December 2020 Year-end Newsletter/Life and Art in the Time of Coronavirus
What a year.
Let me begin with a little gratitude journaling.
While I know a number of people who have suffered and died from the Coronavirus, my immediate family members remain healthy.
We had a lovely summer, during which my yard grew and bloomed like crazy. My husband made repairs on and painted my studio and much of the exterior of the house. A series of breakdowns (plumbing, washing machine, car, I can’t even remember what else) forced upgrades and interior renovations as well. Also a huge amount of sorting, divesting of stuff, and organizing of those things that made the cut, projects that had been needed for years, maybe even decades.
I have zoomed and zoomed, teaching yoga and painting and hanging out with family. In August we arranged the very open corner of our front porch into an outdoor living space and had folks over at a safe distance while numbers were low in NYS and the weather held, catching up on each other’s Covid-era lives.
I am grateful to our governor for governing, and being an innovator in dealing with the Covid crisis. I have never much liked Cuomo in the past and may go back to disliking him in the future, but he stepped up and kept us as safe as he could. And I felt safer for it.
Also on my gratitude list is the greatly raised awareness created by the Black Lives Matter movement and resulting baby steps towards police reform. As I listened more intently to the stories being told and the history behind them, I learned a great deal. I also reread the three Toni Morrison novels that I have on my bookshelves and made myself really sit with the horror, understanding that it is not behind us.
_____ __________________________________ _____
The whole year was rich creatively for me in my studio. While I feel that my life has a nice balance between painting and time spent with family and friends, practicing and teaching yoga, hiking, gardening, and reading, I also see the rewards of decades of obsessiveness about my creative practice. I have so much momentum and so many ideas to be followed up on that I don’t get blocked, and that has served me beautifully during quarantine. My studio continues to be my refuge, the place where a world of things are possible.
I am very grateful for this video, brainchild of Silver Hollow audio—who created it first as an audio project—and the Emerson Resort, who added the slideshow to make this wonderfully produced six-minute survey of my work as a landscape painter in the Catskills. It was featured during their remote Community Week offerings. They had to take it down and relaunch to correct a typo, and I am afraid that there were a number of folks who tried to go to it a few hours after the launch and found the link broken. Here is a working link:
Sales have been robust. I have also done six commissions in 2020, when some years I don’t do a single one.
The commissioned painting that I did during lockdown was the largest painting I have done to date, an incredible project to have at such a time. Above is the 6’x8′ painting after it was installed by Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
Fall has been busy, with folks returning indoors and seeking out new paintings to enjoy in their homes. Here is a sampling:
After months of Covid routine I still have moments of shock at where the world has landed. I was one of the folks who believed in the scientific predictions of an upcoming pandemic and had tracked the news about the H1N1, SARS, and Ebola outbreaks (the latter not over, by any means), feeling huge relief that they had been contained before a pandemic ensued.
So I was reading intently about Covid-19 from early January. (Thank-you NY Times. I have heard people say that there was no coverage early on but that is not true—they were reporting on it daily, but most readers were not paying attention.). It didn’t take more than a few articles, as the evidence emerged, for me to become convinced that this time we were in for it, all of us.
And yet, I could not conceive, really, of what that would look like. The wildfire spread and chaos in Wuhan wouldn’t happen here, right? We would learn from their mistakes and prepare, right? And then Italy’s mistakes and oh whoops it’s here and nobody has done a thing for containment, medical treatment, the economy…nada. No learning, no preparing, no leadership…and maybe worst of all, no efforts to create a national sense of community and responsibility towards each other.
But of course, we are shocked day after day by the poisonous indifference at the top, even marveling at our continued ability to be shocked at each ugly outburst, each new blatant lie and evidence of corruption and narcissistic failure to govern.
Cutting to the chase, I will summarize by saying that when we look back on this period, it will look like the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-20; the Great Depression, the McCarthy era, and the civil unrest of the late 1960s, all rolled into one.
Looking to the nearer future, I believe that we have to seek justice and redress for those who have committed crimes. And as for those who show signs of wanting to shake off the trance induced by the orange cool aid, we need to think about what deprogramming could look like. Shaming and raging (much as it would seem appropriate because many deaths have been caused) won’t help in that effort, and if we can recoup any citizens from this zombie apocalypse, we should.
_____ _______________________________ _____
Images of my newest work:
Since last summer I have given a good deal of thought to this coming winter, mulling over ideas for how I can contribute to the comfort and engagement of others. With my back-to-back workshops for the Woodstock School of Art I have worked to inspire a creative spark, encouraging the kind of focus that is healing and invigorating. Nonetheless, I could envision winter, with its increased isolation and Covid anxiety, creating a bigger, deeper need.
So I dreamed up a workshop that I hope will bring us back to our most loved places. Going straight for the heart, it is called, “Love and Longing: Landscape and Mood”. Quite a departure from my roster of zoomed classes so far, which have focused on formal considerations, from color-mixing to composition.
CHRISTIE SCHEELE LOVE AND LONGING: LANDSCAPE AND MOOD
I have long had artwork at my friend Dave’s beautiful shop in Phoenicia, the Tender Land Home. This month we are offering a raffle for a framed oil-on-paper painting with all proceeds going to the Phoenicia Food Pantry. Tickets cost $20 and you can call in to enter if you can’t stop by, 845 688-7213. The drawing is on New Year’s Eve.
_____ _________________________________________ _____
It is in the present that we are truly alive, so I wish you connection, engagement, focus, and yes, joy, in the upcoming months.
A Large Commission/ Art in the Time of Coronavirus
In this post I will be documenting the planning, preparation, and creation of a 6’x8′ painting for returning clients through my Rhinebeck gallery, Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
The project has presented special challenges because of state restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. The planning began before our abrupt quarantines, and the piece was finished in late May, framed, and installed June 6th.
I met these folks at a reception at the gallery on February 15th. What followed was a 31 email chain discussing various possibilities for their beautiful, big wall:
They already had a good-sized marsh painting of mine, acquired from ASFA years ago when the gallery was located in Poughkeepsie:
A sea view was always the idea, either open sea or with Chatham sandbars or with big surf. I sent multiple jpegs with ideas and they sent me many others. It seemed that they liked several of the ideas and had to go through a process of narrowing down, until they honed in on their choice, a view of blue sea, sandbars, and Monomoy from a favorite bit of beach in Chatham, MA.
These were a few of my pieces that they were drawn to initially:
In an email about 25 in, the clients were dialing in:
- In the first attachment, Moving Clouds: we really like the way you have angled the beach in contrast to the horizon. We feel this will work well with your rendition of the CBI waterfront. We also think that having a more active sky would be good, since the water is usually tranquil inside the bar.
