The surface of a body of water is a reflective, moving, open expanse. Beneath it, the water roils with life—rooted or crawling or burrowing or swimming, lifeforms going about their business of feeding off of each other and reproducing and eventually dying. Above it, life also carries on.
One day last July, while staying on Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, NY, I headed to the dock to sit and gaze at the water for a few moments. Looking down at the dock to find my seat, I heard a throaty, loud honk/squack. We had been enjoying visits all week from a mama duck and her nine ducklings, so my first thought as I turned my head was, “that was not a duck!”.
Nothing behind me, but as I straightened to face the side I was now seated at, I saw an adult eagle taking off from the water about 25 feet in front of me. It had been addressing my intrusion, I think!
Shortly after, I decided to make a call to my friend Jenny, with whom I had been playing phone tag. I got her voicemail, and the message went something like this: “Hi Jenny, we’re playing phone tag but I am around today so give a OH MY GOD THAT IT THE BIGGEST *#!%ING FISH I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A LAKE GOTTA GO BYE”.
The fish was directly below my dangling feet, at least two feet across, lit up by slanting sunlight. I know there are fish in these waters, despite an altered ecology due to Zebra mussels—my husband has caught some other years from our small boat and I have seen them feeding off of bugs at sunset. And yet, it was as if this big fish had crawled up on land and joined us on the deck for cocktails, such was my sense of worlds colliding.
I am puzzling out, ever since, what was so startling about this fish sighting. After all, I have been among whales in our 16 foot boat off Race Point in Provincetown—including a pod of killer whales; froliked with a mola and some dolphins in the harbor; snorkled off St. Thomas among all sorts and sizes of sea life.
I think that my jolt of surprise was about expectations, so often the case. I had for days been focused on the surface reflections, and I lost track of the awareness of how much is going on underneath and that during my daily swims, I was intruding upon their busy world. Seeing this large fish directly under my feet brought that crashing back.
As artists we are concerned with both surface appearance and deeper function and meaning. The surface is mesmerizing and ever-changing, feeding our visually-linked emotional hunger, and soothing our quotidian bumps and bruises. The complicated churn beneath, however, mirrors life in its day-to-day, demanding a nuanced and dedicated attention.
This summer has served to remind me of how much I appreciate my galleries. It can be rewarding, sometimes, to hop off that train and do something self-generated like an open studio or studio tour; or an event at a non-gallery venue. But ultimately, a gallery is where people go to view and buy art. It is a business whose purpose is to exhibit and sell art, and therefore all effort is going to that end.
Invitations generally go out in a timely fashion, instead of getting buried in the more pressing things that a non-gallery venue might have to attend to. The galleriest installs the show, with beautiful results based on years of experience. Folks walk in off the streets who are interested in art; search for the local galleries when visiting; respond to invites. A showing of a grouping of selected works in a collector’s home gets on the schedule without delay, follow-ups are done to inquiries as a matter of course…and so on.
That said, the mom-and-pop galleries struggle to stay afloat, with many more friends and lookers than buyers. So collectors, please support your favorite galleries!
And if you are an artist with gallery representation, this is how you can help:
I had a lovely time teaching this past June in Woodstock and August on Nantucket, with a full house for my color-mixing workshop in both places.
These are the demo pieces that came out of the two landscape workshops:
My week on Nantucket was filled with not only with my wonderful students, but also with salt air and good food and warm friendship.
I organized an informal gathering at Thomas Henry Gallery so that my students could see my work there, all of the sea or the island:
The Woodstock School of Art invitational Monothon in July was a printmaker’s dream. Imagine having a printing staff at your beck and call, both master printmakers and monitors, facilitating your every move. Master printmaker Anthony Kirk guided and facilitated my hoped-for plan, my first monotype triptych (and then a few more).
One 8″x10″ was chosen from each participating artist, to be sold at the show there opening September 8th, 3-5pm This is my donation print that will be featured, followed by some of my other wave monotypes.
We will be featuring monotypes and my vintage series, along with oil paintings, in my grouping for the upcoming four-artist show at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY, their yearly Luminous Landscape exhibition. The show opens on September 29, 5-8pm.
Several of my summer sales:
One of my favorite pieces from the past decade, Perceived Acuity pleases me for its simplicity, movement, elegant shapes, and unusual color:
Link to in-studio available works in oil and on paper:
Coming right up, my teaching week in Provincetown, Sept. 17th for Color Mixing and 18-20th for the Landscape Painting Intensive. If you are feeling inspired and spontaneous, come and join us!
Also upcoming: another residency on Nantucket in November. My focus there and in my studio will be on Atlas/Forms of Water, from the sky to the land to the ocean, and everywhere in between.
Some time back I wrote a post to inform fellow artists what they can do to encourage sales, behave ethically, and in general help their relationship with their gallery grow.
I always intended to write a partner post from the artist’s perspective: what can our galleries do to be responsive to us, encouraging open communication and trust?
I have for years maintained a positive attitude toward my galleries, always grateful for their hard work and the skills that they bring to their job. At the same time, I am repeatedly struck by certain patterns of behavior that make my life more difficult. My career artist friends are often adversely impacted by exactly the same things.
Just as I am always counseling other artists—and myself—not to make life more difficult for our art dealers, this discussion is centered on how gallerists can avoid behaviors that wear us down and potentially waste time for all involved. Since most of my galleries do avoid these habits most of the time, I know it is possible. (And we need to forgive the occasional lapse, just as we hope that they will forgive ours.)
The pay discussion is always a big one. Many galleries have a set policy of paying for this month’s sales on the first or the 15th of next month. Galleries often argue that, just like any other retail business, they pay artists out of the overall earnings rather than specifically from the sale of your piece. This works out well when/if they pay on time, because the artist can count on when to expect the check, but not so well when the days slide by and your mailbox remains empty.
One thing to point out here is that unlike other retail businesses, galleries don’t have to buy inventory. The artists own the inventory, and when a piece of theirs sells, half of that money is theirs. One gallerist of mine said it best years ago: “I like to pay the artist right away because if that money sits in my account for any length of time I’ll start thinking it’s mine.”
I had a gallery for a period of years that sold my work well but often was very late in paying. The argument from the dealer was that they had to keep the doors open, and so would pay rent, electric, and so on, first. Basically, then, the pay-policy was eventually-after-some-time-has-gone-by-I’ll-start-looking-around-and-see-if-I-have-money-to-pay-you-but-if-not-you’ll-have-to-wait. It was excruciating, the waiting and the not-knowing. They had received payment for their 50% and mine both, and yet I was left to beg for my money—-and was essentially floating them a loan.
This can lead to other kinds of disfunction. The gallery in this case would often avoid my phone calls that were on other matters—things that were directed at bringing us business—because they owed me money and feared being asked. So we both potentially lost money.
Artists calling and nagging about money makes everyone feel bad about each other. But to reiterate an important point: most often we are not demanding nor begging, but simply looking for info on an ETA for our money.
What is my advice to galleries?
-Have a clear pay-policy, whether it’s as-soon-as-the-check-clears or a date next month. If the former–and we all so appreciate the immediate payment–and the gallery has need to wait a week or so to pay, tell the artist. If the latter, send checks out when you say you will. In a busy season it might be hard to find the time to sit down and write a big stack of checks for all of the previous month’s sales, but make it a priority. If for any reason checks will unavoidably be late that month, inform your artists.
-If an artist calls or emails to inquire, give a short answer right away. “Just got paid–sending you a check Monday.” “Waiting for payment.” “In the mail.” “Your contract says the 15th of next month.” Bear in mind that even if the answer is “two weeks from now”, you are giving the artists the consideration of info with which to plan how to pay their bills. And to repeat: it is the artist’s money. It’s not that you need to keep every artist updated on the payment status of every sale, but answering direct questions is a simple courtesy.
Which leads me to another source of stress and feelings of disrespect for the artist.
