was interesting switching hats back and forth from mentor to curator, and there will be follow-up in my groups on my experience with the artists as curator. I have heard repeatedly from gallery owners that it is their quality-of-life choice to represent talented artists who are also easy and responsive to work with, so this is a theme that I pass along.

On the card, top to bottom: Betsy Jacaruso, Rebecca Darlington, Elizabeth Panzer, and Sandra Nystrom.

I selected the work and Allie, who owns the venue, hung the show. The opening reception was busy and the the comments very enthusiastic. The list of all of the artists involved: Polly Law, Sandra Nystrom, Rebecca Darlington, Linda Lynton, Linda Puiatti, Al Desetta, Betsy Jacaruso, Patti Gibbons, Lois Linet, Stacie Flint, Elizabeth Panzer, Dave Channon, Karen Schaffel, Julia Santos Solomen, Mary Katz, Loel Barr, Mark Loete, Cathy Metitchecchia.

This is my short description of the work I have done with these, and many other, artists over the years:

My mentoring work began as a way of helping other artists enter or expand their presence in the art market by providing support for both studio practice and exhibiting. The groups are a blend of coaching, support group, and targeted career advice for emerging and mid-level artists.

An article, written by Lynn Woods, will be coming out shortly on the show in the Kingston Times and I will add the link.

 I love two things the most, I think, about working with artists in this way. One is that the artwork is so varied, and as my artistic taste is too, it is a huge pleasure watching and sometimes helping these artists hone their voices into bodies of work that have depth and impact.
The other is that, in our overly busy and complicated lifestyle, I can inform, simplify and advise. So, while every venue, gallery-artist relationship and even many sales have their own unique wrinkles that make generalization difficult, there are guidelines that can help emerging artists streamline their approach and be more decisive in their responses—and feel better about the process.

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Coming up, very soon, this four-person show at the Nantucket Artists Association, a brainchild of Program Coordinator Mary Emery: Due East, 4 Woodstock Artists on Nantucket, featuring the work of Polly Law, Kate McGloughlin, Jenny Nelson, and myself; all artists who teach and/or have done residencies at the AAN. Dates are September 1-22.

https://www.nantucketarts.org/dues-east-woodstock-artists-on-nantucket1.html

A medium-sized oil-on-linen that will be featured in the show:

Color Field/Incoming Tide, 30″x30″.

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Recently finished, my second Atlas/Hudson River Valley mixed-media/collage:

Atlas/HV Collage, 2 panels of 16″x8″/ea.

 

And in oil, an image of the tide coming in over the tidal flats mid-Cape, always a moment of bliss for me:

Sky Meets Water, 18″x24″.

 

This piece fits into the Atlas/Forms of Water segment. It is a different type of category from Atlas/Hudson River Valley, and there will be overlap, making for a more dynamic installation.

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A few of my other sales so far this season:

 

Calm Crossing, 38″x70″, sold by the Louisa Gould Gallery.

 

Monotype/Wave#5, 8″x10″, sold by the Julie Heller Gallery.

 

Haybales, 8″x24″, pastel on paper, studio sale.

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Upcoming workshops are at the PAAM September 11-14, the loveliest time of the year to be on the Cape:

https://www.paam.org/workshops/summer-2017/?course_detail=abstraction-and-narrative-in-the-landscape&start_date=9-11-17

And the Woodstock School of Art October 28-30, also a stunning time of year for the locale:

http://woodstockschoolofart.org/course/color-mixing-landscape-painters/

Enjoy your rest of summer season and beginning of fall!

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As 2016 Rolls into 2017…

 This is a time when we celebrate the start of a fresh new year, looking outward at loved ones and community for warmth, stimulation, and support. It is likewise a time of introspection, as we examine the  creative and life-of-the-mind pursuits, often solitary, that give the deepest meaning to our lives. 
 