- The second attachment shows the near shore section of the beach that we hope you might be able to represent similar to the way you already mentioned, “show just a bit of beach, a simplified swath of beach grasses off to the right… And some sky interest.” We would like to see more beach than grass though. We recognized that you would not be painting the scene exactly as is, and that is fine with us. We are going for something that looks natural, but for those of us who know the area, we can easily imagine it as the same section of shoreline.
- The third picture can be found at the following website. We really love the colors and contrast of the water and the nearshore beach, the middle bars, and the bright sand of the outer bar. We are hoping you could incorporate these elements along with the above.
All of this made perfect sense, after the discussions that we had already had. And since all of it is also perfectly within a subject matter that I hold dear and in my signature style, I was more than happy with their choice. That it wasn’t a tweaked or reformatted version of something that I had done before made it exciting and fresh.
I was lucky with several of the logistics that could have proven difficult under quarantine. First, that I could have a stretcher made in the needed size through my Vermont custom stretcher-makers Brickyard Enterprises—that they were healthy and willing and had the supplies. Next, that when I contacted Claussens linen in Belgium I was assured that the weight linen that I like to use —for its lovely slubbed surface–would be fine for a canvas of that size. Lastly, that I could get a porch drop-off delivery from Brickyard, since this canvas would not come even close to fitting in my Volvo wagon.
I always start a commission with a study, usually oil on paper and small, in the 8″x10″ range but to scale with the desired piece. Approval of the study is sought before moving forward. I agreed with the clients that the size of the painting called for a larger study, and when I realized that I had a 30″x40″ on hand , perfectly to scale with 6’x8′, I suggested that we do a way bigger study…seemed to make sense with a way big painting.
The day before the delivery of the stretched canvas, the clients decided to come by for a porch-viewing of the 30″x40″ study, since they were having a hard time seeing the true colors from the jpeg. I was so glad that they did, since it put a few questions to rest, and they left very happy.
Priming with my usual off-black gesso proved to be a challenge. I usually do this flat, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach the middle section that way, so I opted to prop it on the ground against a table that I use for various outdoor jobs. I wired the back of the stretcher to the sides of the table with picture wire so that the wind wouldn’t catch it, which turned out to be a wise precaution later in the day when the breeze picked up.
I positioned the canvas so that the sun didn’t hit the front, since the gesso goes on more smoothly if it stays damp.
The first coat is wettest and the last coat the thickest, following an oft-used maxim in painting, thick over thin. I sand lightly between coats, and even very lightly, at the end.
By the end of coat #3, five hours later, I was exhausted. Using a 5-inch house-painting brush, the gesso has to be thoroughly worked into the fibers of the linen, and quickly. The physical part was one thing—wrist and shoulder of my right arm, though I did try to use the left a bit—but the mental another altogether.
My understanding is that repetitive motion releases serotonin in the brain, something that we enjoy with, for example, running or walking. So maybe that explains the level of brain-dead that I felt at the end of the afternoon. It was unlike anything I had felt before, like I was stunned into absolute mental disfunction. You might think that this would be accompanied with euphoria, but it was not!
The next day, canvas back in my studio, I was not satisfied with the evenness of my priming job and, knowing that once I started painting I would be stuck with whatever it was, I did a forth spot- coat and some very careful sanding, and then got the canvas back up on my easel (with help…a two-person job).
Next up: mix a palette, making a range of blues, sand colors, and a few greens, and adding nice amounts of my wax medium for easy spreading on the absorbent gesso.
Establishing the horizon line was the first step in applying paint. For such a large canvas, it is hard to see proportion while working up close and impossible get a level line without measuring. I used, as I have before, a standard equation for proportion, in this case x is to 72″ (the height of my canvas) as 30″ is to 40″, the height and width of the study: and so I came up with the placement for the horizon and measured across a few times. The sea does need to be level at the horizon, gravity doing its work. Then eyeballing it, I decided I wanted it a little higher.
Many passages in the painting of this large version can and will be spontaneous and based upon a lot of coming forward to paint and backward to examine. But given how hard it is to see proportion while working up close, it has been very helpful to measure based on the study and not reinvent the wheel at every turn. I calculated that one inch of study is equal to 2.4″ in the large piece, and then deviated a bit where I saw fit as the painting evolved.
This clip of video catches a bit of the of the process:
The next week, a pic of the painting after one layer was completed:
The composition and all of the major shapes have been worked out, following what was established in the study and then shifted a bit where it felt natural to do so.
I add layers of paint to an area based on what, to my eye, needs brightening up. For this painting, it ended up being three to four layers, with the original dark gesso showing through very subtly to mitigate flatness. I am at heart a minimalist, so often less is more in terms of detail; but within each area there is a good deal of color shift and soft brush work.
Going up in size means more play in each area of color. For example, going from a swath of green salt grass on the outer bar an inch high in the 30″x40″, to two and a half in the 6’x8′ gave me room to segue from varied warm greens (with quite a lot of white in them) above to some burnt reds at the edge of the sand. This created a visual link to the reds in the lighter sand colors, and also explores the warm green to warm red color-wheel interaction (think olive green to burnt sienna).
This is the final version, signed off on when the collectors visited for another yard viewing. You can see the difference in luminosity.
The way that I explain my version of minimalism is to point out that if you try to pack too many elements into a painting, it is hard to fully see and appreciate any of them. Further, the openness of large shapes and soft edges creates a strong composition that works with the image, or view, to invite contemplation. In that way my pieces are very much about the painting as abstraction, while also expressing a strong sense of place.
Named Chatham Bars by the collectors, signed in front with my initials and labeled on the back with my name, title of the piece, medium, dimensions and date, the piece was ready for framing. The final step in the whole process for me was to get the piece to my framer extraordinaire, Geoffrey Rogers, in Pine Hill. It’s a short hop from here, but still required hiring a mover, due to the size.
The clients had requested a walnut floater frame, so Geoff created his own molding, which he hand-finished. He suffered a broken collar-bone in the middle of the process after a bicycle mishap, so help from his son moved the project forward to completion. Here is the painting in the shop, awaiting pick up from Albert Shahinian.
I wasn’t there for the installation, which was carried off by Albert and another art installer that he brought on board, with help from the clients. As you can imagine, getting a large painting up on this wall was a process.
This project was particularly meaningful for me in the midst of staying home during the pandemic. It not only created a complex, multilayered point of focus for me, but also worked so beautifully as metaphor—a very large canvas of a particularly open and expansive view being created within a set of constraints unprecedented in our lifetime.
