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.
Additional works at the gallery:
The specifics of how to create a less literal landscape painting seem to be a constant topic of discussion with my students, especially those who don’t come from an art-school background where the artist spends formative years in the mix, constantly exploring or discussing different ways of making art.
I have previously written about the toggle between formal concerns and storytelling in representational work in the following post:
And about pure abstraction in this post discussing the shows of Ellsworth Kelly, Jenny Nelson, and Melinda Stickney-Gibson:
Stepping further into how to break down this discussion, I see that most non-realist landscape painters are combining several ways of achieving this, and that the methods fall broadly into the two categories of what you choose to paint (and leave out) and how you choose to paint it.
In the image selection arena, the artist can either choose a view that had reduced detail for an open, minimalist landscape, or a macro view that has a prominent pattern —-for example, a rock cliff , sundappled water, or a glen of tree trunks.
The tools that the artist then employs in the painting process to emphasize abstraction can include simplifying, flattening, or distorting the shapes: reducing the amount of elements included; changing naturalistic color to non-literal choices; and/or unifying the surface with brushstroke or other technique to create overall texture or pattern.
I have selected pieces from a number of contemporary artists who explore this terrain, many of whom I know or am friends with. In most cases artists are combining several of the approaches mentioned above, using pictoral tools that we, in this generation, have been fortunate enough to inherit and absorb from centuries of painting. The contemporary landscape painter then draws from the smorgasbord that art history provides and, putting it all in a sort of personal artistic blender, comes forth (usually over time) with their own version of the abstracted landscape.
Because the combinations are personal and often subtle, I have chosen to discuss each painting on its own merits rather than sift them into the categories introduced above.
I should add that I love gestural and color field abstract painting and generally am not so interested in realist landscape work. But having long ago chosen for myself a stylistic swath that lands somewhere in the middle, I find these explorations to be endlessly exciting, both in my own studio and in the work of other artists.
I couldn’t resist selecting this piece of Stuart Shils, as I have also painted this dramatic locale in Western Ireland. It is just clear enough that in foreground we have farm fields, but the second shape is so peculiar that the mind could read it as abstract. So, by choosing to paint this bit of cliff that wends its way out into the Atlantic in a long curve, the artist has chosen subject matter that lends itself to abstraction and has also painted it in a broad, loose, and painterly way, emphasizing the color field aspect of the shapes within.
Deborah has selected as her subject matter in this painting broad areas —and only two–that lend themselves to a patterned surface. It is key to the painterly beauty of “Sparkle Square” that the flecks of reflected light are varied in placement and shape, as are the shallow waves and subtly shifting color. Mystery is created by the dark shape of the shore. This is an example of the artist both selecting an image that is abstract in its simplicity and rhythm, and enhancing those aspects in the surface treatment.
Hannah, who also paints pure abstraction, selects material for her landscapes that has a feel that suits her sense of shape—squared off rhythmic forms that repeat within simple divisions of sky and land. In “Windham” I love the way the sky is so different from the ground—the sky like a Rothko and the ground a de Stael. At the same time, the mind reads them perfectly as an ethereal sky and cultivated sweep of land.
In Eric Aho’s ice series, the view is more pulled in than expansive, creating opportunity for very strong compositions that play with the formal elements of shape and line within a reduced color composition. The black shapes have depth when the eye reads them as descriptive—cracks in the ice leading to water below—but also emphasize the directionality of the fractured shapes as they point toward each other and the center of the piece. My eye delights in the play of shapes with this piece every bit as much as it does with a completely abstract painting.
As I have long influenced by the mid-century generation of American color field painters, this piece of mine reads as near abstraction, sitting on top of the picture plane almost before it reads as landscape. My selection of tidal flats as subject matter—already so stark and minimalist—is the starting point, enhanced by flattened shapes with subtle variations in color but no descriptive textural detail. The strong horizon evokes a vista, but turn this piece on its side and you have an abstract painting.
Brighter-than-literal color is not of itself abstract, but combined with the simple fields of color that Wolf Kahn is known for creates a painting that sits right up on the surface plane. In addition to his famous barns, Wolf has also worked extensively with the repeated motif of tree trunks moving across the canvas, creating the patterned effect discussed above. In some paintings this is a more regular and more pronounced repetition, but I particularly liked the color in this piece and the way that the folliage is treated as diffuse scrubs of color. Look carefully, though, and you can see that as soft-edged as these shapes are, they are very particular, varied, and elegant.