Looking back at my art-related projects of 2016, a recent one was my blog post “Paintings of Infinite Worth”, in which I discuss four beloved paintings from last century.  Analyzing artwork is always stimulating and fun for me, and if I love the work, deeply felt. I feel lucky that I get to practice this skill while teaching; looking at artists’ work in mentoring meetings; in public talks —such as I did at the Provincetown Artists Association and Museum in September—and here on my blog.
It has been quite some time since I have done this with one of my own pieces, so I have selected “Calm Crossing”, painted last spring for my Martha’s Vineyard gallery, to deconstruct.
calmcrossing

Calm Crossing, 32″x68″, oil on linen (at Louisa Gould Gallery, Vineyard Haven, MA).

 I wanted this piece to convey the feeling of openness and welcome that the view of Martha’s Vineyard and the Sound have from the deck of the ferry, making it a more specific narrative than many of my paintings. I actually started with the cloud and color, testing as I went along—how turquoise and bright can I make this while still retaining the feel of the north Atlantic? Going quite literal and descriptive for a moment, the flatter the water the more it reflects the sky. So, how flat can the Sound between Cape Cod and MV actually be?
I have seen it pretty calm (the occasions when Jack always says, “See, our little boat would be fine to do this crossing on a day like today!”), so ultimately I felt free to just follow my own nose in regard to color and reflection.
Considering the relationship of the shapes, bits of the cloud come off the bottom center, angling towards the island, itself a low wedge shape. To the right, another wisp sits over the break in the land shape, but not so low as to feel that it is pressing down. As that cloud moves off to the right, below it a reflection of almost the same color moves diagonally left and down, so that the two shapes create a sideways V of surface tension that opens toward the center of the painting.
This kind of play in a scene that is otherwise a banded horizontal composition is what holds the surface together and keeps the eye happily circulating. Likewise, all of the subtle variations along the edge of the cloudbank, softer at the top,  invite the viewer to linger.
The context of the formal part of this discussion is that, with minimalism, there are few of the distractions that busy details create, so everything that is there must hold up to intense scrutiny. This also, then, connects to my analysis of the Rothko and the Frankenthaler in the Paintings of Infinite Worth post.
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In late summer and early autumn I spent some time simplifying, rearranging, and painting my studio. Since I started out by getting rid of two large pieces of furniture that stored multiple things, I was spurred to action by the resulting piles of stuff. Sifting through old files—show postcards; letters; consignment sheets from galleries long gone; grant applications—I found myself in an unexpectedly intense emotional state.
I am still trying to put my finger on this stew of emotion. It did not include nostalgia, interestingly, or even pride, but did produce a sense of…wonder? The files were evidence of the accretion created by so very much effort over many years, including a good number of things that I had forgotten about or forgotten the details of.
That such a number of seemingly random tidbits added up to something quite substantial —my life’s work—made me feel as if I am sitting atop this huge pile of career events; relationships; and hard work, and that all of that is now supporting me. It also strikes me now how this would be true of so many people of a certain age, especially those working in arenas where both work and success are largely self-generated. Further, as an avid reader of literary fiction, I can see that this is the stuff that novelists work with—details that end up coalescing into life narrative.
The most moving piece of paper that I found was a letter from my old friend Joan D’Arcy, a gifted arts writer who passed away some years ago. This letter was written shortly after her husband died, at which time I had given her a small painting.
Interestingly, in a  twist to this story, a few years later Joan told me how much her husband had loved this piece, her memory apparently having been reshaped by a conflation of events on the timeline. I never corrected her.
letterfromjoan
“…shames the obvious.” Such a gorgeous turn of phrase.
Sorting through my studio, I also took a good look at the few that are left of these pastel-on-primed-paper pieces from 1992, done during a period when the serene feel was not working for me. I remember vividly doing these, our small twins (finally!!!) asleep in the late evening.
Jagged Peaks, 20"x24".

Jagged Peaks, 10″x24″.

 

Brown Shoreline, 24"x20".

Brown Shoreline, 24″x20″.

 

Birdseye Shoreline,

Birdseye Shoreline, 10″x24″.

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Last summer I did, on a very hot July day, a demo at the Woodstock School of Art. It is hard to complete a sentence while working on a painting to start with—so much focus is on the progress of the piece—and on top of that the editing of a short video tends to break things up. Nonetheless, I am pleased with the result and hope that you enjoy watching.
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A new exploration for me this past fall has been working with monotype, a printmaking process wherein you work directly on a plate to create one-of-a-kind images. An experienced painter can often move fairly quickly along the learning curve with monotypes, so I have had great pleasure in the process and am happy with many of my results.
M/Dark Road, monotype and pastel.

Dark Road,  monotype and pastel, 10″x8″.

 

Monotype, Wave #3, 8"x10".

Monotype, Wave #3, 8″x10″.

 

Monotype, Fall Marsh, 8"x10".

Monotype, Fall Marsh, 8″x10″.

Additional images can be viewed at:

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/available-workstudioworks-on-paper/

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 The development of the actual paintings always (naturally!) comes first on my list of what I love to do most. These pieces are among my own top picks from 2016, often because I remember certain challenges in the process of creation that led to a satisfying result.
Layers of Meaning, 30"x24", oil on linen.

Layers of Meaning, 30″x24″, oil on linen.

 

Glistening Greys, 10"X10", oil on linen.

Glistening Greys, 10″X10″, oil on linen.

 

"Lingering", 10"x10".

“Lingering”, 10″x10″, oil on linen (sold by Julie Heller Gallery).

 

Winter in Blue/White, 12"x12", oil on linen (at Albert Shahinian Fine Art).

Winter in Blue/White, 12″x12″, oil on linen (at Albert Shahinian Fine Art).

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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:

http://www.gallery901.org/christie-scheele/

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A number of my pieces have been gifted from one spouse to the other for the holidays. In the case of Trove/Atmospherics,  the story leading up to the surprise gift from a dear friend to her wife has twists and turns that have gone on for years (even though the piece dates only to winter of 2015):
Trove:Atmospherics, 35 panels of 3"x5"/ea., 30"x48" overall.

Trove:Atmospherics, 35 panels of 3″x5″/ea., 30″x48″ overall.

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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:

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/available-workstudio/

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:

 

"Rolling Cloud", 44"x68".

“Rolling Cloud”, 44″x68″.

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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.

http://drive28.com/

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I am wishing us,  individually and collectively, a year of truth-seeking and compassion; of finding community; and exploring our deepest joys.


Shape and Mood: 2 Paintings so Alike and so Different

In representational art, the formal aspects of a painting can contribute to a narrative or mood just as readily as the descriptive. This is a theme that I discuss often in workshops, talks, and here on my blog. I recently finished two paintings of the same locale and time of year—same day, in fact—using a very similar palette that illustrate this point well.

In fact, the difference between them really boils down to the mood that the shapes create.

In “Lingering”, below, the overall feel of the piece is warm and welcoming, despite the weather depicted being overcast. Putting ourselves in the scene, the misty/drizzly day creates a sheen and depth to colors in the marshes and a sense of intimacy—privacy, almost— within the landscape. On these sorts of days there are fewer people about; the air is thick and embracing; vistas tend to be limited. There is a boundary of trees at the horizon, enclosing the space.

"Lingering", 10"x10".

“Lingering”, 10″x10″.

On the formal side, the eye is led into the piece by the wide open shape of the tidal pool at the bottom left, and then is invited to move around by the directionality of soft edges and dispersed accumulations of detail. Variations of color within the areas of orange marsh grasses encourage the eye to linger. Sky and water are a mauve, relating to the coolest of the reds in the marsh.

I would describe “Lingering” as warm; friendly; intimate. And descriptive, for sure.

In the second piece, the color is the same but the feel is much bolder. Now we have a highly structured piece with assertive directionality. The eye is swept into the image by the strong zig-zag created by the edges of the marsh and moves back to a open area with minimal detail along the horizon. The detail that does exist is necessary to balance the composition, keeping the eye moving within the painting rather than being swept off to the right by the strong edges of the tidal creek.

"Edge of Discovery", 18"x24".

“Edge of Discovery”, 18″x24″.

The description of  “Edge of Discovery” could include abstract; expansive; dynamic. Movement within structure.

