Living on the Water

How observations become constructed abstract landscape paintings

I live on a peninsula in Maine. My natural environment influences my life, my art, as do the vicissitudes of the world.

Fog and gray skies may influence a color palette while social injustices frustrate my psyche and influence compositions. I’m not a political artist nor an environmental one but that does not exclude social and ecological concerns from influencing compositional content. Ducks beating their wings and bleating a tattoo as eagles screech and dive at ducklings are reminiscent of crowds fleeing or scuffling with oppressors and bullies. These thoughts can translate into opposing colors with a density of marks competing for space.

Conversely, the serenity of a mirror like surface with pale hues of a sunrise, or low tide flats and golden grasses might materialize as a smooth pastel color with flecks of gold.  Terns fishing, diving repeatedly, creating ripples of reflected light remind me of researchers, clinicians, and first responders returning to their jobs over and over… ideas that may translate into repetitive patterns. Observing life and time pass are the substance of my Tide Poem paintings.

My Epiphany series references water differently; the water surface is a boundary between three environs: the water, land, and sky. Watching seals breach, birds fish and light refract or glow orange, pink and now fire orange, and clouds reflected stimulate thoughts of habits and mortality. What if we could break free from old harmful ideologies and dogmas? What would freedom look like? Or the the color of cognition and contentment?

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Tide Poems

I live surrounded by water and the tides marking time. These works echo their characteristics, their rhythm, and the light and atmosphere in their midst. Like a poem and its meter, the marks and visual pauses of atmospheric passages, flow, and sometimes are interrupted – like life.

Tide Poem, Oil on Linen, 30″x30″

Focusing on the dynamic interplay of the sea, tides, wind, birds, and an ever-changing atmosphere, in Mid-Coast Maine, my work documents both these natural phenomena and the things people create and place in its environment. I study the colors, forms, lines, and patterns of tidal flats, its runnels and ripple formations, reflections in channels, and how the birds feed off exposed clams and crabs.

I recreate their textures, colors, and the various atmospheric conditions: fog, the dawn’s early light, clouds breaking with pinpointed rays of light glinting of a rippling high tide. I also examine aquatic plants and those along the shore in different cycles and stages like how sea grass flows underwater or how it settles on and between rocks and glistens a vibrant yellow with veridian shadows at low tide, or sea lavender’s delicate flowers in summer and branching barren structure in winter. My observations and include notations of the colors of boats, buoys, and flotations. These studies and others contribute to development of a vocabulary of lines and gestures I use to compose rhythms and moods in my compositions, the moods of the storms and sunsets, fog and foul weather, the weather which impacts our human condition.

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Optimism in Dystopian Times

Pandemic Landscape 1, 16″x12″, watercolor on Arches cold press paper

In April of this year, as the apple trees were budding and an abundance of water fowl near my home were nesting in preparation for their eggs to hatch, The Pandemic paid no notice. It raged on invisibly moving through communities while visibly wreaking havoc. I was teaching college students visual literacy via an online platform. Gaslighting and disinformation were topics I felt necessary to cover.  I also encouraged them to imagine how artists work would reflect this point in time. Their answers ranged hopeless to optimistic.

In my studio during that period, darkness prevailed but with hope…in these dystopian landscapes, birds still fly.


Pandemic Landscape 2, 16″x12″, watercolor on Arches cold press paper

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Are You In or Are You Out?

The ring is a closed shape; some things are in it and others out. Through a ring we can focus. Continue reading

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The temporal quality of looking at art in person

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In our instant media obsessed culture, standing before a painting, the act itself requires courage. Courage to stop. Stop all texts, calls, and pushed beeps, chimes and dings. It requires courage to be alone, with your own thoughts, and fearlessness to face what confronts you. 

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Allow me to introduce you to Pat Public who checks in with a smartphone 5+ times an hour. Imagine Pat is enjoying a day at the beach with family or friends. They stop for ice cream, and then stroll along the boardwalk or cobbled street of a seaside town and happen upon an art gallery. Someone in the group suggests they go inside and take a look. The paintings in the window are neither lighthouses nor sailboats as in many of the gift shops. Pat hesitates to go in. Why? 

Thoughts that art is only for people with tons of money and if you aren’t rich you shouldn’t go in? Pretend Pat has plenty of money, why then hold back? Fear of being embarrassed for being ignorant about art? Or, possibly Pat just wants to go back to the beach, or thinks art is boring. Pat is accustomed to action.

