I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to check out two fantastic shows in the last 3 weeks: Rock Bound at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA, and The Painted Landscape: Contemporary Views at the Heritage Museums & Gardens of Sandwich, MA.
Rock Bound is a grouping of paintings from the first 30 years of the 20th century in the Cape Ann area, which includes Gloucester and Rockport (I had blogged very recently about Rockport and Halibut Point; scroll down to read and see paintings and works-in-progress I did based on that 2016 excursion!).
I recommend getting to this show if you have the chance - it runs through October 29th. The Cape Ann Museum is a great find in itself, and was recently renovated and has some amazing pieces in the permanent collection! Click here to read more from the museum.
Here are a few of my personal favorite pieces from Rock Bound:
Image #1: Gifford Beal, Northeaster #2, Bass Rocks, 1930, Oil on board.
Image #2: Marsden Hartley, Rock Doxology, Dogtown, 1931, Oil on board.
Image #3: Stuart Davis, Gloucester, 1919, Oil on canvas.
Image #4: Hugh Breckenridge, The Cape Ann Shore, 1924, Oil on canvas.
There were many more pieces in the show that showed people at work fishing, or people at leisure swimming at the beaches, which conveyed the energy of the community and was part of the point of this show. But what I loved about these particular pieces were the energy of the water, vegetation, and the rocks themselves as natural elements. I absolutely love the interplay of the shapes, lines, and colors in these three paintings by Beal, Hartley, Davis, and Breckenridge. These landsape paintings are so powerful and lively to me.
Look at the skillful shape of the huge white waterspray splashing up against the rocks in the painting below (Northeaster #2). See how it creates a big white area like a cloud that makes the figures in the foreground seem almost cowering in reaction to the force of the splash! The way that Beal painted their response to the spray is great. They're holding their coats closed with their left hands, bending and shielding themselves somewhat from the wind and the power of the ocean. It makes you feel like you yourself relate to the people in the painting. I think this must be why this was the painting chosen to act as the centerpiece of the show. Check out the whitecaps rolling in towards you!! What action, I love it!!
Check it out!! Marsden Hartley is a master (above). Come on, look at this "wall." It is flat and stacked up with harsh, angled black outlines and rather monochromatic in gray, burnt siennas, and burnt umbers and hardlined shadows. It's a little hard to "enter" this painting with its confrontational wall, but I'm still drawn in, aren't you?! These boulders are sun-baked and expressive with a light source. Notice the clouds almost mimic the rocks above as white discs stacked up in the sky. Don't you feel like you're climbing? I get a real sense of place from this painting. This is a true Northern New England rocky scene. It's craggy. It's a little harsh. I like that. The label next to this piece said Hartley wrote, "I go alone, empty-handed & sit in Dogtown Common - a weird stretch of land - all boulders and scrub." Yes, he translated that into paint very well. He also observed that the place looked like "a cross between Easter Island and Stonehenge-- essentially druidic in its appearance." I too feel an ancient and spiritual connection to these giant boulders when I sit in their presence. You just feel so small and short-lived next to these old giants. I think I can relate to what Hartely felt.
Now, in contrast to the Hartley painting, this piece (above) by Stuart Davis shows sinewy and bumpy lines, making your eyes travel and bounce through the entire painting. I don't even get around to seeing the horizon line in the back for several minutes, do you? I'm so caught up in the trio of buttery-yellow-leaved trees right in the front, supported by the dark red and brown earth tones, like a great bass line, all along the curves of the land and rocks. Is it autumn? Who cares! It just works on its own without so many rules. It's downright playful. Look at how small the sailboats are way in the back. Then finally there is just a thin blue line - I do that too in my work - to suggest maybe a land mass beyond the water, or maybe a change in current in the ocean which changes the color. Who lives here, works here? Who walks here? In fact, I think I see someone walking in the foreground but maybe it's my imagination. Do you see what I see, or something else?
Look how many colors Breckenridge discovered in the rocks... even cobalt blue!!! I mean, come on, that's the same blue you see in the ocean... then there's indigo and a delicious purple. Look how those cold colors sing next to the rosy oranges. The ochres and even an intentional focal point of gold in the center of the painting just completes the visual feast (nice frame choice helps that gold, my compliments to the framer's eye). I can relate to this artist and his fascination with the discovery of color within the neutrals of rocks and all its nuances. These rocks in this piece remind me of gemstones, angular and cut, broken and fallen on the ground. It is a really beautiful painting. And I love that the sky is gray. He gave us a rainbow in the rocks, but he didn't overkill it by going there in the sky; he kept his cool and that makes his foreground glow all the more.
I love to learn from these mentors! These paintings teach me so much. I hope you enjoyed them too, and maybe you can get to the Cape Ann Museum too before October 29th and see these, and more, in person.