As I was working on these pieces–about a month apart—I decided independently with each that the image needed some interest in the marsh as it went back in space. To create this, I added the back tidal pools in both cases, and then the evolving paintings clicked into place.

Even here, with a similar solution to a common problem, the feel of these pools is quite different. In “Lingering” there is quite a bit of detail to the two glimpses of white, while in “Edge of Discovery”  the bit of water is minimal, austere (and right in the middle!), jibing with the overall reductive composition.

So, when we talk about mood in a landscape painting, we are discussing two things. One is the mood of the moment captured—how would it feel like to be there? The other is the feeling that the lines, shapes, and surface of the painting create for the viewer.

Color relates to both. It reflects the seasons; light; locale; and time of day of the views that we see around us. It also is inherently linked to mood and personal preference.

Kandinsky in his 1910 “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” posits that abstract elements have emotive power in their own right. In comparing these two paintings, it becomes clear how the shapes with their edges and directionality and the overall composition that they create impact the mood projected.

Unlike with color, many people are not consciously aware that these particular formal aspects are actively contributing to their experience of a representational painting. It is up to the artist to be adept at exploring the endless possibilities of these pictoral tools as the painting is being shaped, narrowing the gap between a good painting and an excellent one and finding variation in feel from piece to piece.


Approaches to Abstracting a Landscape Painting

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:

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/narrative-and-abstraction-in-representational-painting/

And about pure abstraction in this post discussing the shows of Ellsworth Kelly, Jenny Nelson, and Melinda Stickney-Gibson:

https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/three-abstract-artists-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.

 

Stuart Shils, Fields near Ballycastle I,

Stuart Shils, Fields near Ballycastle I, 6.5″x7″.

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 Munson, "Sparkle Square", pastel on paper.

Deborah Quinn-Munson, “Sparkle Square”, 12″x12″, pastel on paper.

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 Bureau, "Windham", 30"x30".

Hannah Bureau, “Windham”, 30″x30″.

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.

 

Eric Aho, "Ice Field",

Eric Aho, “Ice Field”, 80″x100″.

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.

 

"Blue Tidal Pool", 20"x24".

Christie Scheele, “Blue Tidal Pool”, 20″x24″.

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.

 

 

Wolf Kahn, "Orange Radiance",

Wolf Kahn, “Orange Radiance”,

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.

 

 

 

Arnold Levine,

Arnold Levine, “Waves at Jenner”, 16″x20″.

“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 Bruce, Sea #3, 14"x16".

Heather Bruce, Sea #3, 14″x16″.

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.

 

Jeorg Dressler, "Outlook

Jeorg Dressler, “Outlook XVI”, 18″x36″.

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.

 

Steve Dininno, "Boardwalk,

Steve Dininno, “Boardwalk, 7″x9”.

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.

 

Donald Elder, "Untitled Landscape #0154, 12"x16".

Donald Elder, “Untitled Landscape #0154, 12″x16”.

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.

 

Kate McGoughlin,

Kate McGoughlin, “Winter Sky Ashokan”, 8″x8″.

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 Sarrantonio, "Transition",

Thomas Sarrantonio, “Transition”, 50″x60″.

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 Fasoldt,

Staats Fasoldt, “Fair Street”, 11″x14″.

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!

 

 


Mentoring Retreat for Artists

Six of us in the sun house overlooking the bay as the tide comes in. (Loel is taking the picture.)

Last month I led a retreat for six artists on Cape Cod, using the cottage where I have been vacationing with my family for 18 years as our base for making art, meetings to discuss the artists bodies of work and career direction and, of course, exploring the tidal flats (see my first post, “Back on the Sandflats”). I also had private discussions with each artist, following up  on their accomplishments and contacts with ideas for further progress in exhibiting and selling their work.

The retreat was modeled on the mentoring groups that I lead in the Catskills, often with a mix of artists in different stages of work and career development. There are many things that the artist likes to think about, and other things that the artist needs to think about. Below, a discussion of our week, and some of the issues that surfaced for the artists in this group, Polly Law, Loel Barr, Sylvia Weinberg, Sue Desanna, Helen Kohler, and Maureen Burr.

