Sunday, November 30, 2008

A small goodbye

Black Dirt Region. Pastel, 8x10

I took down my half of "A Confession of Color" yesterday.

I stood in the Wallkill River School gallery and looked at the half-empty walls. George Hayes's paintings still hung. And several of mine, all sold, still hung, looking lonely next to all the empty spaces. I said goodbye to them, silently, of course. Said goodbye to the images that carried my memories so easily on their shoulders.

One painting was already gone. I found myself feeling as though a good friend had left my party before I'd had the chance to hug her. It was one of two paintings from my trip to Wisdom, Montana, that sold. That surprised me. I thought they'd go, all of them. They are such strong paintings, with such a voice. They are so imbued with discovery, adventure and emotion.

To me, they are evocative and powerful, far beyond any of the more local paintings. But I'm starting to understand that most people like representations of places that they know, not places they dream about.

The Wisdom Trip paintings were bought by good friends. One, of a partly mowed wheat field in Milan, Ohio, was bought by an artist. The wheat is planted on small, undulating hills, and my friend told me she liked the rhythm and the movement in the painting. That's what I like, too.

The other was bought by a friend who, like me, was kicked out of her job at the Times Herald-Record. This is the ultimate Wisdom Trip painting, of a wildflower-filled meadow backed by hills and mountains on the outskirts of Wisdom. It's really the only painting I've ever reworked substantially. I got it, finally, the night before the opening reception. When Beth bought it, it was still wet. I think it spoke to her as the scene I saw spoke to me - inviting new life, with a big, open sky and a horizon full of possibility.

But first, two shows! The exhibit at Noah's in Stonington Borough goes up tomorrow and opens Tuesday, with no reception. The show at the Emporium in Mystic goes up Wednesday; the opening reception is Thursday, from 6-8 p.m. It's an exciting time, indeed.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

When it is finished?

Shelby, Iowa. Note the gap between the edge of the painting
and the edge of the image.

The talented and renowned Mary Evelyn Whitehall accosted me about that issue last month as we were setting up the show at the Wallkill River School gallery. They're not finished, she insisted. The gap between the painting and the frame, especially if the frame is dark-colored and the canvas is a light color, is distracting, she insisted.

Take a look at the top of this post at "Shelby, Iowa." It's one of my favorite paintings, and has one of the largest gaps, one of the most unfinished looks.

I left it that way in part because during the Wisdom Trip, I fell into leaving it that way. It started one day when it was hot and windy and I was being bitten by bugs, and I thought, well, the very foreground isn't that interesting anyways, so I will leave it for later; finish it up in the hotel tonight.

But when I looked at it, I liked it. I really liked it. I liked the ragged quality of the unfinished edge. I like the sense it gave me, as a viewer, that someone - a human - had painted the piece. I liked the immediacy. And I liked the questions it raised, and the answers I was able to supply. And so, if it strikes me to leave the edge unfinished, I've been leaving the edge unfinished.

When there were still leaves on the trees, I started a painting of our back field. It was late October or early November, and as the sun set, it turned the field a golden pink. I painted a small piece, and didn't like it. So I painted a big one. But the sun set far too quickly, and for the very first time in my painting life, I didn't finish the piece.

It was about half painted. I'd gotten the far-off trees, and the closer bushes. I'd gotten the field grasses, and had sketched in some tall foreground grass. But the rest, nearly a third of the canvas, was white.

In time, I fell in love with the unfinished look of it. But just a couple days ago, I filled in some of the remaining space. I still like it. It's still unfinished-looking, but not as starkly so as it was, originally.

It's too gray a day to take a photo of it, but I will, as soon as I get back from New York. I'd like to hear what any of you think.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving was one in a series of frenzied, art-filled days. And today, the day after, I've had a moment to sit and think and recognize how lucky and how thankful I am.

I'm most thankful to my mother, for supporting in me, for my entire life, the courage that has let me embark on this painting adventure. I'm thankful, too, for putting me in a position that has made this start-up possible.

I'm thankful to my husband, for his patience and support, and I'm thankful that he's an artist, too, and understands.

I'm thankful to my family, who encouraged me to try this, urged me on when I flagged, and gave me their confidence and optimism when my own failed me.

