Canvas Janet Anthony, Scott Baltz, and Jane Dahmen
THE CANVAS-September 2009
by Suzette McAvoy
Janice Anthony, R. Scott Baltz & Jane Dahmen
A Microcosm of the Natural World
A sense of discovery permeates Janice Anthony’s precisely rendered paintings of the Maine wilderness. An intrepid explorer of the state’s woods and shorelines, she is continually alert to new painting opportunities. “I am always looking at the arrangement of natural elements with the thought of the painting they might become, so that I seldom just look at the landscape: I am always considering the visual possibilities,” she says.
Her careful observations of place result in hauntingly beautiful images that evoke the spirit of nineteenth-century practitioners of landscape painting. In particular, the serenity and quietude of Martin Johnson Heade and the pensiveness of Jervis McEntee come to mind. But there is a minimalism and refinement to Anthony’s compositions that keep her work firmly rooted in the contemporary era. “I work in the studio from studies and photos,” she says, “but once I have an image from existing sources I continue to remove, add, and edit until the painting takes on a separate life of its own.”
The painting Island Interior depicts a sunlit clearing in the woods on Bremen Long Island. This simple, peaceful scene is animated by the contrast of the brilliant sunlight at its center with the cool blue shadows encircling it. “The patch of light, though hopeful in its openness, has a directness that is framed on all sides by mystery,” says the artist. The lushness of the pervasive greenery—the ferns, grasses, and trees that nearly fill the image save for a small sliver of blue sky—suggests an ode to the primeval forest.
Anthony lives on a farm in Jackson, a small village about twenty miles inland from Belfast. Extensive gardens and forest from which she draws daily inspiration surround her home. “I feel an affinity with places that convey their self-sufficiency and indifference to my presence,” she says, “where the rocks, water, and branches speak to each other in an exchange that I can only try to overhear.”
Above: Island Interior, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 12”. Courtesy of Frost Gully Gallery
Concentrated Memories of Experience
R. Scott Baltz’s paintings of the Maine landscape are distillations of perceived experience, filtered through the passage of time, memory, and imagination. Many weeks, months, or even years may pass before he returns to a particular image in the studio, prompted by rough pencil sketches or photographs made on-site. Working from memory coalesces and intensifies his remembered perceptions of a scene, resulting in paintings that appear to pulsate with internal energy.
The large-scale painting The Moving Edge is an example of Baltz’s passionate, energetic approach to art. Conceived on “a windy day with clear blue skies”—what the artist calls “a Maine day”—the canvas is seemingly alive with color and movement. It brings to mind Emerson’s line, “In the woods, is perpetual youth.” Baltz has added a bright turquoise to the dominant browns and greens of nature’s palette, while employing vigorous brushwork to convey the patterns, textures, and diversity of the tree trunks. Overhead, the tangle of greenery echoes the undulating curves of the forest floor. “The painting changed along the way,” says the artist. “Originally I did not envision the forest canopy, adding it several days into the execution as I felt it was needed to convey an additional sense of movement.”
Baltz discovered the scene while hiking with a friend near Great Long Pond on Mount Desert Island, not far from his year-round home and studio in Somesville. “The viewpoint was such that I looked down on the edge of the water through the trees, where a swath of foam floated along created by waves and strong winds. I knew instantly it was the image for a large canvas I had prepared about a year before that was sitting in my studio waiting for just the right image.”
While he begins each new painting with a final vision in his mind’s eye, Baltz remains open to change throughout the creative process and allows color decisions to be made intuitively as a work progresses. Drawing on nature and memory, the artist translates his physical experience of the landscape into a spiritual engagement with the world.
Above: The Moving Edge, 2005, oil on linen, 40” x 60”
The spirit of the woods
I am in love with the landscape along the Damariscotta River,” says artist Jane Dahmen, “and this scene, or a variety of it, is something I have seen over and over again on my walks.” Dahmen is a relatively recent resident of Maine, having moved to Newcastle from Massachusetts in 2004. Her latest series of paintings draw on her frequent explorations of Dodge Point and the land owned by the Damariscotta River Association—two conservation areas close to her new home.
Near Dodge Point reveals Dahmen’s interest in investigating not only her subject matter but also the two-dimensionality of painting. In this work, the vertical trunks of the trees are presented close to the picture plane, creating a screen through which horizontal bands of color representing water, shoreline, and sky are glimpsed. These dominant vertical and horizontal elements create a compositional grid that compresses the depth of the scene and emphasizes the patterns made by the intertwined branches. “Working out the basic structure of the painting before I ever pick up my brush, I am free to let the painting develop organically once I start to apply the paint,” she says.
Since moving to Maine, Dahmen has begun using a camera to record sights that interest her. Previously she painted solely from memory, inspired by remembered images. “But now,” she says, “using the camera, I can manipulate the photos of actual scenes by enlarging some areas, cropping or adding others.”
In her paintings of the Maine landscape, Dahmen shares her reverence for the natural environment of her adopted home, as well as her appreciation for the formal aspects of artistic composition. “My ideas begin in the natural world, but once a work is underway, the paint itself on the flat surface takes on a life of its own,” she says. “Rather than seeking to faithfully reproduce a scene, I am attempting to open my senses to an environment.”
Above: Near Dodge Point, 2007, acrylic on panel, 30” x 36”
For more Jane Dahmen: artcollectormaine.com