Capturing the Color of Light

THE CANVAS-August 2009

by Suzette McAvoy

Alexandra Tyng, Louise Bourne & Thomas Paquette


Home and House, 2007 Oil on linen, 22” x 28” ByAlexandra Tyng


The Waning Light of Dusk

Alexandra Tyng’s latest paintings of Maine evoke an intimacy and love of place that reflects her long-abiding relationship with the state and its natural environment. A noted portrait and landscape painter from the Philadelphia area, Tyng has summered on Mount Desert Island for more than forty years, beginning when she was a teenager. More recently, she has also spent time on Monhegan Island at the end of the season in the company of a close-knit group of fellow painters.
The Monhegan stay and the longer summer sojourn on Mount Desert provide the locales for many of Tyng’s paintings, which often originate from small oil sketches produced on-site. “I thoroughly enjoy the immediacy of the experience,” says the artist of painting outdoors, “and the challenge of capturing the atmospheric conditions and the color of the light at certain times of day.”
In Home and House, a painting from last summer’s stay on Monhegan, Tyng portrays the waning light of dusk as the sky fades from pale lemon to silver and violet. In contrast to the diminishing natural light, the warm glow of the cottage’s interior beckons, suggesting a snug refuge for its inhabitant. On neighboring Manana Island in the distance, a lone, darkened structure is silhouetted against the horizon, standing in stark opposition to the inviting foreground scene—a metaphor for house and home. “I knew from hiking around Manana that these two houses were similar in size,” the artist says, “yet one was so cozy and lived-in and the other was just an empty shell.”
In all of Tyng’s paintings, the surfaces are richly wrought with small strokes of color as if woven like a tapestry. The brushwork is deliberative in defining textures and shaping forms, and light and atmosphere are rendered with specificity. Each element is critical to animating the compositions, and each plays an active role in conveying the sense of place that is central to her work.


Reading by the Door, 2008, Oil on linen, 30” x 40”, Private collection By Louise Bourne



The Ever-Changing Light

Nature and the ever-changing light of the Maine coast is a seemingly unending source of inspiration for artist Louise Bourne, who lives year-round in Sedgwick on the Blue Hill peninsula. “Nature calls our attention like a magnet,” she says, “and I hope my paintings have a similar pull, not as descriptions, but as visceral human experience.”
In recent years, Bourne has rented a small antique Cape on an island in Penobscot Bay for a week each summer. There, during a concentrated period of work, she produces numerous drawings and watercolors that will inform the oil paintings she creates back in her Sedgwick studio.
Reading by the Door is from an ongoing series of work depicting the interior of the island house. In this version, the artist’s son is pictured reading, seated inside in the cool shade while the intense summer light casts strong shadows across the room’s surfaces. “What captivated me about the subject was the color,” says Bourne, “I see a situation with stunning color and I respond.” Geometric structure is also an important element in her work, and an underlying grid of horizontals and verticals is often apparent in Bourne’s compositions. In this work, the upright rectangles of the tall windows and open doorway are intersected by horizontal bands of color denoting the land, sea, and sky.
The poetic quietude of the scene and the lushness of the palette bring to mind the work of the early-twentieth-century French modernist Pierre Bonnard, who called painting “a series of marks joined together to form an object or work over which our eyes freely roam.” Like Bonnard, Bourne is a sensuous colorist who paints discrete moments of perception, and who makes us care about that most humble and yet universal subject: our everyday lives.

 For more Louise Bourne:

Lingering Light, 2008, Oil on hemp, 14” x 16”, Private collection By Thomas Paquette



Capturing Momentary Impressions

Travel is an essential element of Thomas Paquette’s art. His journeys from coast to coast in this country, and from Turkey to Britain in Europe, have inspired his lush, evocative paintings of the natural environment. “Travel,” he says, “is the distance we need from ourselves to see the world anew. Sometimes this requires a plane ticket, sometimes just a changed point of view.” He regards his paintings as “talismans” of his trips, sentient reminders of special places.
As eloquent in describing his working process as he is with his brush, Paquette says, “Paint is a vehicle of exploration and discovery, and in this sense I spend time traveling within my paintings as well as from location to location. And though it can be as frustrating as a trip with no reservations or itinerary, I tend to go just about wherever the paint takes me.”
Paquette uses a variety of means to record the momentary impressions of a scene, including sketching, making small gouaches, and taking photographs—all of which are used back in the studio to begin the journey of discovery that happens with the commencement of each new canvas. In the case of Lingering Light, which depicts a luminous sunset view spotted near Saco, the artist took a photograph “knowing that would be the only chance of a ‘sketch’ that I would get, save for the memory of it.”
Paquette reworks a painting many times over a period of days or months or even years, before reaching a point of completion. Although he may shift time of day and season in the process of considering a subject, the immediacy of the first impression is retained in the lapidary surfaces of his works. “Because I revisit and revise my paintings so often,” says the artist with a laugh, “I find that like Thoreau’s joking understatement that he is well traveled in his hometown of Concord, I am well traveled in my canvases.”




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