This time of the year always brings of thoughts of change and transition, loss and renewal. As 2019 has rolled over into 2020, these reflections are much more intense, intricate, and prolonged for me, as I recently lost my mother…a major life event; a huge transition.
My father-in-law, not a religious man nor particularly self-reflective, used to have a timely observation in times of trouble. It went something like this: “The chapters of the good book begin with ‘And it came to pass…’ They don’t begin with ‘And it came to stay…”
The things/people/practices that we love don’t always come to stay, any more than the difficult or painful situations. It is one of the things that is interesting about mindfulness practice, that as we focus on the moment, the moment is gone. And then the next, and the next, and the next…
My understanding of mindfulness is more like riding a wave, the mind following each moment along the way with focused attention. I discussed this form of happiness as it applies to a creative practice in an earlier blog post, “Creativity and Happiness”.
And this brings us to the winter studio. As life is quieter and the colors less vivid outside of it than during the warmer months, the potency of the creative life inside intensifies.
Snow cover bounces light into the studio and makes a perfect neutral foil for open color exploration within. Instead of open windows and doors inviting in the sound of the stream and birds, I often play the radio or listen to podcasts or music. The summer feel of expansiveness is replaced by a distillation of energy as focus narrows and intensifies.
My winter work often feels sunlit. Without the canopy of leaves covering our hamlet in the central Catskills, the sun streams at a dramatic slant into my house, my studio, and the yoga studio where I practice and teach…and then is gone, as day moves quickly into evening. We count the minutes of returning daylight…
In December I ordered an enticing assortment of custom-stretched linen for my winter work, and now have, at the ready, this stack of canvases in an array of sizes and formats:
I started work immediately on the largest one, a 44″x66″, almost finished:
I am also generating ideas for my next Atlas Project installation, this one focusing on rivers and streams, exploring the ecology of my local watershed. In my Atlas/Forms of Water show I solved several problems that I saw carry over from the previous Atlas Project installation. At issue now are verbal/written components more than visual ones: how to get my “Mapping Memory” stories in a more accessible form; and how to bring more natural history and climate change discussion into the installation.
I am seeing stream-like formations wherever I go…including places I have been many (for this image, thousands!) of times. Can you tell what we are looking at?
And the other day I saw this gorgeous Motherwell painting in a catalogue that I have in my studio. Viewed vertically rather than as the horizontal that it is…another stream…
A few paint-mixing sessions with my good friend Jenny Nelson in her winter studio have yielded new teaching tools. My color-mixing workshop (next held at the WSA, June 22-23) brings the student back to primaries and how all color evolves from there, which is a very complex undertaking.
Our intention with this collaboration was to pretty much do the opposite of that detailed breaking down of color, instead creating simple, limited palette exercises—using mixtures or primaries from the tube— for new students or those who feel color-blocked.
I will use some of these prompts in my next workshop at the WSA. Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape (April 17-19) focuses on compositional strength, so a few structured color shortcuts to augment this emphasis are a welcome tool.
These were the palettes that evolved as we brainstormed and mixed, discarding some earlier versions. Now we will each re-do these on paper in our studios with better placement and clear labeling for sharing with our students.
Our ongoing conversations about our classes and workshops always include the abstract/landscape discussion, since Jenny teaches abstraction. Mixing color is one thing when you are using a reference of any sort, including working from life, even if you will likely want to tweak and adjust. It is quite another when you have not even a suggestion of a road map and mixing your palette is the first step in figuring out your abstract painting on the easel.
The collage exploration continues to fascinate me. I went from earlier just-barely-landscape versions (about 8-10 years ago) with altered papers, book bits, pattern paper, a bit of paint:
To the collaged maps, made with many bits of hand-dyed rice papers and other things (wasp wing, samara, dried leaves, pattern paper, old books, a bit of paint):
To a simplified version of the above, where I am working more with effects created while dying the papers, and then using larger swaths of them. Here are some of my latest:
I am very pleased with this beautifully produced recording of my December interview with audience Q&A at Albert Shahinian Fine Art, by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. The discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of my Atlas/Forms of Water show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
I am doing final updates on the blog post about this Atlas Project show, which was the highlight of my exhibition season for 2019. Here is the link:
On this day of pouring snow, everything else I had planned has been canceled. And so, I get to be in here:
And soon enough, it will look like this:
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!)
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.
These are works on paper, many of them unframed, currently in my studio. Often works on paper are an option that is more affordable than oil paintings. Several of my galleries and consultants also have a selection of framed or unframed pastels, most notably Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; JSO ART Associates in Westport CT, and Megan Peter Fine Art in Redbank, NJ.
Oil on paper:
Mixed Media/Collage (Of paper and other things, on board):