Thanks for reading. Next blog post will be about The Painted Landscape: Contemporary Views at the Heritage Gardens of Sandwich, MA! Two contemporary artists I deeply admire have paintings there and my heart skipped a beat when I saw their works in person! Yes, I embarassed my kids by making audible gasps, startling innocent bystanders... More soon, I promise! Til then...
I took a day trip to Rockport to take pictures and make sketches at Halibut Point State Park, the North Shore of Massachusetts. There is an old quarry there where granite used to be cut, and a huge dropoff cliff of broken marble. The shore and the rocks lining the coastline are just breathtaking, and really fun to walk on. Some rocks are natural and some are rejected cut pieces of granite, which make for really interesting compositions in paintings.
Here are some photos of Halibut Point, and some pictures of works-in-progress.
These officially kick off my North Shore works in the Water's Edge painting series...
As you can see, I found a lot of opportunity to look for color in the rocks. I found all sorts of challenges in painting rocks. I had to turn up my patience as I realized each rock needed to follow the same 'rules' I always set up for myself each time I start a new painting. Where is the light coming from? Where are the shadows cast? What are the most important lines? What are the priorities in composition? How can I describe the form of each rock with beauty and economy? All these thought swim in my mind while I work. It is exhilirating and exhausting.
My Southcoast paintings dealt with the beauty of both marshes and dunes. Rocks are different and refreshing - as is anything new - and I am really getting satisfaction in this current focus and what it offers me in problem-solving.
The first piece shown below is finished and is now displayed at a private office where it is being rented through the Cambridge Arts Council. I had 11x17" posters made of a detail of this completed image, called "In the Fullness of Time (Halibut Point) to go with Open Studios and these will be for sale for $10 apiece. They are frameable in standard 11x17" frames. Let me know if you want me to set one aside for you.
The second piece shown below, which is now finished, will be shown at Open Studios. A third painting of this rocky shoreline is in the works and will be shown at Open Studios too, whether it's done or in progress.
Hope to see you there so I can share these works with you in person! Ain't nothing like the real thing.
Recent events in our country have me wondering, "What is my role as an artist in this particular time period?" I wonder if there is something more "useful" I could be doing. Should I be taking a more active role in politics? Should I listen to news while I am painting in order to be better informed? Should, should, should...
I received an encouraging letter from Director Anita Walker of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency that allocates funds for the arts in my state. This past year I received a $2,000 grant for my art from the Mass. Cultural Council. Their funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, which many know is now under threat under the new administration. I worry that grants like the one I received may go away under a new President and administration. But I come back to this encouragement.
Anita Walker's letter of 1/11/17 asked, "What is the role of artists in American politics? Do they have a place? How do they best serve our nation? As a new President prepares to take office, the voice of the artist is being heard. It is not just the artists with name and fame, such as Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes, that are in the headlines, but also the artists who contribute their individual identities and talent to the ensemble, where harmony and not division is required. From the cast of "Hamilton" and the Rockettes to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, individual artists in these organizations have become symbols of a country divided."
Ms. Walker went on to cite President John F. Kennedy's affirmation of "the arts and the artist as significant in the life of a nation... in fact, central, a test of the quality of our institutions..." She included an excerpt of a speech he gave at Amherst College, October 26, 1963 to honor the New England poet Robert Frost.
JFK: "If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him (/her) aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artists. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his (/her) vision wherever it takes him (/her). We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth... In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideaology. Artists are not engineers of the soul." (the inclusion of the feminine pronouns is my addition)
Wow... "little of more importance to the future?" That addresses my question of usefulness pretty directly, but in a surprising way. I appreciate deeply the idea that artists are to be 'set free' to follow our own vision. I also resonate with Kennedy's assertion that art is a form of truth. With all the rhetoric of 'fake news' and 'alternative truths,' we can begin to get even more jaded and disillusioned - what is truth? I share JFK's belief that art should not be used as propaganda or a weapon. Art has been used that way, and continues to be, in communism, advertising, portraiture, photography, Nazism... my take-away then, is that we artists must be careful to not get caught in a trap of being "useful" to an agenda. We can think about truth and vision, using our "sensitivity and concern for justice" in order to "nourish the roots of our culture," as JFK affirms and asserts.
I find my truth in God and in the beauty and mystery of the world he made (I embrace the idea that there is a loving God who created the world, and that science is how it got done). I'm most inspired by 20th century painter Georgia O'Keeffe and the Canadian Group of Seven painters whose tradition I follow. My paintings in the last decade or so have been landscapes that have no people or man-made objects in them, with a few exceptions. I feel that the moment a bridge or a man is in a painting, all of a sudden that painting is about that man or that bridge. The landscape then is relegated to play second fiddle, and becomes the backdrop. No, I want the landscape to be the star player. I want to show the glory of light, shadow, color, composition, line, and mark-making. I reflect what I see through my soul and share this with the viewer. Many people feel drawn to, and resonate with, these pieces. Could this be a truth?