“Waves at Jenner” uses brush stroke to create both an energetic expressive field and at the same time capture the feel of big surf crashing on rock, all of this using low-key, tonalist color. To my eye, the mind reads the scene perfectly for what/where it is, but the white strokes are actually more abstract than descriptive, sitting up on the surface of the picture plane. Arnold works in both abstraction and landscape painting, and this piece falls beautifully somewhere close to the middle of that spectrum…but rather closer to abstraction.
Heather very much starts with the first strategy, reducing the content not only by choosing the simplest sea and sky imagery but also by eliminating detail within that. The subject is just recognizable, mostly because of the horizon and the gleams of light in the sky. The color is dense and murky–and also gorgeous—evoking one of those heavy weather days, but even more so a color field painting that sits on top of the scumbled and blended surface.
In “Outlook XVI”, as in other work by this artist, the soft blend is a wet-into-wet technique starting with a little more detail than many of the pieces discussed here. The surface is so heavily blended, however, that the subject matter takes a back seat and the viewer’s attention is brought to the movement that Jeorg made to achieve this effect. The result, in a descriptive sense, feels both like moving weather and as if we are witnessing the scene from a moving vehicle. As a whole, the technique crates both dreamy narrative and energetic abstraction.
This monoprint of Steve Dininno’s is a study in monochromatic color and and reduced detail. To abstract an urban view—a scene that is inherently busy—certain light/weather phenomena are generally employed. In this case the image is being swallowed in fog, allowing the graphic elements to swim out of its implied depth even as the lines of perspective lead the eye forward into the scene. That there is so much interest in “Boardwalk” while at the same time so much empty space is a clear demonstration of the power of the less-is-more phenomenon, when skillfully done.
These trees and, I presume, a light pole, are about as un-fussy as they could be. They, and the blended and scumbled surface relate to the Wolf Kahn piece. However, the eye here is funneled back in space, much like in the Steve Dininno above, and the analogous color composition is quietly moody. The foreground blacks help anchor the piece, creating contrast within the otherwise low-light scene. This piece balances beautifully between capturing the mood of a moment and place and pure, delicious painting.
In this piece Kate uses surface texture to work the sky into a color field that is only just recognizable as a cloud bank. The shape of the shore is simplified, color exaggerated, though she did create a juicy reflection–so much a part of the land-into-water visual experience. The water is quieter than the sky, as is often the case. The white line that was scratched into the pigment on the left is a lovely graphic element that is entirely non-literal. Examining the elements, there is clear back and forth between those that are more descriptive of the scene and those that are more abstract.
Thomas is doing several painterly things in this piece that move it away from realism. There is clear patterning and brush stroke both in the field and the sky above that break up the surface into rhythmic abstraction. Combined with the soft band of fog in the middle distance, this creates a duo perception of paint sitting on top of the picture plane and a recognizable field/sky with atmospheric perspective. The relative symmetry of this image also illustrates the point that when a painter reduces the number of elements, those that remain hold an enhanced interest.
Staats is a master at relating shapes and creating light. Similar to my aesthetic, the number of shapes tend to be reduced and surface of them flattened, but the outlines of the shapes themselves have a good deal of subtle variation. In this piece, the paint handling within the shapes is also beautifully varied, the strip of light in a way that describes light itself and the shapes within the buildings in a more abstract manner. The blur on the left encroaching on the foreground building also seems to be more about the movement of the watercolor than about any recognizable visual phenomenon.
On the whole, what makes these all good paintings is that they are successful in capturing both the feel of the scene depicted and the surface, compositional, and color interest of pure painting, allowing the viewer to delight in both aspects. As for all painting, drawing ability is essential, since the artist needs the hand to do what the eye requires; creating dynamic compositions made of compelling—and usually highly edited— shapes, palettes, and surface.