Special thanks to my husband Jack and son Tony, one of whom had to help with every out-into-the-sun and back into the studio later; each up-and-down from the easel to work different sections; and the final in and out of the truck for delivery to my framer. One day when unexpected dark clouds blew up and I was home alone, I managed to get it into the studio with no damage to myself or the painting…which made me appreciate all of the help even more.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, May 12.
May 9: I had thought to leave off posting until I complete my 6’x8′ commission and finish the blog description of the process, but find that I miss the diary.
Snow last night and today, actually quite dark and blizzardy at intervals this afternoon, alternating with sun flurries. It seems almost cruel that our spring is so delayed, when we crave the comfort of warm sunshine and a softer outdoor experience. For me, key to that is our screened-in back porch, my warm-season living room. A day in which I can have my siding door open to the porch and take my meals and do my online work out there is a good day .
But, while cringing on behalf of my snowy flowers and leafed-out plantings today, it popped into my mind that this weather might have its uses in slowing the spread of the virus. Warm days have brought with them prematurely reckless behavior. So maybe this prolonged chill will allow the curve to turn from its current level to downward, and save a few lives.
The news is not good at all and makes me despair about human idiocy, American and otherwise. So I unashamedly grasp at straws.
On this Mother’s Day, the first without our mom, I am fortunate to be doing the things that I have always chosen on this spring day in which I feel free to pamper myself. Sometimes the weather has been 45 and rainy and put a damper on my busy-in-the-yard plans, and yesterday’s snow would have been the kicker…but today we have partly sunny and in the 5os.
Ordinarily, I would have gone to Oneonta with my sister Carla yesterday, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to have lunch and a nursery visit for hanging pots and annuals with our mom. I always brought flowers from my yard on every visit from April through October.
When we finally scatter her ashes in multiple places, I hope it is during the growing season so that I can include some flowers.
____ __________________________________________ ____
The crumbling world around us cries out for help…socorro, socorro! I can only think in small, manageable bits about it, or it threatens hopelessness that sabotages action. So, to begin somewhere, I created a fundraiser last week in collaboration with Albert Shahinian Fine Art. I offered to give a small collage from the eleven left at the gallery after an environmental fundraiser last fall to anyone who sent me a receipt for a donation of at least $40 to a food bank of their choosing. They all were spoken for very quickly and we raised about $500. Albert sent them all out a few days ago from the gallery.
Just a start. I’ll be thinking of more, and ASFA is on board for more collaborating. I do like to use my art to raise money because it is my ready resource that folks value. These little pieces went mostly to prior collectors and a few to a student or mentee not in a position to buy a market-priced piece. I used only social media so for the next thing could readily access my best outreach resource, which is my mailing list.
____ _________________________________________ ____
I am also involved in a fundraiser for the Island Food Bank on Martha’s Vineyard through my gallery there, the Louisa Gould Gallery. Her shows this spring and summer are an opt-in for gallery artists to join her in donating 10% of sales for food security, with every dollar raised going for $7 worth of food.
We just made a nice sale of these two pieces, accomplished through shipping, as the gallery has not yet reopened.
Here is a link to the current online show of new work at the gallery:
____ _____________________________________________ ____
My big studio project continues to be the 6’x8′ commissioned version of this 30″x40″. I am creating an in-depth description of the process for an upcoming blog post.
Stay healthy, y’all, and let’s keep each other safe!
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, March 26, 2020
Tuesday-Thursday, March 24-26:
In the past few days we have seen the news become worse and worse, with the NYC metro area suffering huge numbers of infected and new infections mounting exponentially. The issue of New Yorkers fanning across the country to flee—or just wait out— the problem is finally much in the news, with some states requiring quarantine.
This has been on my mind here in the Catskills, where every second or third home is a weekend place and many others are AirBnB investment properties, currently rented. I would do the same if I lived in nyc and had a place up here, but I would have come up weeks ago and then stayed, like my sister and brother-in-law did. It’s the recent arrivals that pose a risk to us all.
However, we are all supposed to be behaving as if we and every other person has it. I would say that, for those coming from the global epicenter, this should extend to face masks while shopping. And, since recently trailhead parking lots in the Skills are full when the weather is nice, remembering to keep your six feet from other hikers—it’s easy to forget while out in the fresh air. Gloves and speed at the post office, as many of us in this rural area have to pick up our mail.
On the whole, it seems that folks are good and buttoned up in their homes, as they should be, wherever they come from. Since we have a lovely series of hiking trails just up my dead-end road, our road is always the choice for neighborhood dog walkers and hikers, and it is so nice to stop for chats, as in the past, but with more distance between us. I haven’t seen many of the new arrivals in this mix, but we are all good as long as we maintain our six feet.
Cases are mounting in Ulster County, though we have had only one in Shandaken for quite a while now (maybe a week, in our new telescoped time). Otsego County, where my Dad lives in Oneonta, went from zero to five in the past few days. My dear friend Di (known locally as “Dr. Di” and also my Dad and his partner’s yoga teacher) is now City Health Officer for preparedness for Covid-19. When we chatted the other night she described their local efforts, but there had yet to be a known case in the county. I am sure that they are now on higher alert to avoid community spread.
In other Covid-19 news, the NY Times published an article yesterday by a woman in NYC whose husband has a pretty bad case—just teetering on hospitalization—and how she and her 16-year-old daughter are coping with nursing him and trying not to get it themselves. It is clear that at his level of misery, there is no way he could take even the most basic care of himself.
This brought it home in a very concrete way, since with this illness all previous protocols are out the window. Family is not supposed to step in, no one is supposed to get near—the only help can come from folks dropping off needed supplies, whether medical or food. Each household, no matter how small, is on it’s own, with a bit of doctor’s advice and the worst case solution of being hospitalized.
I am glad that we have worked so hard within our household to stay safe, though we could still, of course, be unlucky.
Daughter Tessa called yesterday, just a check in before she goes back into the Minnesota woods to continue maple sugaring until her original target date of April 13 or 14th. It was so great to hear her voice.
I had left her a voicemail with a little bit of info on what’s going on in this country, and she seemed unable to let go of the idea that Jack and I are reacting with outsized anxiety. It is such an unprecedented situation that if you are not living it, of course it would seem like that…
She is now with only six others of the original crew, all having ben there for over a month, safe and happily out of contact with the world. How she will get back here to pick up her car, and then onto her Vermont home has yet to be determined. I am dead set against using her plane ticket to Newark.