Maureen, who took my painting workshop in Provincetown last summer, is returning to making art from a long absence. A pressing question for her: is it all right to be exploring many different things, or should she be narrowing in on one or two?

A recent sculpture of Maureen's.

Early on, the artist should be following her interests wherever they lead. Being “all over the place” is ideal, much as a young art student will typically try different styles and media for years before finding a mode of working that is of abiding interest. Nothing else matters but the process. Creating one’s own style is partly a function of limiting alternatives, so this should not be forced, but allowed to happen through exploration. As the inner voice and eye hone in on an individual expression, other options drop away naturally.

 

Loel has been sifting through permutations of this question for years. Multi-talented, she has found satisfaction in slices, each media or style scratching a different artistic itch.

With new realist drawings and paintings of subject matter that explores the rhythm of folds and draping fabric, Loel finds satisfaction in the process of a realist technique that has always anchored her.

After years of working with this variety, it would be more satisfying to find one or two directions that focus all of her talents and ways of seeing the world. At this stage, “all over the place” can feel overly scattered. Honing in on a focused direction still should not be forced—ever—but the mind, both conscious and unconscious, can be alert to paths that present themselves that will unify the work.

I also first met Helen in one of my painting workshops. It turns out that she is pursuing two bodies of work, one landscape painting and the other fiber art. In this case, the discussion of multiple directions takes a different turn.

Helen's landscape in oil.

If you are an artist working happily in two completely different veins, you are lucky indeed! The only challenge in the marketplace is that you will probably have different exhibition venues for the two bodies of work. Years ago, an art consultant told me that when I submit to galleries, I should pick one or the other of the bodies of work I was doing at a time, because galleries would get confused, and then think that I was.

 A little tongue-in-cheek, but good advice. The artist in this position has to research venues with a dual intent, but there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, you may find a gallery that likes and establishes you with one body of work, and then takes an interest in what else you do later on.

The fiber piece that Helen was working on during the retreat, with leaves that flutter away from the backing.

“I am just processing all the information I got last week from all of you and it will keep me busy for weeks to come,” observed Helen in a follow-up email.

Artists in the mentoring groups learn from each other. I have observed repeatedly that when a group of artists is discussing a body of work, they might disagree on a particular passage in a painting, for example, but will invariably agree on what is working overall. While looking at Sylvia and Sue’s landscapes, the group unanimously preferred the looser, more open,  interpretations. This meant not that the group all had minimalist taste, but that those were the pieces that stood out within their bodies of work.

Sylvia's loose, understated plein air watercolor of nearby Paine's Creek, one of my favorite places to paint on earth.


Artists can also be the most important contacts of all for each other. Currently, with so many galleries closing and their artists searching for new ones, the best way to get the attention of a gallery is to have an intro to the owner or director, which one artist can provide for another. Artists can also support each other by sharing information on exhibition opportunities, consulting with each other on thorny questions of conduct, and critiquing each other’s work.

Sylvia, an accomplished watercolorist, has been focusing on finding a technique in oil that is equally satisfying. She is also returning her energies to finding new venues for showing her work after a period of years during which personal matters took up much of her attention.

Aonoher view of Sylvia's of the salt grasses in front of Paine's Creek.

Sue was also looking to refocus, and just bump up, in general. An experienced pastelist, she is always honing her voice, and is currently looking for new venues to show her work.

Sue's plein air pastel of Paine's Creek.

When looking for a new gallery, make sure that you are a good fit, both stylistically and in terms of resume and pricing. If you are an emerging artist and there is no mention of that in the “about” the gallery, look at the resumes of the other artists. If they are all international art stars, your time would be better spent looking for a more appropriate gallery. On the other end, if the gallery charges artists to show, check to see if they curate, or if it is just “pay to play”—a vanity gallery. Sometimes an artist needs to share expenses with a gallery early on in the resume-building process, but a straight vanity gallery has no collector base, and no prestige.

Stylistically, you don’t want to be too close to any artist already in the gallery, but too far away from anything that they show. Above all, you need to like their aesthetic.