Occasionally, there is an element that is barely or not quite recognizable…but interesting or gorgeous. My comment to my students when this emerges in their work is “I don’t know what that is…but I really like it so I don’t care”. This observation would apply to the irregular light shape on the right in the Fasoldt piece and the field in the Sarrantonio. In many of the other pieces, there is an element or shape that we think is probably this or that…but we are not sure: the cliff in the Shils; the dark shore in the Munson; the orange band in the Kahn—field or hill?; the tidal pool in my piece; the light pole in the Elder, and so on. These mysteries serve to create complex interest as the mind works to accept the mixed metaphor that they provide.
I would like to mention the galleries that I share with many of these artists: Julie Haller Gallery in Provincetown, MA; Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; Gold Gallery in Boston’s South End; and Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury VT–check them out to see additional work!
This post, designed primarily for the galleries and consultants that I work with, serves as a data-base for oil-on-linen paintings that are currently in my studio. As work sells or is consigned I will remove it, and new or returned work will be added.
My website– created by Stephanie Blackman Design—was beautifully designed as a calling card. Since I create/sell/move work around frequently, it was never my plan to keep it current at all times. With this data-base I will have a comprehensive selection for you all to peruse and can reduce the number of emails that I send showing dealers my currently available work, as those become outdated quickly also.
Often I am expecting some work back imminently or have a painting on the easel that is almost finished, so please feel free to inquire if you have a particular need: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For works on paper (pastel; oil on paper; mixed media/collage; monotype) consult this blog post: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/available-workstudioworks-on-paper/
Additional work can be found at my galleries: Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY; Julie Heller Gallery in Provincetown, MA; Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Butters Gallery in Portland, OR; Thomas Henry Gallery on Nantucket, MA; and Thompson-Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
Oil on Board
liable to change.
“the mutable nature of fashion”
synonyms: changeable, variable, varying, fluctuating, shifting, inconsistent,unpredictable, inconstant, fickle, uneven, unstable, protean.
This word is by far the more important of the two, though oddly the less well understood.
unchanging over time or unable to be changed.
“an immutable fact”
synonyms: fixed, set, rigid, inflexible, permanent, established, carved in stone.
This body of work explores themes of change and the eternal in the landscape, nature revealing the mutable and the immutable.
Fleeting moments of weather and light have long been my focus. Time of day or year and interplay with clouds; light and shadow on landforms or water; and serious weather events continue to visually intrigue and inspire, making no two scenes alike.
Beyond the always shifting moments of dramatic or calm atmospherics and the impact of humankind on the land is also, however, the immutable. However changing, the earth has always been there for us.
Our source of nourishment in every way, our lands, rivers and seas are the visual imprint that I work from every day, every week, and every year. Attempting not to judge but rather to see, I adapt imagery that is only sometimes classically beautiful. The paintings then become another immutable, as I have distilled that image into a moment of time, offering it to others for contemplation.
The work in the show
Choosing the piece that will go on the postcard for a solo show is always a juggle. Generally speaking, though, the artist and galleriest select a piece that is not only a stand-out painting, but also sits stylistically and thematically near the center of the body of work, thus representing it well. We settled on “Turquoise Light”, below.
Often when there is water in an image, I work the detail of waves and currents just enough so that it reads as such, preferring to let the eye skim over the water and settle on other spots in the painting.
One consideration is similar to having a field in the foreground: where is the viewer in this scene? If the water, marsh or field start basically at the viewer’s feet, there needs to be more foreground detail or vignetting than if the picture plane starts further off.
In “Turquoise Light”, we are sitting (in our boat, presumably!) right on the water, which is a major focus of the piece. Far from encouraging the viewer past it, the water catches the eye with an array of subtle color shifts, reflections, and movement. When I paint an area with this much complexity I look at it as an abstract painting, surrendering to the process.
I also enjoyed that the sky and water are so different, even though clearly the sky is throwing light on the water.
The square format of “Intervening Space” is echoed in the composition, which leads the eye back into the painting with every shape and line. There is also a back-and-forth between the painterly illusion of depth created by arial perspective that draws the eye toward the distant hills, and the feel that the composition and relatively flat shapes create of the whole painting being right up on the picture plane.
I love playing with those two ways of experiencing a painting, counterbalancing the illusion of space in a landscape with the reminder that this is also a two-dimensional, abstract object comprised of areas of color.
For more discussion of the narrative and the abstract, see my post on the topic:https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/narrative-and-abstraction-in-representational-painting/
An interpretation of the view from the fire tower on Overlook Mountain, “Mountain Mists with Sky” reveals the transitory and the solid. Fog is a beloved subject, shifting even faster than clouds, and mountains feel eternal even if, geologically, they are not.