In the studio I finished the sand flats painting, Soft Glow over Tidal Flats, 30″x60″:
I wonder when I will see the sea again? Almost surely not the first of May, as originally planned, for my seasonal drop-off at Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard.
Work is also progressing on the watershed Site Map; here, a detail of the most developed sections:
I have started painting the planned small oil-on-board pieces.
I am so focused on these projects that the studio constantly calls to me…I would happily spend even more time there every day, but there are both necessary and lovely other things to do—yoga, hike, cook, yard work, read, paperwork and phone calls (Jack’s job is shut down for the duration and mine—who knows?—so we are applying for all of the things), and all of the email and phone connecting with friends and family.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus #3
Excerpts from my blog diary from March 16-18.
Monday March 16th:
We made the trip to a parking lot in Newburgh to hand off this painting to Janet Schwarz, JSO Art Associates.
It is impossible to know if the two interested parties are really going to follow through with a viewing, mostly because of the stock market and fears of a long recession. But at least she has it and that bit of business is taken care of. Also, a large painting leaving the studio feels safer for all of the rest. (No, this is not social distancing, just the moving-things-around risks!)
On our way back we had planned a “last” shop at Hannaford in West Hurley not so much because we need anything for ourselves but because Tony is coming back tonight from college and to shop for my MiL, who has not yet focused on stocking up.
Hannaford was brutal. There was one parking space left in the lot when we rolled in at about 2pm, and the place was mobbed, a number of shelves bare. They had just restocked, but the cashier—who was whipping the items through, knowing that everyone wanted to get the hell out of there—said that the parking lot was almost full when they all arrived before 6am. Some folks were wearing masks.
Everyone was polite, though. So far, still Woodstock.
Back in the car, I observed to Jack, what would it be like if this were a really deadly plague, like Ebola? He came back with the opinion that armed folks, gun nuts, like someone we know from the old Marvel days, would have their machine guns at the ready in the toilet paper isle.
We are still good for a laugh.
Niece has been self-quarantining in the the Berkley area since a colleague in her Phd program tested positive a few days ago. Her boyfriend had been visiting during his spring break from Duke, so he was also in the net, and today has a fever. She has three housemates..also caught. She is trying to figure out how to get him tested. (There is so much wrong with that sentence.)
A few hours later we heard that the Bay Area is under a new “shelter in place” order.
___ _____________________________________ ___
Tuesday March 17th:
No test for my neice’s boyfriend. Bad sign. Now all five of them are just going to have to wait it out, and will it ever be known if they have it? It does not bode well, this continued lack of testing, since we have no idea of the scope of the epidemic without.
Numbers are ratcheting up day by day, and known cases getting closer. Saugerties has one now, and there are more in Kingston and Rhinebeck. Westchester declared a state of emergency. They declared a 8pm curfew in NYS for all restaurants, which can now only offer take-out.
Sara, who owns the yoga studio where I practice and teach, wants me to zoom a basics class a week, and I will start to think about that in a few days. She also proposed having me and/or the other teacher at CTH be her student in the studio while she zooms her classes. I love that idea, but realized that if I stayed away from the studio last weekend to avoid students and she taught, I should probably stay away from her for another few weeks. Otherwise, what was the point of that?
But, we could stay far apart, so I am tempted.
Note: Sara is a lovely teacher and is zooming her classes with online sign-up. You can check it out at:
Some nice painting studio time today, getting a layer in on on the sand flats piece. I got a late start because Tony got in and stayed up late and I found myself sleepless at about 5am.
We are setting up a small studio for him for silverpoint, cutting lino, and his remote classes in Tessa’s room, adjoining his own, and he can use my studio for messier work, like painting.
___ _______________________________________ ___
Wednesday, March 18, 2pm: I am thinking this morning, and last night while falling asleep, about what other studio endeavors I might want to begin just now. I am working on the grouping for Louisa Gould Gallry on MV and will be for a bit, to be ready with new work whenever the time is right. Also, a few more paintings for my online show with Butters Gallery, scheduled for mid-May. I also promised Judi at Gallery Jupiter that I would do some oil-on-board 8″x8″s or her (for whenever, no hurry!) that have the depth to stand on a table or shelf, like the 6″x6″s that she has; but for these the images goes all of the way out to the edge. Here are an examples of each version.
Below are five of these 6″x6″s from my end-of-residency show at the Artists Association of Nantucket in November of 2018, sitting below three hand-colored linocut maps of the island.
This is the new version, 4″x12″, on the shallower board meant for hanging.
My students and other artists and a number of collectors have loved the top version, with dark float, but several galleries are reporting that it makes the image even smaller—for the price point—and so I am experimenting with the second version, which also involves adjusting the color of the gesso on the sides to fit the image. So far, I like it.
It’a an instance of how innovation can happen based on market considerations, if taken as a creative challenge. If you are flexible and can get excited about the idea, this can work—if you are resentful of the suggestion, it’s unlikely that any good will come of it.
Here are some other ideas.
Ongoing or occasional pursuits:
~Dye more rice and mulberry paper for collaging.
~Circle back to printmaking, maybe joining Tony with a 3-color (hand) printing of a lino.
~Figure out how to make collages with failed monotypes, probably using my dyed rice papers along with. Looking at them today, I realized that some would be appropriate to use as the basis for a pastel, since the print papers are the same as what I have for years used for pasteling. I have found that trying to tweak a print with pastel doesn’t work well, since the paper really needs to have a density of pastel applied to be able to move it around, and this means pastel over the whole thing.
~Maps using walnut ink, mixed media, some found/vintage objects, using more natural materials.
~Other in-studio printmaking projects, maybe finding new ways to use maps.
~Work on watershed Site Map.
The watershed Site Map has been confusing me because I am thinking about either this Atlas theme or a Cape Cod (or Cape and Islands) version for next, and these environmentally themed projects are an enormous amount of work.
That’s what indecision does—stalls the brain, and stalls progress. I got a nice start on prepping the Watershed map on its 48″x36″ board last year, but got side-tracked with various painting projects, from my November show at Jupiter Gallery in NJ to the commissions this past winter, and more.
I have just talked myself through the dilemma (decision fatigue making even the low-pressure ones stressful), hooray. It makes sense to carry forward with the one that I have started. When the studio gets crowded I spend too much time moving things around.
This is the Site Map for Atlas/Forms of Water, finished last summer and the guide to the show I had of that name at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck. The new one will have a similar format. For more about this show see my blog post:
First painting of the year to get to dry in the yard! With this accelerated drying time, I can work on the second layer tomorrow and likely finish it.
And now, for a walk in that sunshine.
