Gardens of Earthly Delight


by Suzette McAvoy

Among the changing months,  May stands confest The Sweetest, And in fairest colors dressed. -James Thomson

Dynamic Tension
Our human collaboration with nature is at the core of Avy Claire’s art. As a professional landscape designer and artist, she is passionately concerned with our imprint on the environment and its effect over time. “I am interested in the dynamic tension between human mechanistic activity and nature’s deeper order,” she says. “I call this intersection ‘The Garden.’”
The Garden is fertile ground for Claire’s art, which variously takes the form of painting, drawing on Mylar, digital photography, or—increasingly—installations. “Lately, I feel that my medium will be whatever it takes to accomplish what I want to do,” she says.

Claire-LaForesta_wFor a recent installation, the artist created a metaphorical forest of eight trees drawn on sheets of clear Mylar, each of which was six feet high and nearly three feet wide. The drawings were suspended from the ceiling so that viewers could walk between them as one might while strolling through the Maine woods. Close inspection revealed that the trees were “drawn” with line after line of tiny handwriting, transcriptions of current events from the news.AC_headshot2_wThis impulse toward calligraphic mark-making first appeared in Claire’s work about five years ago when—inspired by the memory of a walk on a foggy beach—she began making paintings of lines suggestive of windswept sea grass. “I was working in New York City,” she says, “and sitting in my studio against the backdrop of the city, I started to spend time this way—it was the beginnings of the drawing that came later.”
Closely related to her SeaGrass works are the LaForesta paintings that followed in 2005–2006. In this series, the artist shifts from “thinking about blades of grass to trunks of trees.” Composed of lush colors and exuberant brushwork, the LaForesta paintings can be seen as diary entries, preserving the artist’s memories of transcendent moments spent in nature.

Avy Claire divides her time between Blue Hill and New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1978, and completed further studies in photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is represented in Maine by gWatson Gallery in Stonington.

LaForesta 05.08.49, 2005, acrylic on panel, 24” x 24”



GSpaien6_wA source of wonder and vitality
While many contemporary artists confront the complexity of today’s world through the use of satire and irony, Gail Spaien takes an alternative approach. Her “gentle artwork, which is easily seen,” provides an antidote to the aggression and hurried pace of modern life. Drawing upon such diverse sources as Japanese embroidery, Indian miniatures, horticultural drawings, needlework samplers, and early American folk art, her work reminds us that the world remains “a source of wonder and vitality” even in times of global stress. Gail-Sapien_PhotoSteefenieWicks_wIn the painting, Looking for Food, Singing Together #6, from her Open Window series, she pictures the world from a bird’s-eye view—not from up high, but from ground level among delicately rendered flowers and sprouting stalks of wheat. The curve of the warm yellow sun is echoed in the arc of the pale-brown earth, bestowing a sense of harmony and peace on the scene. The words of the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” spring to mind: “And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”
Currently an associate professor of painting at the Maine College of Art in Portland, Spaien’s experience of the New England landscape is central to her art. Her aim is to raise questions and convey ideas related to the visual representation of nature and the human interaction with the natural world. “Accessible, uncomplicated, thought-provoking cultural experiences that comment on the human condition—on a human scale—are essential today,” she says. “This is what motivates me and informs the directions that I take in the studio.”
Through her art, Spaien hopes to spark a more direct connection with the serendipity of the living world and the straightforward being of natural things, enabling us “to directly glimpse subtle forces that comfort, provoke, or inspire.”

Gail Spaien received an undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Southern Maine and a master of fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. She lives in South Kittery and is represented by Miller Block Gallery in Boston and William Scott Gallery in Provincetown.

Looking for Food, Singing Together #6, 2005, acrylic on panel, 30” x 36”


moneypenny-tree_wA Translation of the stimulus
Sally Stanton’s hilltop home in Northport provides her with an expansive view. On a clear day, she can see “about fifty miles,” a sweeping vista that encompasses several ponds and “eleven layers of mountains.” An extensive garden fills much of her backyard, and right in its center is an outdoor shower, attesting to the privacy of the setting. These surroundings, at once intimate and wide open, provide the inspiration for much of Stanton’s art. “The clouds, the mountains, the nature around here, I couldn’t live without them—my work is really a translation of the stimulus all around me,” she says. stanton-headshot_wStanton grew up in Massachusetts and after art school spent a peripatetic period crisscrossing the country, living in California, Michigan, and Rhode Island before, as she says, “coming to my senses and escaping to Maine” in the mid-1990s. Since then, Stanton has pursued an intuitive approach to painting, creating works that respond to the exterior world but reflect an interior landscape. “I’m inspired,” she says, “by my unruly native garden and the natural beauty of Maine. I think of it as translating a botanical language.” To begin a work, such as The Moneypenny Tree, she often starts with a drawing of a plant or leaf from the garden, using the image as a springboard for dreams, thoughts, and memories. “I don’t really think about it ahead of time, I just follow where the work takes me.”
The hot colors and lyrical forms that drift in and out of Stanton’s paintings are built up through multiple layers of mixed media, including resin-based alkyds, oil pastels, charcoal, and colored pencils. To create the textures she desires, the artist will often work the surface with a variety of tools, using whatever is at hand—“it’s really very physical, very experimental until the end,” she says.
At once revealing and concealing, Stanton’s paintings are souvenirs of small journeys and occasionally, for the artist, a map forward.

Sally Stanton holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from Massachusetts College of Art and studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Museum School of Boston. She is represented by Carver Hill Gallery, Rockport.

The Moneypenny Tree, 2005, oil, pastel, and pencil on board, 24” x 18”



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