As soon as my residency at the Nantucket Artists Association was scheduled early last fall I launched into planning. I decided to work with exclusively Nantucket imagery while there, and this dovetailed with a larger plan to spread out into a fresh creative endeavor starting in 2017.
And so, I began developing a new rubric for my work that frames groupings of it thematically, calling it my Atlas Project.
Knowing that I would have access to the print studio at the AAN, and after having been reintroduced to printmaking by program coordinator and printmaker Mary Emery while on Nantucket teaching the summer before, I also began exploring printmaking in earnest, studying with Kate McGloughlin at the Woodstock School of Art.
My new Atlas Project, just several months in, engages in a process of revealing the 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 with individual but overlapping thematic groupings. The biggest challenge is to then create a legend, or site map, to the bodies of work.
The first sequence that I approached, before going to Nantucket, was Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow. Using drawing, printmaking, pasteling, writing, and mixed-media along with oil paintings, I am exploring with these sequences the interrelationships of process, history, and memory, as 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.
In late February, all set up in my studio on Nantucket, I began work on Atlas/Island with painting in oil so that, in my process of layering wet over dry, I would have time to finish and safely bring home the pieces accomplished.
“Coatue of the Scalloped Edges”, oil on board in vintage drawer, 6″x10.5″ overall.
For some of these locales, I wrote a bit about them and later included these observations in the Site Map. Coatue is a stunning landform, and the perfect image for my box with the circular pull. These unusual scalloped edges of sand have been held in place for centuries. In perfect equalibrium, prevailing winds create waves that push sand out to the points, while currents move it in the opposite direction, depositing it on the bends.
“Moors with Mists”, oil on board in vintage tray, 5.5″x24″ overall.
The pieces on board in vintage boxes were not framed that way but rather painted to go inside of those particular boxes, adjusting color and feel of imagery to meld with the tray. I liked the lovely old boxes for this project as a nod to Nantucket’s intricate and unique history.
“Night Harbor”, oil on board in vintage tray, 5.5″x24″ overall.
With Night Harbor my observations turn to a personal memory of the sweet evening last summer when I experienced the view depicted. During the day, while I was teaching, my husband was catching fish. We cooked the fish at our friend’s modest house that looks out on the harbor from the outskirts of town, the Creeks to our right. The three of us sat watching the fog roll in and out of the harbor for hours, barely speaking, until well after nightfall. Night Harbor is an image of the view off to the left of the lights on the wharves and Brandt Point.
“Dunes with Snow”, (Steps Beach), oil on board in vintage tray, 5.5″x24″, overall.
Steps Beach appears a few times in this body of work. I researched and wrote a bit about interdune ecology, described below after the second dune painting, a summer image in greens.
I did one piece using my Affinity format, since this image called for it both in color and in the strong horizontal and diagonal compositional elements.
Affinity/Madaket Dusk, oil on linen with frayed edges on primed board overlaid with graphite gridding, 11″x14″.
This pastel is a view from the ferry of Tuckenuck, the island just visible on the right, the sky a late-day winter sunset:
“Gleam over Tuckernuck”, 7″x11″, pastel on paper.
After several days at work on imagery with grey/blues or warmer color, I had a yen for some greens, so I did these three pieces, using reference collected last summer while I was there teaching.
“House on Madaket Marsh”, oil on linen, 11″x14″.
Madaket also appears a few times, as I am endlessly drawn to its varied topography. I include the famous story of the formation of Esther Island during hurricane Esther in 1961, and it’s reattachment and detachment in relation to Smith’s Point over the years since then.
“Summer Dunes”, (Steps Beach entrance) oil on linen, 8″x20″.
The steep dunes on the north side of the island can be safely traipsed through and enjoyed going into Steps Beach. The scene above, a view off to the left between the two large dunes above the beach, is a thriving interdune habitat with just about every shade of green within. The mists tamp the colors down just enough to appeal to my subtle color sensibility.
I knew that dune grasses hold dunes and that marsh grasses both hold ground from eroding seas and clean water passing through; but I didn’t really understood how. Thanks mostly to several articles that I read from Yesterday’s Island by Dr. Sarah Oktay, formerly of the Nantucket Field Station, I now get it and am suitably impressed.