8pm: Terrible news all around, numbers and economics. I have gone from reading every little thing back in early January to tolerating just measured doses of news. Despite the dread that I felt when I was first reading the reports from Wuhan, putting it all together required an attention to detail and cross-referencing with other material that engaged the grey matter . This is now onslaught after onslaught of of news that is worse by the hour, punches in the gut. It will only get worse, so let’s gear up the intestinal fortitude…
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:
Atlas/Forms of Water 2019
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!)
This last week of April/first in May I am hard at work preparing paintings to go to Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. My sixth season with the gallery—and 20+ showing on the Vineyard—we are in a good groove together, and both excited about this line-up for the season.
For more, you can go to the gallery website:
A recent sale at Louisa Gould Gallery was the winning selection of a fellow who thoroughly researched my galleries’ websites and then sent inquires about pieces that he liked to five different galleries. After careful consideration, this is what he chose:
Reaching back to last winter…gone but not forgotten. I taught my Constructing/Deconstructing the Landscape workshop at the Woodstock School of Art. This is a very structured course, especially the first day+, dialing in on compositional shifts and how they affect movement, directionality, and mood. I always love what evolves, and this incarnation was no exception.
Here are a few of the student-executed exercises.
First, just hillside and tree or two in black gesso. Then move them around; change angle and division of picture plane; different type of tree. Several thought to break up the hillside.
This workshop feels like a slow flowering from tightly following direction early on to a much more open expression, integrating lessons learned along the way. I feel grateful for the trust that I am given to lead this guided work, since at the beginning of the workshop students feel a little hemmed in and have to go on faith that there are reasons for this, and that we are headed somewhere quite satisfying.
The first quarter of 2019 has been busy not just in the normal progression of events, projects, and deadlines, but also unusually so in the shear number and complexity of sales. Some of these required a fair bit of waltzing on my part, often accompanied by one of my galleries or consultants and assisted by my husband.
As you can imagine, each of these has a story.
A few of these stories:
In late February a designer I work with in Piermont NY, Ned Kelly, called in regard to the large painting below, wanting to show it to a client who already owned a smaller piece of mine. So off we went, my husband and I, that painting and a few others in tow, to meet up with the designer at the client’s home.
The piece actually didn’t work in the planned spot, so Ned headed upstairs to look for another likely wall, finding it above the bed in the master bedroom, across from my smaller piece that they owned.
With five people in a huge house, conversations splintered off, grouping and regrouping. By the time the painting was settled upon and the below smaller piece brought in from the car and actually installed, we had ranged far and wide, through good-natured expletive-laced teasing and the performative appearance of a shot gun. Add in two gorgeous dogs and a couple of cute kids and you have the whole picture.
Shortly after that I picked up a phone message from a person unknown to me but with a familiar last name, inquiring about a piece on my website. She turned out to be the new wife of a long-time friendly acquaintance. He and his (now I am understanding) ex-wife had remained on my mailing list for some years since I had last seen them, and I had been picturing them together, with the visiting grown kids and grandkids, exactly where I had seen them every summer for about twenty years.
But big changes had taken place. His new wife wanted to purchase a piece for her husband for their 3rd wedding anniversary. Apparently, the first wife had gotten the painting that they owned in the divorce (something I hear fairly often, actually) and he had been forwarding my invitations and updates along to his new wife, expressing enthusiasm for my work.
I had assumed years of silence meant lack of interest. But this is why I don’t take anyone off my mailing list unless they ask to be removed—I never know who is looking and enjoying and who deletes without opening.
So, after much back-and-forth and a delivery of three pieces for a staged viewing on the anniversary itself, this five-part vertical seascape was selected. I even got to have lunch and catch up with my old friend when he brought the other two paintings back to my area.
There is something in this story that feels very rich to me, maybe starting with the fact that it spans decades of time. There is a lot of life-essence in it—changes, losses, new beginnings, time passing, reconnections, and tracing the timelines of entwined lives.
We did a pop-up house party, a big collaborative effort, in Riverdale, NY. I hadn’t done one of these since the several that I did about a decade ago with Asher Nieman Gallery:
My co-conspirators this time were Albert Shahinian Fine Art, my husband, and my sister and brother-in-law, who opened up their apartment for the event. With this crew I had a driver; art handlers; a chef; a party planner; and a galleriest. Lucky me!
Below, a few of the pieces that departed for new homes:
I have two very different workshops coming up in May and June in the Catskills.
At the Emerson Resort in Mount Tremper, for all levels, an exploration of the imagery of our beautiful Catskill Mountains in May color:
And in June, for more experienced painters looking to explore a different concept:
On deck in my studio is another incarnation of my environmentally -themed Atlas Project. Atlas/Forms of Water, a solo show, will open at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck this September, exact date TBA.
This show will feature all sorts of water imagery along with a new site map, in progress below. Along with the oil paintings, look for map pieces in collage and lino/mono print exploring climate change and sea level rise/storm flooding.
This builds on the show that I had at Thompson Giroux Gallery last spring, Atlas/Hudson River Valley (you can see the site map for that show in the upper left background). If you missed seeing or reading about the show, here is the link to my blog post on it:
Forms of Water explores a more a global rather that locale-specific theme, though my personal forms of water have most often been experienced in the Northeast.
Also upcoming, a small duo show with my friend Polly Law at the Roxbury Arts Group; more workshops; and fresh work heading to Nantucket. More on all of this soon!
If you are not on my mailing list and would like to be, contact me at email@example.com.
Sweetest Sales, Part Two
In 2011 I wrote a post describing some quirky and heartwarming stories that led to a sale or sales of my work:
Since then, I have accumulated a few more that I want to share.
My seven-year-old collector:
Several years ago I was approached by acquaintances who live in our little hamlet. Could their younger daughter interview me for a school project on her favorite artist?
Juliet had accompanied her father Brett to an open studio I had hosted several months prior, and so thought of me (the other kids did mostly Picasso or Van Gogh, I think!).
So we did that, and then Juliet returned to my studio for a private art class. Her mom, Rebecca–who I barely knew, at that point—read in the yard while we did our session, and at the end she came into the studio and we chatted. Juliet was still quite shy at that time, but summoned her courage to ask me how much I charged for my paintings. Her mother feared that the question was rude, but I said, no, that asking for price in an artist’s studio was perfectly acceptable.
So I pointed to a 36″x36″ and said, “This painting will go out to one of my galleries shortly and is priced at $6,000”, and then I pointed to a few other pieces in a stack and continued, “but those pieces in this stack” and I pulled out one that had been in the possession of my sister for years, “are much, much older and I will sell to a friend for a few hundred dollars”.