For all of us who have reached a certain level in our career, we are there because we are responsive to our galleries. I have curated group shows and I regularly organize my mentoring meetings and groups for emerging artists, so I understand well how organizing artists can truly be like herding cats. However, galleries generally cannot operate if artists don’t ship work or send jpegs when they say they will, and those artists who have a pattern of flaking out tend to fall by the wayside.
So when one of my galleries asks me for anything, it behooves me to respond fully and quickly. Sometimes requests could have been made earlier and there would be less stress all around, but those are typical job-related problems. So, if they ask me to jump, I do it right away. If I am traveling without my laptop (which is rare and only for a few days), I do the short reply: “Traveling without access to my files, but I’ll send you jpegs on Sunday evening when I am home”.
The problem comes in when the situation is reversed and I need some info from them. Often my questions have to do with serious planning issues that, just like the gallery, I have to settle so that I know when I am showing where and what pieces are going to which gallery. Sometimes I can wait painfully long for these answers, preventing me from settling dates and artwork for other galleries.
I imagine that part of the issue here is that a number of the artists that I show with may have only a gallery or two, so they don’t have the stress of the juggle. If their show is going to be July or August, it isn’t always a big deal to wait to find out. But for those of us who show with multiple galleries, this comes back to the two-way street: if I am to be understanding that you, the gallery, are juggling multiple artists (as well as clients and PR and so on, of course) and I am not the only one in your pantheon, I would like you to understand that I am juggling multiple galleries, schedules, ferries, accommodations, and artwork. And I want to do right by everybody.
So, advice for the gallery:
If you don’t have the answer to my question yet, please acknowledge the email or phone call. It feels really bad to be ignored. It also is a big waste of energy for one party to have to send reminder emails repeatedly. Again, short answer is fine, “working on it!”, or “we’ll decide by next week”.
A third bit of communication that varies from gallery to gallery is when they notify the artist of a sale. Often, when new to a gallery, I just let this evolve over time and get a feel for their M.O.
But then, just when you think you know that X gallery will email you within a few days of making a sale, you get a check–maybe even a big one—from sales for last month. Well, on the one hand, who doesn’t love a surprise check? But on the other, maybe it is a slow spell and you have been stressing for weeks about where your next check is coming from, so if they had notified you sooner you could have avoided all of that worry.
Have a policy (which some galleries do have, stated in their contract) on when you notify artists of a sale. Within the week certainly seems doable. As a point of trust, we will rarely know exactly when a sale or payment takes place, so we always assume that our galleries are telling us the truth. Period.
(Just for the record, there are several reasons why an artist will promptly take their leave from a gallery. One is if somehow the artist receives reliable info that dates of sales have been fudged in order to avoid timely payment. Another is if a gallery gets caught padding prices and putting the extra in their own pockets. But this post is not about egregiously unethical behavior on the part of a few galleries but instead about unintentional lapses on the part of many that can fairly easily be addressed.)
All of these things come back to communication and making life easier for those around us. Several years ago I wrote this post about communicating when a sale falls through, particularly one that has required a lot of time and effort on the part of the artist:
At the root of this whole discussion is the aspect of power. Do the galleries see themselves as our bosses, or our partners? If it is true that there are way more artists than there are galleries to show them, does this mean that artists are just supplicants, grasping at strewn crumbs?
I have heard of art dealers that look at their artists in that way, but I would not be working with them in any case. Most often, we are appreciated as the cherished talent, the sources of these amazing, unique objects. And if there are others of us eager to fill our spot should we leave a gallery, that doesn’t mean that our personal, artistic terrain can be filled by another. In my experience sensitive gallerists attach to our unique work, and to us.
That said, we are, here at least, acknowledging the power of the purse and of having needed information, while pointing out that galleries are not paying us their money, but only ours, and keeping us informed on what we need to know to carry the partnership forward.
So are any of us perfect? Am I positing that gallerists should never be allowed a slip-up? Not hardly! In fact, the more consistently considerate a gallery has been to me the more I can easily let go of a forgotten email or a perceived error in judgement. This is true in all human relationships, and I hope that others—including my dealers—grant me that leeway as well.
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…
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 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.
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.
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.
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!