I'm thankful to my friends, who supported me in this from the first day. They've come to my openings, bought my paintings, commissioned work, read my blog, showered me with love and enthusiasm and helped me at every step.

In a strange and roundabout way, I'm grateful to the world of journalism, to the Times Herald-Record, which kicked me out of a life I'd thought was mine, and to the Kent County Daily Times, which showed me with such clarity that for me, the joy of journalism was gone.

I'm thankful to the painters of the Wallkill River School, who took me in when I felt so orphaned. They loved me, taught me, shared their skill and knowledge and hope with me, and told me, in every way possible, that I could, indeed, be a painter.

I'm thankful to the hundreds and hundreds of strangers who've reached out to me. The people who shared their lives and landscapes with me on my trip to Wisdom. The people who stop me every time I paint outdoors, and talk about my painting and their painting, and their hopes and dreams of life. And I am grateful to the strangers who bought my paintings even though they don't know me at all.

I'm especially grateful to my stepdaughter, Erika, the very first person to see my very first painting. She believed in me from that minute, with an unwavering positivity that has truly astounded me.

Indeed, I am a grateful, thankful painter this post-Thanksgiving Day. I am blessed. Thank you, each of you, all of you, thank you.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

River's edge of night

Mystic River, Nov. 19. Oil, 10x20

Two friends told me things this week that set my mind spinning. One said she wanted to buy a painting of mine not only because she likes it, but also because she thinks I'll be famous one day, and so it's a good investment.

The other told me that she admires me because I care so little about people's opinions of me.

So here's a question: Can both assessments be true? Let's just say that most of my friends wouldn't be very happy living inside my head for any amount of time. It's a messy, hot place there, with too many dark corners and way too much stuff stored away in deteriorating boxes.

Meanwhile, where that head lives these days is one gorgeous place. I set out a couple days ago to make an afternoon painting, and ended up along the Mystic River, somewhere between new Mystic and Old Mystic.

It's pretty darn tough to find a place to park the car so you can paint. The people who own land on the western edge of the road also own the land between the road and the river, and have it blocked off with all sorts of stuff. Rocks, fences, big old telephone-sized logs, you name it.

I guess I see their point. After all, if people could park along there to soak in the beauty of the scene, they would. And that would probably wreck things for people whose living room windows face this gorgeous, golden river.

I found a spot, and painted quickly, but still, I wasn't fast enough. When the sun goes down these days, it's no leisurely matter. It starts heading down and wham, it's gone. Dusk passes in a heartbeat, here in late November.

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Step by step

A house I know, Oil, 10x20, not for sale

It's an exciting time here at 109 Whalehead Road. In addition to my December show at the Emporium in Mystic, Peter and I are going to have a show together at Noah's in Stonington. And today, Shawn Dell Joyce tells me, "A Confession of Color," the show George Hayes and I have at the Wallkill River School Gallery, was reviewed in the weekend section of the Wallkill Valley Times,

Really, these things are happening as if by magic. My daughter Erika, grandson John and I spent Tuesday putting up posters and distributing postcards in Mystic and Stonington. We went to lunch at Noah's, and I asked about how I could get my art up on the walls there.

The next day, I emailed Trowbridge Cottrell, gave him our website and asked if we could show at Noah's. He said yes.

I cleared it with Cindy at the Emporium, whose refreshing attitude is "the more, the merrier." And we're off and running. I have a lot of framing to do in these next couple weeks, and Peter has printing, framing and a whole slew of interesting decisions to make about the presentation, size and pricing of his work.

I'm thrilled that we'll be showing together. I know that our work doesn't really go together, that the instant reaction is not: Wow, what coordination! But I do think that his black and whites and my brights (In fact, that might be the name of the show? Black and white and bright) do set each other off nicely.

And while I haven't yet seen the story by Matt Frey, Shawn says he liked the show, and the piece got plenty of room.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Doing the footwork

I spent the day doing guerrilla marketing with my daughter Erika and grandson John. I say "guerrilla," but times have changed since I lived in Boston and spent dangerous nights spray painting slogans on bridges and buildings, and pasting posters to walls and telephone poles.