Her mom and I continued chatting, and then Juliet tugged on her mothers clothing. “MOM, I want to buy a painting.” Rebecca was floored and a little embarrassed, so I picked up what I thought was just a conversational ball. “Juliet, if you were going to buy a painting, which one would it be?
“That one”—she pointed to the stack, where I had stashed the earlier piece behind a few others. I pulled it out again. “I want to buy THAT one.” Her mom tried to backtrack, or at least table the conversation for later, but Juliet was having none of it. “How much would you charge me for it?”
I thought quickly. I could certainly have happily gifted her the piece, it was clear that she wanted to purchase it. So I told her that I would sell that painting to her for $150. “MOM, she said, I have savings and I WANT to buy the painting.” It went back and forth like that for a bit, Juliet also insisting that they take the painting NOW.
And so they did.
Her parents made the great call to have her go with them to the bank and make her first ever withdrawal and then bring me the money herself.
The angelic-looking and very strong-willed young artist:
I have since enjoyed getting to know the whole family better, as Brett and Rebecca have acquired a few pieces of their own and we have shared a glass of wine or two.
__________________ _____________________________________________ ____________________
She googled “Moody Greenscapes”:
And the study for the piece:
So that was just about that for that, as she explained:
Painting from 1987:
A few months ago I received an email from a fellow asking about the inspiration for this painting:
I have to say, I was very excited to see this piece, to me a standout from my abstract figurative period in the 1980’s when I was living in NYC. I remembered the sale of it to a woman who was accustomed to collecting high-end work, and I had always wondered if/how long she had held onto it. Frankly, given what else she had on her walls in her Sutton Place apartment, I was afraid that it had ended up in a dumpster.
It turned out that she does indeed really love her art–all of it, no dumpsters—even those pieces that have been switched around to different residences and in and out of storage. A few years ago, she offered to gift this piece to her sometimes personal assistant/friend and her husband. And so, it ended up in their California home…and sparked the inquiry.
I was communicating with Rich, the husband, batting info back and forth. Eventually, it was his idea to purchase two small pieces to go on either side, accommodating their budget. After studying the photo of their living room with the painting (which we started calling simply the “Sisters” painting, as is is a stylized image of me with my sister Karin behind me), I realized that monotypes would be the best bet, both for color/affect and for price. I recommended going with the pop of warm color that is in the painting, rather than trying to match the greens.
Then the couple decided that they wanted two more prints, for other spots in the room. I sent the four of them off and the next day got the email below:
“Love them! Thank you. I can’t wait to get them framed!
These are the other two that they acquired:
________________ ______________________________________________ _______________
Does a gift qualify as a sale?
Some 12 or so years ago we had a holiday party and Gary Alexander, art and science writer from Woodstock, came with his girlfriend. He had been introduced to me years before by my then-gallery, the James Cox Gallery, and had gone on to, over time, write extensively about my work. (This included an 8 page article that got into Freud and brain science and required some serious focus, even for me.)
I had my studio heated and lit that night for those who wanted to take a look, and Gary, of course, did. After a bit of circulating on his part, we went out together and he pretty quickly got snagged by a 36″x36″ painting that was almost totally in black and white, big stormy sky gleam over our Catskill mountains backlit to black.
I can’t find a jpeg of the piece, but it had a look very similar to this one, but with a black mountain range in front:
A bit later, when I went back out with another friend, Gary’s partner was kneeing on the floor, rapt, in front of the same painting.
A few months later, this piece began to—ugh!—develop fine cracks in the surface. It was a new brand of stretched linen I had tried, quite pricey, and I think now was actually stretched too tight, a rare thing. Sadly, this painting was not going out to one of my galleries, even though these cracks were not visible from a few yards back.
I knew immediately what to do. I called Gary and left a message on his machine. Can you come by the studio, I have a surprise for you?
He was there within the hour. A gentle, laconic fellow, he did not stay around to chat after I gave him the painting, but his face said it all.
I am quite sure that it was the last time I saw him. He passed away in 2017.
I hope his girlfriend is still enjoying the painting.
________ _______________________________________________________ _________
To Madrid on the private jet:
One more, a quick one, because that is how the sale happened.
In June of 2017 a fellow was drawn into my gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, the Louisa Gould Gallery, by a very large marsh painting in the window. That piece was too big, but sitting still wrapped in the gallery was my season’s delivery, dropped by my husband earlier that day. The fellow, from Madrid, helped unwrap a new 44″x68″, and fell in love with the piece instantly. His wife concurred. Problem was, would it fit in their private jet?
Just then, his pilot walked by the front of the gallery and was promptly hailed. Would this piece fit? Hurried consultation in Spanish. Yes, it would!
The piece was wrapped back up and invoiced and paid for, and out the door it went.
The whole encounter took about 20 minutes.
_______________ _____________________________________________________________ ______________
I have been steadily selling my work for decades, resulting in many hundreds of pieces going out to homes, offices, and public collections around the country and the world. These stories remind me to be grateful for each and every one of those sales, but you can see that most of the ones that stick with me are not necessarily big in dollar amount, but big in heart.
Eagle Above, Fish Below: Summer 2018
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.
Spring into Summer 2018: News and Updates
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:
_____________ _____________________________________________________ _____________
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:
_____________ _______________________________________________________ _____________
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.
_____________ ____________________________________________________ _____________
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…
News, Pictures, and a big Save-the-Date as we Launch into 2018
Hello all, happy oncoming 2018! I have quite a lot to report in this year-end update, both from 2017 and about events on the schedule so far for the coming year.
Many folks have asked me to send out a save-the-date for my Atlas/Hudson River Valley show opening on Match 31 at the Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham New York. I’ll do a separate email soon so that it’s easy to find in the inbox, but here on my blog I can talk about the exhibition in more detail.
This will be the first full-size installation of one of my Atlas Project-themed exhibitions. Later themes might be Atlas/Cape Cod or Atlas/Forms of Water, but I an delighted to be launching this within my own Hudson River Valley/Catskills, both as the theme and the locale of the show. Included will be monoprints, mixed media/collages, and pastels along with the oils, and the Site Map that explains it all.
The Site Map is an integral part of an Atlas Project installation, a map of the show itself which includes tiny monoprints of all of the oil paintings in the show overlaid on a collaged map of the Hudson River Valley. It includes numbered map tacks that show the locales of the scenes depicted; river towns and bridges and a key to the map and the show.
This map will have to be finished and photographed at the last minute, when I am sure of exactly which oil paintings are going into the show.
