Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.
I’ve been painting since I was little. Back then, it was mostly dogs and dragons and papier-mâché sculptures. I keep thinking I should get back to that.
I went to art school originally to illustrate children’s books, but became entranced by the discoveries of drawing and painting from observation. It was like the world cracked open.
Judith Leighton, who began one of the first contemporary art galleries in Maine: The Leighton Gallery in Blue Hill, launched my career in terms of showing and selling paintings. The Cynthia Winings Gallery now occupies that space.
Then I went to graduate school at University of Michigan.
Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
Seeing the “whole,” being honest.
What is it about an idea or scene that says, “Paint me!”?
Color interaction and light. Though my paintings are representational, I don’t think about the objects.
What type of reference do you use? Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?
I do a lot of drawing and watercolors on site. I’ll work from those in the studio. But I also schlep large canvases outside. I only go to a few places to paint, because they look different to me each time. So, one painting leads me to think, “What if I try it this way this time?” I might do a drawing to help me with that new idea.
I take photos, and mostly never look at them. But then I’ll suddenly find them very helpful.
Has there been an evolution in your work within the past five–10 years?
Thank you for asking. I think I’d rather someone else answered that. The only thing I can say is that I’ve been working larger. I’ll use two to six handle-able-sized panels to make one large painting. I like how the smaller sections are like moments of vision within a whole.
Your focus on light with intense color almost sizzles! What are you conveying?
I feel very lucky and grateful to be alive and to be looking at what I get to look at. I get to move through this world. Whether it’s water/light/islands, or the light in the crazy overlapping jumble of a city.
It sounds sort of dramatic, but I feel like if I can’t respond, I’ll short circuit. I feel like I’m painting love.
And I’m grateful for the human love that supports my practice: friends, family, community.
How has your art been affected by all that is going on in the world?
Right now, for the first time I can remember, I am blocked. I am deeply distressed by what’s going on in world. The hopeful part is finding myself united with people from whom I felt so different. I mean, Jim Mattis and I are “like this.'' (Visual: Imagine I'm holding up two fingers tightly together!)
I hope that by shouting out about the problems of racial inequality we might move forward a few steps.
As a child, I lay in bed in terror for black children my age whose fathers might be lynched, or who might be bombed for going to school. And for Vietnamese children who were being bombed. I wondered how families even lived with that fear. Right now, I know I’d be a nervous wreck if my 25-year-old son were Black.
I can’t figure out how to respond to this in my studio. I mean, really: Be honest. What can I make that would make any difference other than to just try to console myself?
The horrors and frustrations I feel right now are equally matched by the stunning Maine beauty that usually makes me itch to paint… so I don’t know what’s going to happen. And, given the big picture, I don’t think my angst about the studio is very important.
What time of day is most productive for painting?
That really varies. I like the light of early morning and afternoon.
What does being an artist mean to you?
It means living a life of incredible privilege.
What do you love about painting, or what drives you to paint?
I like that I can make a mess and work my way out if it. I like that the mess ends up playing a role in the finished product. I like all the rearranging.
I love oil paint. It’s so slippery and sexy. It can be as scummy as a city sidewalk with chewing gum spots, and as clear and pure as light air.
I love the visual concepts built into the study of art: linear perspective; use of values (lights/darks) to convey light in drawing, (color interaction in painting); compositional structure; color harmonies; color theory. And that, despite all that, there are no set answers; there’s no GPS to guarantee success.
What do you hope to give people through your paintings?
I’ll quote [art critic] Peter Schjeldahl on that: “The proof of any art’s lasting values is a comprehensive emotional necessity: it’s something that person needed to do and which awakens and satisfies corresponding need in us.” (from The New Yorker, January 13, 2013)
Whew! If I could do that!
. . .
Favorite Maine restaurant?
Really, my favorite meals are with friends
around our tables with food from our
gardens and local vendors.