Dune grasses not only anchor sand that is there, they also trap windborn sand and hold it, building dune height. Then, due to their extensive system of underground stems, they are able to grow right up on top of themselves to trap more sand, and so on. Further, as the grasses below decay, soil begins to be built and other plants and small deciduous shrubs can colonize the dune. As these seasonally drop leaves that compost, more soil is built and plants with larger roots can attain purchase and now you have a healthy, diverse, interdune system that protects the shore from erosion during winter storms.
“Quaise Marsh”, oil on linen, 11″x14″.
Now, for marsh grasses, perhaps my most frequently painted subject in the past several decades. These grasses trap sediment and organic matter with every tide—cleansing the water—creating a kind of peat at their roots. They, too, can then grow up on top of themselves and this peat and gain height to keep pace with sea level rise, protecting the shoreline from erosion. That is, they have been able to so far. It is unlikely that they will continue to succeed with the potential six foot rise predicted, at this juncture, by 2100.
Back to the residency. Finally in the print studio, I dialed in on which sorts of my landscape imagery work well in a medium that has a very lively feel. I had previously noted that the soft-focus of my pantings does not translate as well as my emphasis on very strong, minimalist compositions with bold shapes intersecting the picture plane, so I headed straight into this terrain. As before, the first two or three prints that I pull of a given subject matter are not wholly successful, so each print is very much a process of trial and error. This is quite different from my painting process, where I can and do always persist and tweak anything I am not completely happy with.
The imagery for the first two monotypes below came out of walks I did on Nantucket during my first week of the residency, at the Creeks, a lovely marshy area on the harbor near town; and the Moors. The third is an image of Madaket from last summer that I both painted and explored in monotype.
MWinter Creek, 10″x8″, monotype.
MMoors, 8″x10″, monotype.
MMarsh with House, 8″x10″, monotype.
I also worked on small monotype thumbnails, as well as a linocut map of Nantucket, to incorporate into my Site Map, printing one thumbnail each for the oil paintings that I did for this grouping of Atlas/Island. The map is the new element for me, still very much a work-in-progress, that knits each thematic sequence of paintings, drawings, and prints together, and gives info about the work and the locales. The below is the second prototype–the first was for Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow—and most definitely not the final template. The idea is to map both the subject matter I am working from and the body of work that results.
Site Map with linoprint map and map fragments of Nantucket; monotype thumbnails; tracings; writing and letterpress. The blue areas on the map show parts of the island that will be underwater when sea levels rise 3 meters.
I am now, at home, hard at work on a third prototype of the site map, trying to integrate the thumbnails, maps, and writing in a more visually lush way. I’ll add it to the post when I am finished.
To mount a cohesive show of the Nantucket sequence, or any other, of Atlas Project I will want to include some medium-sized and large oil paintings, something I couldn’t do in a short period of time and when all of my supplies and then finished work had to be carried back and forth by foot on the ferry.
I have been fairly obsessive about my work for many years. This very intense two weeks, however, brought my focus to a new high, working morning, noon and night. I broke it up with walks to see the island and my yoga practice…and that was it. I came up with solutions to things I was pondering about the Site Map in the middle of the night—and otherwise slept quite well— and arranged my waking work hours to feel a focused fullness; a kind of (mostly) calm momentum.
In my work I have always seesawed back and forth between the universal and the particular. With a new framework for the work I can continue to do this with individual pieces, while exploring an expanded conversation. Land and and water use has been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As these issues continue to become increasingly critical, I have been catapulted —and also eased, nestled— into creating the Atlas Project, a love-letter to our planet.
I am grateful to the staff at the AAN, especially Mary Emery, for providing this opportunity and for all of their help. And deepest thanks to my husband Jack, who facilitated it all.
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.
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.
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.
“…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, 10″x24″.
Brown Shoreline, 24″x20″.
Birdseye Shoreline, 10″x24″.
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.
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.
Dark Road, monotype and pastel, 10″x8″.
Monotype, Wave #3, 8″x10″.
Monotype, Fall Marsh, 8″x10″.
Additional images can be viewed at:
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.
Glistening Greys, 10″X10″, oil on linen.
“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).
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:
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.
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:
“Rolling Cloud”, 44″x68″.
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.