A side panel is Mapping Memory/Wildlife of Particular Interest that includes lino-monoprints and some text of my associated personal memories. Three panel extensions coming asymmetrically off the right side and top and bottom of the main map include a collage/lino/mono of the upper Hudson, the source of the river in the Adirondaks; another of Hudson Canyon, which continues out to sea from New York Harbor for 400 miles; and a third comprised of short discussion and collage/prints of three local trees endangered by climate change.
New Blog Post
In current news, I have recently published a blog post on the intersecting themes of teaching, independent studio practice, and group dynamic for the artist:
I welcome any comments on the post!
Many Things Nantucket
In January I will again be part of an exchange between artists of Woodstock and Nantucket, this time to take place at the Woodstock School of Art. We will be working together for three days in the graphics studio; doing a few studio visits and looking at the historical connection between the two arts colonies; eating and schmoozing. (What could be better?)
Part I of this exchange took place in September at the Artists Association of Nantucket with a show of the four Woodstock-area artists seen below, who had all taught and/or done a residency there:
The plan was for the four of us to show up for a closing reception and artist’s talk on September 23rd, and my plan was to to do a tour of the Cape and Islands with my husband, starting in Provincetown, checking in with and delivering to or picking up from my three galleries in the area.
Just as we were coming onto the Cape Tropical Storm Jose was approaching the area, causing concern over the Cape bridges closing as well as cancelled ferries. From Provincetown we saw some amazing sights during the storm, particularly the surf from the high dunes on Longnook Beach.
We had a ferry reservation to continue on to Martha’s Vineyard, and from there I had another res for the fast ferry to Nantucket a day later.
Three of the four artists did manage to get on Cape, or in my case, to Martha’s Vineyard, and then reschedule ferries to arrive for our reception at the AAN. We suffered a rocky crossing and then enjoyed a lovely evening of spirited discussion and camaraderie.
I also arrived in time to pay a visit to my new gallery on Nantucket, Thomas Henry Gallery. I am looking forward to painting some large, open seascape and marsh imagery for the 2018 season there:
My residency at the Artists Association of Nantucket in February was one of the highlights of 2017 for me, beautifully intensive and key in advancing the rubric for my Atlas Project:
The below was my second prototype for a site map for a grouping of Atlas Project work. From here I was able to take what works best (the monotype thumbnails of paintings that I had done) and change things that I didn’t (particularly the text) for the next map, for Atlas/Hudson River Valley. I would also love to return to Nantucket for a more fleshed-out exploration of of the theme.
Fall Studio Demonstrations
This fall I did three second-Saturday demo/open studios, starting in October. During the first I worked on small oil-on-paper pieces, like this:
The below I developed during the November demo, which had the theme of working large in oil. I had a nice group who I can only describe as riveted, watching for about two and a half hours while I painted and explained. Then the mood shifted to jolly when I called for a break and lively conversation ensued over a glass of wine.
The slightly textured surface of this piece is something I love to do every so often, allowing a little more of the underpainting to show through, creating a subtle vibration.
Here is a link to the video created by the Woodstock School of Art from a painting demonstration that I did there a few summers back:
For the last demo, in December, I worked in pastel, completing both of these during the two afternoons:
Other Highlights from 2017
I had a successful show last winter/spring with my gallery of 20 years, Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck. It is such a pleasure to work with Albert and Joanna, who are also friends and neighbors in our Hudson Valley arts community.
Here is a link to my post on the show, updated to label pieces that sold later in the year, as well as those that went during the show (the others are, of course, still available):
___ _______________________ ___
In April I went to Florida to do a large painting for my friends Karen and Len:
___ _______________________ ___
During my third year with Louisa Gould Gallery and my 18th or so showing on the Vineyard, we had the kind of year that the artist really looks for. I had some relaxing off-season visits that gave us more time to connect. The crazy Cape and Islands tour in September with Hurricane Jose was followed by several days of sun/fog/sun/fog, rolling in and out, that had even islanders exclaiming. This started as I was leaving Nantucket on the ferry, included a wild rainbow at sea, and continued into the next day while I photographed favorite and new locales on MV and Chappy with my husband. There will be paintings to follow!
This piece, which I delivered to LGG the next month, was of a moment just after the fog cleared.
In 2017 Louisa and I sold work big, medium, and small and in a range of palettes and formats. When this happens, I feel truly appreciated and at home in the gallery. The below are a few that found new homes since my last post.
Older Favorites Find New Homes
In the past several months I have been delighted to see a number of pieces that, despite generating admiration, have lingered too long in gallery or studio leave my walls for others:
___ ______________________ ___
The Luminous Landscape at Albert Shahinian Fine Art continues through the month of January, closing with a last reception on January 27th. I have several pieces in the show and many more in inventory, accessible for viewing. I look forward to the reception, which is also a 20th-year anniversary party, an opportunity to enjoy the warmth of our arts community during the winter months.
En Masse, the dynamic small works show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, continues to January 7th. They have been generating anticipation for my spring show with the many small works they have of mine seeded throughout the gallery, as well as larger pieces in inventory. One of my last sales of 2017 was Blue Tidal Pool, one of my favorite paintings from the past decade:
___ ____________________________ ___
I have a new workshop at the Woodstock School of Art, rescheduled for March 3rd-4th. The theme, somewhat more descriptive than my workshops that emphasize formal elements, is for students to create a suite of paintings of the four seasons.
Many representational painters explore a zone on the spectrum of realism, on one end, and very abstracted imagery, on the other. I have often emphasized the abstract in my teaching, feeling that the go-to for landscape painters early on is to try to copy everything they see within a scene. So my approach is to encourage students to think instead about the needs of the painting, inventing an image that is not a copy but a new reality.
In the past year I have been closely examining my connection to place through my Atlas Project. The theme of this new workshop, more descriptive than abstract, may have emerged from these musings. That said, students will be focusing their attention, with my help, on all of those formal elements in order to create compelling, personal paintings.
___ ____________________________ ___
I look forward to a focused, productive year ahead. We have much work to do on the national level, and also need our creative retreats more than ever. I hope you enjoy yours, and am filled with gratitude that you have supported mine. ♥
2017 Late Spring News and Upcoming Events
This spring my mind has been on many of the seasonal imperatives, like creating new work for my galleries on the Cape and Islands and sorting through and shipping or delivering their selections. It has also, after a huge jump-start on my Atlas Project during my residency at the Nantucket Arts Association, been very much on advancing that exploration; and the spring has been spiced up by a few other new projects.