If Pat goes inside, what then? I have observed many Pats, most will quickly take a turn through and leave. When this happens I often want to stop them and say, “Hey, what do you think the person who made these/this was thinking?” “How long do you think it took to create?”  Or, “which was your favorite?” and talk about why. Anything to get a visitor to linger long enough to become engaged. I’ve heard some artists say an artwork has to grab them immediately or they ignore it. But some works like great poems and novels require multiple readings before they reveal their exquisiteness. Or, like a ball game, if you are flipping channels or checking in online, one inning or quarter may be ho-hum but then later there is an incredible play and the totality of the game turns out to be great.

 Viewing art in person can be a great social activity or a respite from invasive technology and others. In solitude before a work, you can engage with the past, present, and future. Pondering answers to the aforementioned questions regarding the artist creating the work, or how it makes you feel, or what it reminds you of, can bring you back in time, while in the present.  Your experience can alter your future. 

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Time is running out for viewing Posthumously Blooming at Galatea Fine Art. The exhibit ends this Sunday at 5pm. If you are in Boston, I hope you stop in and delight in the lush colors and question their mystery.

Thanks for reading,

Joanne

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Say it with flowers…

This is not an ad for FTD.

My Father’s Enigma, oil on canvas, 50”x72”

Artist have used flowers to create beauty and signify mortality from early Roman wall painters to the present, including myself. I have a predilection for blooms with a heady fragrance and unusual forms. Thorns fascinate me too as do seeds and withered petals floating on a breeze.

My current exhibition, Posthumously Blooming, features fanciful compositions of all of the above. They are expressions of my joy for life, empathy for the suffering of others and the mystery of mortality. I invite you to come see them in person. Linger for a while and see what they say to you.

The exhibit is up through July 28 at Galatea Fine Art, 460 Harrison Ave. 6-B Hours:12-5 Wed-Sunday.

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Would you? Could you?

Would you give up your job to do something you like to do more? 4a984f_606b14ea5a39428ba80b9b14cb186fc0-mv2.jpg

Could you do that knowing you would have to leave your home? Give up many other things? Artists make this choice every day when they show up in the studio, or on the stage, or in the orchestra pit. The thrill of facing a blank canvas never gets old for me. What may happen, I do not know. It’s stimulating, exhilarating, and addictive. Every mark, nuance of color, and finished piece is one-of-a-kind. No one can tell me how or what to paint. It is a priceless reward, this micro-world in which I’m free to do as I wish. But, when I put down my tools and lock the studio door, reality is on the other side. Bills are due. A parent’s call needs returning, a child needs me. A “day job” waits.

I teach and run painting events through the MetroWest Arts Academy to support my need to paint. Do you know an organization that needs to raise money? Hosts team building exercises? Or just wants to have a fun event? Would you tell them about me? Could you refer them to MetroWestArtsAcademy.com? If you would, if you could, then I would be most grateful and send you a picture.

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After a year of graduate school, what I’m painting

As I move through this summer between my two years of graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts, I can’t help but wonder how any “painting” can be original. In my first semester  I “painted” with other materials: like Schwitters’ collages, I incorporated trash; like Mark Cooper, I manipulated canvas into unusual forms, while considering these subjects for my work: politics, crime, and my family history. Yet, when I presented my work, repeatedly, the conversation always turned to my oil paintings and the personal.

I entered graduate school thinking I was going to change and my art was going to be different. I did, and it is. However, not in the ways I anticipated. From my reading and studying of history, theory, and commentary and from discussions, my views about art have changed. The art that I’m making has changed too, but I still make it with oil paint.

I disagree with many of my contemporaries who believe today’s “painting” must experiment with non-traditional materials. Picasso and Duchamp began this a over a century ago. I also don’t believe my art has to blatantly shout what it is or change the world, because it won’t. What I do believe is my paintings can possess qualities and messages that speak to people more effectively and differently than words and can be part of a meaningful experience individually, or as part of an installation and exhibition.

I have chosen not to use detritus, plastics, recycled materials, and typography in my work, for now. If I find these substances, video, Tweets or other elements work their way into my pieces intuitively then so be it. But like a musician, say a cellist for example, I’m not going to practice bow techniques for years and then show up for a recital with a trumpet. I’ve been painting with oil paint on canvas for over fifteen years, mostly with painting knives. This past year I returned to using brushes too.

