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The Month
of Expectation
Susan Headley van Campen, Monica Kelly & T. Allen Lawson
The Canvas
by Suzette McAvoy
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period—
When March is scarcely here
Emily Dickinson
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The Canvas
Arborvitae and Half-Inch Snow, March 24, 2007, Oil on paper, 8” x 10”
E
Hints of warmer days
mily Dickinson called March “the month of expectation,”
and we sense some of this seasonal anticipation in artist
Susan Headley van Campen’s small painting, Arborvitae and
Half-Inch Snow, March 24. Executed quickly on site, the artist
perfectly captures the peculiar light of early spring, that wan yellow that
hints of warmer days to come.
She says, “This oil was painted out back in our garden just after a
light snow; the sky was pale yellow. The end of March is when the air is
getting a little warmer and it’s not so numbing to stand outside in the
snow and try to concentrate. I am a firm believer in sitting, standing,
and breathing right in the landscape as I paint.”
Van Campen is perhaps best known for her exquisite, precisely
rendered watercolor paintings. These often feature simple still-life
arrangements of seasonal flowers, selected from her extensive gardens.
“I like to paint what I see that strikes me at the moment,” she says,
“things that don’t last long—like flowers and skies, water, the sunrise,
clouds, approaching storms, a dandelion, an open tulip just before
the petals fall off, a poppy bud before it bursts—as simple as possible,
without laboring. I am trying to capture the color and shape the first
time, that’s all.”
In contrast to her still lifes, van Campen’s landscape paintings are
smaller in scale and more loosely painted, yet are no less assured in
their technique. Their rapid execution allows her to catch the fleeting
effects of light and atmosphere, the very essence of her aesthetic
approach. “When working inside on my much larger watercolor still-life
paintings, I’m usually also watching outside for some special moment
of light or weather…my paints at the ready by the barn door. It’s very
instantaneous and a challenge to grab
for it.” It’s a challenge van Campen
embraces and at which she excels.
Susan Headley van Campen and her husband, Tim, who is also an accomplished artist, live in Thomaston, where they
exhibit their work in the Van Campen Gallery on Oyster River Road. Susan is also represented by Dowling Walsh in
Rockland and Hirschl & Adler Modern in New York City. She is a graduate of Moore College of Art and the Pennsylvania
Academy of the Fine Arts.
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The Canvas
Fragrant Portals #13, 2007, Oil on panel, 6” x 6”
O
Multiple sensory pleasures
ver the past ten years, Monica Kelly, an artist known for her
paintings of luminous skies and atmospheric landscapes,
has been steadily adding one or two new works each year
to an ongoing series collectively called Fragrant Portals. As
the evocative title implies, there is the suggestion of multiple sensory
pleasures imbued in each of these small-scale works.
In Fragrant Portals #13, as in others in the series, the sky is filled
with the notes of a musical score, providing visual energy through the
symbolic evocation of sound. Kelly is a serious amateur pianist, and music
plays an important role in her life and art. “I listen to specific pieces of
music while I am working that are carefully
chosen for their mood, instrumentation, and
emotional qualities,” she says. “The piece of
music in this painting is by Chopin—one of
his Ballades for piano.”
While all of Kelly’s work references landscape, it is always approached
from an abstract perspective rather than from visual perception. She
uses naturalistic elements—such as skies, trees, and horizon lines—in
service to her own poetic interpretations of imaginary scenes. “Monica
Kelly’s allusive landscapes are fugitive and provocative,” writes art critic
Phillip Isaacson. “They require the viewer to penetrate near abstraction
and to supply the details.”
Beautiful surfaces are a hallmark of Kelly’s paintings. In the Fragrant
Portals series, she begins her process by attaching the musical score
to the gessoed panel with rabbit-skin glue. She then begins painting,
building up the surface through thin, successive layers, and selectively
sanding certain areas to bring the music back into view. In this example,
she says, “I hoped to convey a view into a vast space, a distant horizon
line and a changing sky—the scent of recent rainfall.”
Monica Kelly lives in Thomaston and is represented by Greenhut Galleries in Portland. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and
received her master’s of fine arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art’s painting program in Lacoste, France. She completed
her undergraduate work in visual arts at Bowdoin College, where she studied with Joseph Nicoletti and Thomas Cornell.
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The Canvas
Dooryard, 2007, Oil on linen, 24” x 26”
A
A Closer Inspection
consummate landscape painter, T. Allen Lawson’s work is
distinguished by a lyrical quietude and a deep respect for
the art of the past. His work has garnered him national
praise and attention, including his selection as the artist
for the 2008 White House Christmas card. While his art has taken him
throughout this country and across three continents, he continues to
find inspiration close to his Rockport home.
In Dooryard, an oil painting from 2005, the subject is a farmhouse
along the Duck Trap River, north of Lincolnville Beach. A light blanket
of fresh snow confers a subtle beauty on the otherwise ordinary scene.
“I was instantly struck by the neutral gray-white of the house as it was
seen against the cool snow and how the snow played against the warm
lemon-yellow sky,” Lawson says. “As with many scenes, the more you
look the more interesting it becomes.”
Closer inspection discloses the complexity of the composition’s
underlying geometric structure. The diagonals of the lattice lead the eye
to the vertical rectangle of the door, where the walkway and handrail
create a visual bridge to the dark upright of the tree, which in turn
balances the strong horizontal bands of small, square windows. A broad
range of whites adds richness to the nearly monochrome palette. “From
an abstract aspect,” says the artist, “I tried to convey as many whites
as I could as they related to each other—the house to the snow, the
propane tank to the house, etc.”
An extended look also reveals the painting’s details—the birds
in the branches of the tree and those gathering seeds at its base, the
frost patterns on the windows to the right contrasted against the bare
windows to the left where the building is unheated, and in the corner, a
push-mower awaits, a lone harbinger of impending spring.
MH+D
For more information, see Resources on page 88.
T. Allen Lawson studied painting at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art in Connecticut, the American Academy of Art
in Chicago, and the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. His work has been featured in one-man shows in California,
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. Tim is represented by Ten High Street
gallery in Camden and by Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe.
72 March 09 MH+D
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