 

Polly has been in a unique and mature voice phase of her work for a good number of years. This can raise the issue of staying fresh, stimulated, and challenged—the opposite problem of following too many paths. “I had closed myself into a box of what was allowable and what was not in the way of my work. Incorporating the bits & bobs of beach combings would not have been allowed before. As you can see I had really been closing down artistic opportunities- egad. Well, just walking out onto the tidal flats that first evening was like opening a window and taking a broom to the dusty, fusty, tired, stale attic my brain had become. I became fascinated by the wabi-sabi of the elements on the beach (wabi-sabi is a Japanese term to describe the reflection of the history of an object onto its self.) Ideas came to me when I picked up objects and held them in my hand- I could see how they could be used. It was very exciting.”

A new piece of Polly's using some storm-tossed feathers she found on the beach.

Some artists work in quite different series every several years. Others shift a bit from year to year. I tend to work in concurrent series, maintaining bodies of work with small tweaks and changes to interest me from piece to piece, and then every so often bring in a new series when I feel the need for a really new challenge. In any case, change is necessary to stay stimulated, and the mature artist (especially one with an identity and a following) has to find his/her own path to that—looking deeply inside your process can provide clues, as can looking way outside of your habitual references and patterns. Inside/outside—look in, look out. If you have been doing too much of one, try the other.

We also did a gallery crawl in both Wellfleet and Provincetown. The artists split up and made rounds, looking at art, assessing galleries with information that we had discussed beforehand, and chatting with gallery staff and owners. Maureen later observed, “I was really comfortable talking to the gallery owners and feel like I made a couple of good contacts for sometime in the future.  For now, I will plan on popping in again the next few times I am down to continue our conversation”.

This is a good way to get to know a gallery and for them to get to know you—keep showing up. If it is the gallery of your dreams, you might want to do this for years—I know of someone who finally got into the NYC gallery that he coveted after a decade of showing up, and repeated submissions!

I had introduced Polly and another friend, Jenny Nelson, to Julie Heller, my Provincetown gallery, over the summer. During our visit to P’town, Polly met Julie and her staff and brought new work (which drew attention immediately from gallery-goers), and I was able to nail down details of a show I will be co-curating with Julie of my, Jenny’s, and Polly’s work next summer.

I am often asked by artists if they can use my name when approaching a gallery. I have no problem with this, but it will not provide any real connection. The only way to help another artist is to make a strong personal recommendation to your gallery, and that only works if you have a relationship of trust with them. Then, of course, they have to fall in love with the work.

Further, many galleriests have told me that when choosing from the big talent pool out there, they are looking for artists who are professional and easy to work with. I see this as a quality of life issue. So many stresses seem unavoidable, so why wouldn’t a gallery owner or director try to circumvent that of a difficult artist?

I know a great number of artists through my galleries, the community, mentoring, and teaching. The only time I intro them to one of my galleries is when I feel that it is as beneficial to the gallery as it is to the artist to do so. Otherwise, I would lose the ear of my dealers, and thus not be able to help anyone at all.

When I said goodbye to Julie after our day in Provincetown the last thing she said to me was, “thank-you for Polly and Jenny”.

A very new twist for Polly, using beach-combined bits as well.

 

Finally, from Maureen, I will include a lovely commentary on the week. “I think the next retreat should be called, “Things they don’t teach you in Art School”, because I left Brewster armed with so much knowledge. The experience of being able to speak to other women artists who have the same insecurities and similar perspectives was incredibly helpful.  I left the retreat with much more confidence, and between the class I took with you at PAAM and the retreat, I have found that it I have lost that old paralyzing fear of “what if this piece isn’t perfect?”. I am better able to play with ideas and if they work out, then great.  If they don’t, I can try something else.  It’s not the end of the world. That in itself is worth everything to me.”

My very recent version of Paine's Creek at dusk, wending it's way out to the sandflats at low tide, where it disappears into the sand.

Me striding up the jetty that runs parallel to the bay at Paine's Creek, having walked across the tidal flats to meet up with Sue and Sylvia, who were preparing to paint there.

Polly at work in the cottage.

The seven of us enjoying dinner at the Lobster Pot in Provincetown.