As a result of my education, self reflection, and contemplation I’m exploring the tension that exists between thinking  freely and privately, while invasive, persuasive elements encroach upon us and effect our choices. For instance, in personal relationships we may intentionally or not push our ideas on our family and friends. In marketing, advertising, and politics, influencing the thoughts and actions of others to do and be what you want them to be is the goal. In those situations, gaining market share and winning is everything, even if the communications used may not be ethical. e.g. messages purposely made to those least able to realize they’re under attack.

To express this tension, I’m painting with techniques and color harmonies reminiscent of late seventeen, eighteen and early nineteenth century artists including Rembrandt and J.M.W. Turner. I chose to do this as an expression of my freedom, as an artist, to paint the way I want even if it’s not in vogue, as did Rembrandt and Turner, and because in those eras communications were less instantaneous and life traveled at a slower pace. The works are abstract but in them I aim to portray the beauty, the vastness, and mysteriousness of the mind as it is in conflict with invaders. I refer to the paintings as “mindscapes.” I’m almost done with the first of three I have in progress. Here is a sneak peek.

mindscape, one, in progress

mindscape, one, in progress

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A Vacation from the Studio

This summer I had the great fortune to set out on not one adventure but three: Paris, Chicago, and the coast of Maine. From Paris I took away fond memories of strolls along the Seine and awe in the midst of so much great art. In Chicago, I visited several galleries both as a viewer and artist seeking representation. 

One of my favorite Chicago photo galleries is David Weinberg’s place in the River North District. When I stopped in I was treated to an amazing experience; on view was his own work in the exhibit Sirens. Below is one of his pieces.

© David Weinberg Photography

These images struck me first as paintings but I knew they weren’t. I was aware I was viewing a photograph but had no idea of what. It didn’t matter, the ethereal, sensual images had me circling the gallery to absorb their beauty.

Nearby I visited with Nancy Voss at Zygman Voss Gallery. She and Ahron, the owners are great champions for paintings. Nancy took home this work, Silent Witnesses.

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To end my summer in a true New Englander’s fashion, I went up north to Maine, or “Down East.”

Inspired by the great works I saw in Paris that were done outdoors, plein aire, I took my paint box and canvases to the coast. It was refreshing and actually exhilarating to develop colors based on the changing tide. Soon I hope to touch up these “sketches” and display them.

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Paris and Perseverance

ImageIs fifty the new thirty?

Last week I was in Paris. My friend Ave, who treated me to this fabulous visit, is not a struggling artist – he’s a physician. He is also an amateur photographer seeking to be more creative. He’s going to attend his second photography seminar soon, at age 65.

We both had been to the Musée d’Orsay as well as the Rodin Museum but wanted to visit them again, together. At the d’Orsay, I was once again overcome with emotion viewing a Van Gogh self-portrait. Over an espresso, Ave asked me why? I shared many thoughts, not necessarily answers: the power of his gaze, the emotional energy of the brush strokes but probably the most poignant, I feel his pain. He didn’t begin studying to be an artist and painting until his mid-thirties after working as a clergyman. He was rejected from art school.

At the Rodin museum, we both marveled at his work: the gestures of hands, the emotions in faces and the stance of bodies displaying everything from torment, to pride, and love. Rodin too had been rejected by many art schools and worked as a craftsman for numerous years creating ceiling decorations and reliefs for vases before creating his art. Boldly different from the accepted style of sculpture at during his lifetime, his work didn’t receive positive reviews until his forties.

We visited the Musée de l’Orangerie too. It was a first for both of us and mesmerizing.  It features Monet’s water lily paintings that were pieced together into murals. Two oval rooms each featuring four murals, showing different times of the day, were saturated with color and texture. Each work engulfed you in a world above and below the water. Monet began his masterpieces at the age of eighty.

The trip was inspirational and motivating on many levels. I’m 49 years old and worked for twenty years as an art director then a creative director in the graphics and marketing industries. For most of those years, I wanted to paint and didn’t. Life happened. I’ve now been painting for several years, searching for my visual voice. After vacillating about applying to art school to earn my MFA and aid me in my quest, my two children, one a college graduate and the other a sophomore, convinced me to do it. In December I applied to several schools and by February had been rejected by Yale. In March, I received another “we received many qualified applicants but…” Then spring arrived and I was offered opportunities.

This September, I’ll begin my studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts in Boston. Though I most likely will be older than some of my professors, after my visit to Paris I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I’m looking forward to exploring, pushing boundaries, sharing ideas, and creating.  

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