The farm fields that you see from Route #28 at the base of Palmer Hill in Andes are a favorite subject of mine, and no show at Chace-Randall is complete without some fresh version of this scene. In the interpretation above, we are in a lovely misty summer day, rain and fog just beginning to lift but still obscuring a mountain that rises behind the horizon of the fields.
“Memory’s Waters” brings me back to moments of contemplating water during every summer I have ever known. I was also taken with the way the sun catches on the front shore on the right and then moves back into shadow on the left in this image of Cooper Lake in Woodstock.
A dark cloud in front of the sun over the Hudson River shoreline. These high-contrast images are both brooding and ethereal.
The most minimalist piece in the show, and very low contrast. I love exploring this terrain.
I also like to include an urban landscape in my shows. “Westerly Sky” captures the view from lower Manhattan that I have painted a number of times, along with another favorite view of the West Side Highway and Hudson River.
In abstract terms the piece plays with the right angles and straight lines of the foreground buildings in strong silhouette interacting with the soft diagonals of the sky. The foreground feels very stationary against the sweep of the clouds.
The urban landscape in my work is very specific, since I am forever a minimalist. Views are therefore often from afar, and affected by atmospheric effects or late light. Towns with just some architectural elements framed by the natural are easily softened and embedded, the manmade embraced by natural bodies of water; mountains or fields; stands of trees.
The city that I have painted most frequently is New York, having lived there for a decade and flollowing that living close enough to be in and out with some frequency. Well traveled paths and views like the West Side Highway and views looking West to New Jersey crop up often, and most likely will again.
My path to urban imagery began many years ago when I introduced phone/electric poles and lines to my landscapes, creating straight lines and a mood that plays with the notion of what is idyllic, accepting what is. Since then, I have moved on to include many other signs of human habitation and intervention in my landscapes, including my headlights/road pieces (see the post “Roads and Bridge Views”, archived in the month of November, 2011); industrial imagery; and towns and cities. We spend so much of our time driving through terrain that contains or is comprised of manmade landscapes that to forever edit out these objects or scenes seems like an unnecessary effort, especially when the play of light and atmospheric conditions can make them so compellingly beautiful.
Below are several West Side Highway pieces. The approaches to New York City, bound by water on all sides, are the perfect urban images for me, contrasting reflective spaciousness with the dense, geometric patterns of a city.
Below are two pieces with vantage points that are so far off that the painting is much more vista than urban…and yet they reveal a hint of city.
Provincetown is an equal parts mix of happy, busy people and glorious bay, harbor, and beach with tidal flats. The density of humanity is part of the point, and is even reflected in beachcombings, where, along with shells and rocks and feathers one can find beautifully weathered pieces of plywood and bits of patinaed fiberglass.
Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard is another beautiful town by the sea, busy with humanity but with wide open views of Nantuket Sound and it’s own harbor.
Finally, a last NYC painting that is much busier than I usually do. As I was painting this piece, the Jersey shoreline seemed to compel me to keep adding lights!
For years I edited out of my paintings all reference to vehicles, and often even the roads themselves. As I started to become interested in objects created by humankind, first power lines, then a skyline, and eventually exploring smokestacks and watertowers, far-off lights and even the occasional barn, headlights started to intrigue me.
I painted my first headlights piece in 2001, a pastel of an SUV with looming headlights fleeing a tornado, which I exhibited the summer of that year, entitled “Ahead of the Storm”. I have been credited with prescience for that timing (we also called the exhibition by the same name), but feel instead that the title describes a sort of state of existence that is not constant but reoccurring. The storm might symbolize the real threats that we face in life, or it could be the accumulation of all of our “to-do”s, threatening to run amuck.
As I have continued to explore headlights more extensively, I have discovered how unique they are, each set with differing halos, color around the white of the center, shapes, and symmetry between the pairs. Some reflect on the road, some not.
I often prefer a lonely pair or two of headlights on a rural road, partly because I am, at heart, a minimalist, and partly because this seems to be quite unexplored terrain for the landscape painter. A friend once characterized these pieces as “Country Noir”.
Below, I have included a brief commentary on some of my favorites, of the road and from the road.