JFK also asked the famous question, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
I am a US citizen and a Christian. So my citizen heart says, "Sure, I'd like to be helpful to my country." But as a Christian, God ultimately does not ask me to be "useful" to him. Asking God if I am useful is not the right question, it misses the point. He is God - he did not make me to be useful - I'm not a machine, programmed for others' benefit or profit. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that I am supposed to be useful in order to be valuable to him. He loves me unconditionally simply because I exist, and asks me to love him and love my neighbor.
A better question I can ask myself is a 'yes, and' approach: "Can my art be somehow relevant and helpful to my culture and nation as JFK asserts?" AND "Am I loving God and my neighbor through my the work of my hands? How am I doing that?" To me, these sound like better visions and truths to pursue. Let me keep my focus on these pursuits even as I stay informed and passionate about what is going on with the current leadership in my country.
One thing I hope to do is to paint at one of our country's National Parks. I hope to contribute more money directly to conservation of ocean and land, if my tax dollars will not be helping through the Environmental Protection Agency in the foreseeable future.
Thank you to any readers of my blog, visitors to my site, and those who know me and keep me motivated as an artist. I am honored to recently receive another award - apparently this blog is rated one of the Top 75 Painters' Blogs in the world. Wow. Thank you everybody. Please comment, if you would like, in order to foster community and contribute your thoughts to the mix.
Ripple Effect, 2008
As 2016 draws to a close, I’m thinking a lot of all that I have to be thankful for. Even with our country and the world experiencing massive change and uncertainty, I have found some respite in the season of Christmas. While many things around us change constantly, some things never change, and for me, one of those things is God.
Recently our family saw a great student production of Fiddler On The Roof. The main theme is tradition, set in a Jewish community facing external political tension and change. The main character Tevye feels powerless and fearful. This has resonated deeply with me during our current political season of change, and of the breaking of many political and diplomatic traditions that I hear about on the news. While I am all for change and questioning traditions, there are some traditions I am finding myself wanting to cling to, like the patriarch Tevye, who calls tradition his anchor. One of the most famous lines from this musical is, “Because of our tradition, everyone here knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.” I was struck by this line in today's context, and as I meditate on who God has made me to be and what he expects me to do... just one person out of billions, but who can make choices to make a positive impact on my community.
Another thing that has been helpful to me is looking at time with renewed perspective (another theme of the play, reflected in the song Sunrise, Sunset). Taking it one day at a time on the rough or stressful days… planning and looking forward to special events… thinking about time in terms of seasons… putting seasonal things away and bringing out old things I’d almost forgotten about… like cleaning up the outdoor games off the porch and putting the garden ‘to bed’ for winter. At least for those of us living in New England, and for anyone who follows certain faith traditions, we have a calendar to follow that is directed by both seasonal change and holy-days (holidays). Those who follow Jesus are now in the season of Advent, which means we are waiting for Christmas Day and following the biblical stories leading up to the night of Jesus’ birth. Festivities, traditions, and rituals are huge for us in Advent.
Earlier this month, I had a Holiday Art Salon Open House in our home, and friends came over. To get ready, my husband and I moved furniture. I hung up sixteen of my paintings. The kids picked out a full, tall, fragrant Christmas tree and decorated it. These activities of preparation brought a lot of joy to us and have now given us a home that is fun to be in for the whole month as we 'wait' for the arrival of Christ(mas). Contrary to more sober and austere beliefs from my own puritanical Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage, I feel there is nothing wrong with treating a holy season with abundance, showing way more love and displaying way more beauty than is necessary. Using certain heirloom stemware passed down to me, for example, just makes me feel happy. I think about the family members who chose it, purchased it, touched it, toasted on special occasions with it, sipped from it. I think of how many boxes and moves it has been through over 80-plus years, and how lucky I am that these wine glasses have not broken. These are symbols that give me a tangible connection from my past to my present. I got a kick out of seeing my guests enjoying drinking from these vintage etched glasses at the Open House.
Painting is who I am, and what I feel God expects me to do, but in the sense of a joyful calling I feel, not out of a sense of duty. I am painting forward, while keeping rooted, aiming for fresh progress and not for nostalgia or simple pat answers in my painting. While the world may be in turmoil, and I must admit my stomach has been queasy many days, one of my mainstays is working hard at making new discoveries in beauty. Maybe this feels too luxurious, like fancy stemware. But, maybe this is needed even in the face of uncertain times, not just for me, but for others' sake. Where do we turn when we are stressed, sad, in need? To the senses, for comfort. Senses find a resting place in songs, in color, in nature, in tastes, in beauty, in places of worship or spaces for quiet reflection. Hopefully, there, we can be met by God to give us the deepest peace and solace.
I wish you and yours a beautiful holiday season, with whatever you reflect on at the years’ end, whatever traditions or beliefs you choose to observe, however you celebrate, and with whomever is close to you. May there be Peace on Earth even in the midst of the change and uncertainty we are all facing together. We are one people, even if some say we are not. May we be encouraged by, and give way to, generous displays of brotherhood, sisterhood, and love in 2017.