I have scheduled a talk to discuss my Atlas Project for July 15 during the Shandaken Artists Studio Tour, 4:30-6pm. I am currently developing the third sequence, Atlas/Hudson Valley segment. This means that, in addition to other work in my studio, I will hang a grouping of each of the sections that I have been working on this year: Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow; Atlas/Island (Nantucket); and the most extensive sequence to date, the Hudson River and Catskills work and mapping thereof.
In my studio work progresses on my third prototype map for this grouping, which will include mini-monotypes of the paintings involved; maps of various sorts of the area; and a number of other elements, both descriptive and visual. I am hoping that this map will be the working template that clicks for me so that I can use it for new groupings/exhibitions going forward. This involves lots of trial and error, applied problem-solving and then experimenting with the materials (maps, acrylics, printmaking, rice paper, collage, river mud, etc.).
I have found that when I pose myself a complex creative problem to be solved, following a simple process works quite well. I start by seeing how far I can think my way into it, often using moments when I am driving or walking, and when I hit an aspect or aspects that stump me, I plant those as a seed, and then let go of the conscious effort. Some time later—usually weeks—the answer will pop into my head, my subconscious having been at work on it all the while, sometimes aided by new information that comes my way in the interval.
Here is where I am so far with the latest Site Map and associated prints:
Above and below are a few of the Hudson River & Valley/Catskills paintings that are part of the new sequence:
My new series is bringing me ever closer to the many aspects of the natural world that I have in the past observed, researched and delighted in. Which of these things and how they can manifest in the work is the adventure. As is true of most meaningful new endeavors, the space this holds for me is both stimulating and disquieting.
My first gallery show of Atlas/Hudson Valley is scheduled for 2018 at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
To view more oil paintings that are currently in my studio, click here:
During spring I am always preparing to deliver or ship new work to my galleries in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and/or Cape Cod. Below are some new pieces at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. She always has a beautifully installed grouping of my work on display throughout the year, so please stop by if you are on the island.
My residency at the Arts Association of Nantucket in February resulted in many advancements in my problem-solving curve for the Atlas Project; a number of small paintings; and some monotypes (see my blog post on the residency):
The five monotypes hanging below are a the results of printing sessions in both Woodstock and Nantucket.
And a few others:
See more of my prints and pastels here:
In April I flew to South Florida to do a large painting for friends with a new house there. I managed to pack in one big suitcase everything I needed, including the 16″x20″ version of the wave image that I had painted ahead of time. The one thing that did not fit in my suitcase was the 48″x60″ stretched linen canvas, which we had shipped from my wonderful stretcher-makers in Vermont, Brickyard Enterprises.
I had exactly one week to do this large piece and so, concerned about the possibility of things going wrong, I put in long days for the first several, working under an overhang in the pool enclosure.
Happily, nothing did go wrong, so we had a finished piece on the wall ahead of deadline and then I got to play, spending time at the Morikami Gardens and the beach (more wave paintings to come!).
My winter-spring show with Albert Shahinian Fine Art wrapped up in early April. We had a nice run of of two receptions—one at the gallery and one at my studio; a number of sales of pieces small and large, old and new; and an interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal containing questions that I quite enjoyed:
Several of the pieces that went to new homes from our show “Gallery/Studio: A Symbiosis”:
I am teaching four more workshops in 2017, several of them new. In my workshops I emphasize composition as well as color, and share not only my techniques, but also an eclectic delight in many styles and aspects of contemporary and historical art.
The Woodstock School of Art:
I have plans for some new pastels in the near future—its a good time of year to approach these, with the studio windows wide open (ah, and I must mention sounds of birds and the creek behind my studio), mitigating any effects of flying dust. Below is a fairly recent one, in which I was pushing the color somewhat.
Over the years I have at times felt pressure from some of my galleries to work brighter. I am very often a moody painter, though I don’t ever want to limit myself to any palette, locale, format, or mood. I do love a bright sunny day, but painting dramatic clouds and subtle, tonal color often draws me, and many of my collectors will follow me into that terrain.
With the pastel above, I set myself the intention of not going as dark along the horizon as I often do in a seascape, and in general keeping the colors more saturated or desaturated with white instead of grey. I wanted to see if I could make myself happy with a lower contrast, brighter image. And I did.
This is turning a request, essentially, into a creative problem. When people ask me how and whether being a full time, self-supporting artist affects my decision-making in the studio, that is part of the answer—that if I feel that I am being nudged in a particular direction, can I turn that into an interesting problem? And after I work that one out, what else can I do that is generated exclusively by, to use Kandinsky’s term, inner necessity?
Artist’s Residency on Nantucket/New Atlas Project
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.
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.
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.
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.
This pastel is a view from the ferry of Tuckenuck, the island just visible on the right, the sky a late-day winter sunset:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As 2016 Rolls into 2017…
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.
Available Work/Studio/Works on Paper
Almost all of the unframed pastels included in this data-base are now priced $200-$500. Inquire for details—-only the framed pieces are priced, so check in with me on the others.
These are works on paper, many of them unframed, currently in my studio. Often works on paper are an option that is more affordable than oil paintings. Several of my galleries and consultants also have a selection of framed or unframed pastels and monotypes, most notably Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; JSO ART Associates in Westport CT, and Gallery Jupiter in Little Silver, NJ.
To see available oil-on-linen paintings, click here:
Oil on paper:
Mixed Media/Collage (Of paper and other things, on board):
8″x10″s framed monotypes are $750 framed and $600 unframed. Larger sizes go up to $1,800—please inquire.
The three below show the pressed edge and different colored papers. Prints are normally framed showing the distinctive edge, and a little float of the paper, where they are signed:
Three framed prints, 8″x10″/ea.:
And how a collector framed his:
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:
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.
Update, February 2021, with work of contemporary artists who I feel add to this discussion:
Joanna creates landscapes with a painterly surface that belie literal spacial references. The work could be read as surreal if the surface treatment were more realist/detailed. Instead, the lush paint handling leads us to a fuller appreciation that goes beyond a specific narrative, transforming it by creating non-literal areas, such as the white behind the birds, that bring the eye right up to the surface plane in the manner of mid-20th century abstraction. Color is often a light and airy version of local, reading as rich and inviting. The result is a multi-layered affect that beautifully and confidently challenges the norms while feeling almost magically inviting.
David has an excellent drawerly hand that he uses in service not of the highly descriptive but instead to create boldness with flat or nearly flat areas of black and desaturated color. Shapes and edges have elegant variation and interest. His negative spaces—“sky holes”—are as interesting as the positive ones, and the deep, subdued color works to integrate with the blacks. Blacks dominate and are used both as areas of “color” and also as irregular, subtle borders within the deeper color. The effect is high drama at first glance, drawing t