Our day was fairly sedate, truly. We asked permission. The guy in the Green Marble coffeehouse, deep in downtown Mystic, was a little surprised at this. He figured we'd just put up our posters wherever we wanted to put up our posters.

"I'm 52," I said. "I've learned to ask permission."

What a statement that is, when I stand back and look at it. I guess I have learned to ask permission. I still do things without asking, but only when I'm pretty sure I either won't get caught or, if I do, it won't matter. I think I've realized that I only ask permission these days when I'm pretty sure it's going to be granted.

Of course, I suppose this means I miss out on opportunities. And it sure means I miss out on the fun of being yelled at, threatened, sworn at and chased by the cops. Oh, well.

It was a cold day to be stomping around the vastly empty downtown Mystic and the stunningly crowded downtown Stonington. But we were in and out of stores, and when the sun came out, it was warm enough. As we strode through the streets, it felt like we were on a mission, and I guess, in a way, we were. It was great fun to do this with Erika and John. This is the reason we came home, really, when you get all the way down to it. To put up posters with the kid and the grandkid.

I did make a painting yesterday, but I have a few details I want to address before I post it here. So tune in tomorrow. It's a good one!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Before the line storm

Storm coming, oil, 10x20

One storm blew in off the ocean, while another blew in off the plains. They met over Long Island Sound, I think, creeping up on us with an odd, spring-like fog and humidity, thick with the fresh scent of wet earth.

I stood on the Old Pequot Trail as dusk pulled in early, 4 p.m. or so, and the cars passing me turned on their lights, and I struggled to see this color gray vs. that color gray, and just how bowed that barn's roofline is.

In the end, I was wet, not because it was raining, but because the mist was so heavy. I was wet, the painting was wet, the car was wet where I'd left the windows open.

So I packed up and drove to the Portugese Club in Stonington and picked up fish and chips for dinner. There was no one there, at 4:30 this Friday. Just the big men who do the cooking, and two older women eating. Our dinners were cooked in minutes, and I drove home with the good smell of the freshest fish filling the damp little front of the Miata.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Smacked in the face

Last night, Peter and I watched "The Wizard of Oz," and for me, as a painter, it was a revelation.

As I watched, it occurred to me that my entire artistic sensibility is contained in that movie.

My first thought was absolute and horrified dismay. What?! "The Wizard of Oz"? What kind of pathetic, untrained, dreaming fool has "The Wizard of Oz" as the backbone of her painterly vision?

But there's no denying it. Look at the trees in the dangerous forest. They're my trees. Look at the hills outside the Emerald City. They're my hills. Look at the colors in the entire movie. They're my colors!

I'm doomed! I should give up now! Just surrender. Hand Toto over, light a fire under the scarecrow and call it a day.

Who would ever want to look at a painting that was made by someone who, deep in her unconscious, seems to believe that "The Wizard of Oz" holds some sort of artistic meaning? Why couldn't I discover that my work was somehow subconsciously formed along the lines of Matisse, or Rembrandt or Edward Hopper? No, apparently, my entire painterly person owes its being to Oz director Victor Fleming and cinematographer Harold Rosson and unnamed set designers and scene painters.

The more I watched the movie, the clearer this all became. And for about an hour, I suffered.

Then, I thought, what the heck. There are worse things to have inside my soul. If the ancestral tree of my painting grows in the soil of "The Wizard of Oz," well, at least it's rich soil. At least it's a place where optimism lives, where hope and courage defeat peril and evil, and where, even when you're feeling really dumb, there's someone who loves you and believes you've got something good going on.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Lifetime of memories

Harkness Park, Nov. 12. Oil, 8x10, $50

There are places here at home where I go, again and again, to paint. Harkness is one of them.

Sure, I'm interested in the gardens and the house and the beach, but it's really the inlet and the marshy ground around it that fascinates me. I love the way the water sneaks in and curls around. I love the grassy lands that spring up around the Sound's incursion. I love the colors that the grass and the water pick up, especially as the sun goes down beyond them.

I paint this same scene over and over, and I don't tire of it. It compels me to experiment, to try new things, strive in new ways to capture this essence that so moves me.

Partly, I'm sure, I love this place because of the memories attached to it. How many times we picnicked here, as a family first, and then just Mom and us kids. How many times I ran here. How many times, as a teenager, I came here with friends and boyfriends, and alone, to walk and muse, and move toward growing up.

Now I am moving toward growing old. There's no denying it. And still, this same place calls me, with its big sky and its warm fields and its lifetime of memories.

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Salem, Conn., Nov. 11. Oil, 10x20

I've always had a thing about the number "11."

It's been my favorite number, all these years.

So often, when I look at the clock, it's 11:11. I don't go looking for 11:11 - I just glance at the clock, and there it is.

A friend of mine even wrote a song, "11:11," about me and the number.

And so, every year on Nov. 11, I expect big things. Since I'm such a pollyanna, I always start out expecting something wonderful to happen. This will be the day I'm discovered by ... well, when I was a kid, it was a movie director. Later, a book publisher. Later, my husband-to-be. Later, a newspaper publisher. These days, a major gallery.

As the day wears on, and the wonderfully momentous thing doesn't happen, I inevitably begin to get paranoid. If something wonderful isn't going to happen, then surely something horrible is out there waiting for me. I will die in a car wreck, find I have cancer, run over someone's dog.

This year, as with so many 11-11's past, nothing much happened, one way or another. I set out to paint (believing, of course, that I was destined to paint the greatest painting I've ever painted). I headed to Salem, where there's a row of New England white municipal buildings I've been itching to paint. Turns out the time to get them is afternoon, not morning.

So I drove around, looking and looking. In the end, I saw a field with a cool tree, and a safe place to pull off the road. It was a cold, cold, cold morning in the shade and the wind, and I wasn't dressed for it. But I painted, 11-11, waiting for a miracle.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Showing up at the show

Dolsontown Road, Middletown, NY. Oil, 12x12

Saturday evening was the opening reception fr "A Confession of Color," my first show. Not a one-man show, but a two-fer, which I shared with George Hayes.

This was a lucky pairing, I think. He's also starting out, he also loves color, and his work and mine looked good together. And he's a kind, sweet and patient man, the sort of person you want to share this kind of nervous time with, if possible.

And people came. Friends from the Times Herald-Record showed up in droves, full of love and the warmest support. Painter friends showed up, with all enthusiasm and hope, many with an ongoing sense of me as a painter. My daughter, Erika, and her good-guy boyfriend John showed up, too, dressed to the nines and full of the best sort of excitement.

I am still overwhelmed by the numbers of people, by the way they swelled my heart and warmed my soul. And I am overwhelmed, too, that they bought my paintings. And even better, they loved my paintings. I had the sublime opportunity of watching a number of them fall for paintings, and that was better than most things in life.

When I stand back and look at what I'm doing, it's terrifying. A smarter person would be putting off painting, searching for work, saving money for old age, saying there's no way on earth that it's possible to make it as a painter.

But when I watched people make contact with my art, the better person stood heads above the smarter person. The better person, that's the me who is driven, creative, willing to take risks. That's the one I like more. And I suspect that's the one those people at the opening befriended.

And so, in the end, though I might cry and wail in my tent on the riverbank, an old, impoverished and befuddled person, I will know that in my life, I listened to my heart, and I had the great good fortune to try something that old heart told me to try.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Finding the color

Field, Woodstock, Conn., Oil, 10x20

Out west, it’s a breeze to find a place to paint. The shoulders of the roads are wide and flat. You encounter drainage ditches only rarely. Everywhere you turn, there is accessible land.

Not so in New England. Foliage charts showed northeastern Connecticut as the nearest place to find bright colors. And I found them - but often couldn’t find a place where I could set up to paint them.

On a back road, I saw what looked like an abandoned farm house, fronting a tangled field backed by a line of fiery maples. A couple was walking on the road, and I slowed, the shark-like plein-air painter stalking its prey. The couple turned and looked quizzically at me.

“I’m not a weirdo,” I said, “I’m just a painter.”

They assured me that the house was indeed abandoned. I pulled into the overgrown path, pulled my sweatshirt tight around me, and began to paint.

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