May 30, 2015

My Changing Eye

As I walked around a familiar local hill farm yesterday, one with sweeping views of the surrounding landscape, I thought about how my eye has changed over the many years I've been going there. This photo, and all the others in this post are from yesterday's farm visit, and show different ways of seeing. Twenty years ago I may have wanted to paint an image like this, with agricultural architecture within a landscape....

Milking Time, Landaff, New Hampshire, 1991; oil on canvas, 32 x 110 in.

....a painting such as this, with the buildings and roads leading back in space. I often added figures for a narrative element.

Over time I became more interested in the stuff of farming, the ordinary things––machinery, plastics, structures such as silage bunkers and hoop barns––that were "ugly", and were evidence of the messy actuality of agriculture.

Blue Bucket, Barnet, Vermont, 1998; egg tempera on panel, 12 x 12 in.

So here I painted a battered plastic bucket, its color beautiful, meant as a warning for the culvert below. I painted this in the studio using a color study and black and white photos, as I did with all my work during these years. This scene was on the same farm that I photographed yesterday.

Irrigation Pipes, Barnet, Vermont, 2002; oil on canvas, 52 x 84 in.

At the time I loved the idea of contrasting the conventional beauty of the landscape with the industrial elements of modern farming. This view is across the valley from yesterday's farm, which can be seen on the hill in the distance at the left.

Then landscape began to recede in importance for me. Actually, I could no longer stand to do the work of painting all those distant trees, all that detail. I wanted to simplify the structure of my paintings.

Soon there was no landscape at all in the paintings, just the objects, seen almost as still life. I remember in the early 2000s, my gallery telling me that they could sell my work better if I put more landscape in it; I had to reply that it no longer had any landscape at all.

Black Tank (for Guston), 2005; egg tempera on panel, 27 x 32

Now it was just the things that excited me, even a fuel tank that I saw at this same farm, so different in subject and structure from Blue Bucket above. I painted some fairly complex, large compositions, along with smaller ones. So, I can do that kind of work, and I know a lot of people are disappointed that I don't still do it, especially the paintings with landscape. But we have to do what feels right to us, and what I have become most interested in is the tradition of twentieth century minimalist abstraction; I wanted to take what I knew and see it through that reductive lens. Those are the paintings that most excite me––paintings by, for instance, Mondrian, Malevich, Popova; and more recently Kelly, Heilmann, Mangold, Tantric painting––not twentieth century representational painting (although of course there are artists that I love who paint the visual world, such as Morandi and Sheeler). Hopper used to be an artist hero of mine; now it's Blinky Palermo.

So here is where I end up: a circle above an angled plane, cast shadows, and two small circles below. A representation, simplified, pared down to a few elements, which will change a bit when transformed into paint. It is not my job to judge my work, just to do the best that I think I can, while loving the process, which I do.


  1. It is interesting that I haven't seen much of your landscape work. I just discovered you here a few years ago. I am always attracted to these circles and shadows. Nuts and bolts you make absolutely real. We all have to do what we feel or we can't do it, or at least do it good. Keep on girl. You are so talented. It is exciting to see what you are doing.

  2. I love to see what you pick out with your eye these days. I love the distillation, the scape and scope seen in the object, the abstracted reality, the essence.

    Thank you for showing us your visual journey, it's most interesting. As someone who is only just beginning to try to express myself artistically, I am encouraged by your talent, your progress, your thinking when you talk about it, and especially by your work.

  3. I doubt you'd do it, but I'd love to see you abstract "Irrigation Pipes, Barnet, Vermont" in a Bettie van Haaster-kind of way. No trees. Color, shape, perspective, shadows. Beautiful.
    Not that the original is not very, very nice!

  4. Your close-ups of machinery are landscapes.

  5. Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. It's great that you liked seeing the evolution of my thoughts.
    JBS, I had no idea how van Haaster was, so looked her up; I don't think her work has anything whatever to do with mine; totally different language.
    I don't see my current paintings as landscapes, Linda; they have a shallow limited space as opposed to the deep space of landscape.

  6. The complexity of van Haaster's work is certainly more closely related to "Irrigation Pipes, Barnet, Vermont" than is that of Blinky Palermo! But regardless...I would love to see you strip-down the painting and abstract it a la Altoon Sultan!
    But never mind. Maybe I'll do it.

    1. But as I explained, I am seeing and thinking differently now, and Irrigation Pipes holds no interest for me at this point, abstracted or otherwise.

  7. Really interesting post and comments!