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.
“Contour/Distillations” has been extended to October 11th.
We are tremendously drawn by stuff. The content of our lives—acquiring possessions; taking care of or replacing said possessions; packed schedules; busy brains—loudly demands attention. What we need the most for balance is intervals of the absence of our stuff, and yet it is hard to reset and choose openness over content.
Creating space in my life is an ongoing project, and has long drawn me both to spend a great deal of time outdoors and to paint my landscapes in an open and minimalist manner. This approach quiets the mind, evoking a direct response. Abstract elements can elicit deep, complex feelings, (a theme beautifully explored in Vassily Kandinsky’s 1910 “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”) and larger, flatter shapes with soft edges awaken the wide-open feeling of being outdoors in our atmospheric world.
Delving further into the less-is-more discussion, I think that less is different. If there are many details to look at in a painting they tend to compete for attention, creating an experience that remains purely visual or intellectual without going deeper. With fewer elements and more open space, both the emotional and formal content have enormous impact, often visceral. At the same time, what is there has to hold up under analysis, as there is no hiding.
My process in the studio is comprised of long swaths of time in which I am intensely focused and living within the emerging painting, punctuated by intervals of scrutiny and analysis during which I observe the elements with as much distance as possible. This rigor is, ultimately, what allows the viewer to sink into the piece—-many small just-so decisions to create a seamless whole.
The landscape inevitably holds powerful associations, so painting it becomes a back-and-forth between exploring the narrative and focusing on the formal elements of shape, composition, surface, color, and edge. In this body of work, drawn from the past several years, I am presenting the most open, color-field aspect of my work. Viewers can bring their own memories to these paintings, as mine are only suggested, or simply experience them as a conduit for feeling.
Both the above and below are from my Affinity Series. These pieces start with fraying the edges of raw linen; gluing it down to the board; priming with dark primer, and gridding the whole thing with graphite. Then I do the actual painting, and when it dries some selective regridding. The series evolved from the desire to manipulate my support in a way that moves my other choices in a more abstract direction, and brings attention to the surface.
Sometimes, as in the new postcard piece, “Tender Reds”, there are more shapes included. I see this as being a rhythmic approach—repetition of similar shapes moving across the surface of the painting.
This piece is less minimalist, but just as abstract. The reduced palette with a white sky allows it to hover between a dreamy in-the-moment being there and an on-the-surface color-field painting.
If one were to consider this as a totally abstract piece, the exercise would be to turn it sideways, or upside down. Compositionally, upside down would work very well, but not sideways—too strong of a horizon line, now going vertical. This would be true of every painting I do—abstracted, but not abstract, and usually with a clear horizon line as an anchor.
“White Trail” has a number of horizons, but the strong line in this piece moves on a skipping, slightly diagonal vertical, emphasizing the format. This piece, too, has a sense of rhythmic repetition of forms.
I have been exploring for this show how a large composition can be successful in small format with these oil-on-paper pieces.
Quiet, tonal color is most often my choice, as it tends to sit back, creating emotional space and allowing for introspection.
But every so often I like to move to stronger color to intensify the timbre of the experience. Whites work well—like a thirst-quenching drink of water— when paired with strong, saturated color.
Most of my pieces have quite a bit of contrast, moving from an atmospheric white or off-white (often tinged with a bit of Mars Violet) to a true black. I find, though, that low-contrast pieces can be intensely riveting in a different way, kind of like a full-throated, low hum. “Evening Shoreline”, below, is an example of this.
“Continuing Progression” is really a study in monochromes. The detail of the row of trees on the right, seemingly very subtle, actually pops more because of the reduced palette.
The body of work presented represents the core of my thinking, my base of operations. Albert Shahinian Fine Art, my gallery of longest standing, is the perfect venue for this theme-based exhibition, having shown, over the years, every possible exploration that I have launched from this base.
I hope you can join us for the reception on July 25th and my talk on August 2nd to see all 40 pieces and hear more about landscape, form and mood.
Link to a short but sweet article on the show by Paul Smart in the Almanac:
The installation and reception, below:
Additional work in the show: