Canvas: George Bayliss, Jennifer Whiting, and Henry Isaacs
THE CANVAS-October 2009
by Suzette McAvoy
George Bayliss, Jennifer Whiting & Henry Isaacs
“Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically.” -Robert Louis Stevenson
Sedgwick, Autumn, 2007, oil on canvas, 30” x 40” George Bayliss
The Poetry of Color
George Bayliss is a consummate colorist. His vividly hued paintings are lyrical interpretations of scenes observed in the natural world. “It is not enough to just represent what is there,” he says. “It must be transformed, its special character given a new heightened reality.” For nearly four decades the landscape of Maine has been a particularly fruitful inspiration for the artist, who spends half the year in his home on the northern tip of Deer Isle.
Bayliss knows the scene depicted in Sedgwick, Autumn intimately. “I see it every day,” he says. “This painting was done a few years ago when the fall was especially languid and rich. Like all of my work, this one springs from some experience that was seen or felt. It is really a complex of strong decisive color shapes and linear activity that conjure up my sense of the palpable feeling that this vital place affords.”
Nature’s shifting light and variable atmosphere provides a seemingly inexhaustible source of subjects for the artist. He finds the challenge of capturing nature’s transience—particularly the sea and its ever-changing shoreline—“always provocative.” In Sedgewick, Autumn, the fall landscape is cloaked in broad patches of brilliant pinks, yellows, and greens, with accents of deep orange and red—a quilt of seasonal colors. In characteristic fashion, it is an emotive response to the qualities of a particular time and place. “For me, it is a matter of interpreting the reactions that I experience in various places, overlaid with my own sensibility,” the artist says. “It is an effort to convey a feeling—a lyrical authenticity.”
Using colors as a poet does words, George Bayliss composes canvases that resonate with feeling and amplify our experience of observable reality. “When all is said and done, for me painting is color,” he says. “The rest is selection, invention, modification, synthesis.”
The Rhythm of color
Cross Road, East Blue Hill, 2007, oil on canvas, 29” x 36”, Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting’s colorful, exuberant paintings of the Maine landscape reflect her appreciation for the art of the French Fauves and the Nabis—late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century artists who used simplified, flattened forms and hot colors to
provoke an emotional response in the viewer. Whiting shares with these artistic predecessors a predilection for intense hues and strong patterning, creating compositions that appear to pulse with an internal rhythm.
Whiting begins her landscapes by making multiple graphite drawings while studying a scene. These outdoor sketches are used as reference notes for the paintings she will later complete in the studio. “I don’t like working in oil paint outside,” she says. “My paintings rely on the technique of scumbling, which requires drying time.” Scumbling is a method of applying paint by building up layer after layer of pigment over dried pigment. “This technique,” says the artist, “forces minerals together in a way that mimics the mineral formations of Maine.”
The curving forms and undulating lines of Whiting’s compositions—including Cross Road, East Blue Hill—emerge from her deep engagement with the music she listens to during their creation. “I get to work with the help of sonatas, lieder, and opera,” she says. “The sonatas and lieder help me with color. The opera helps me with drama.”
For much of her early painting years, Whiting concentrated on the human figure. Then, in 1999, she studied painting with Rémy Aron, a Parisian academic artist who encouraged her to “get outside and draw.” Consequently, she traveled to the south of France and started drawing the rolling hills of the Haute-Garonne. “That’s when landscape painting finally, suddenly clicked for me,” she says. “I see in my landscapes an odd, human quality that probably derives from all of my experience in figurative works.”
Whiting is a California native who has summered in the Blue Hill area for the past twenty years. Her idiosyncratic paintings of the Maine landscape are a fresh addition to a long-standing tradition.
The Sensation of Color
Aunt Betty’s Pond #3, 2008, oil on board, 10” x 10”, Henry Isaacs
Henry Isaacs’s great love of nature is readily evident in his luminous, plein-air paintings. For more than thirty years, the world’s natural and inhabited landscapes have been a consistent source of inspiration for the artist. Recently, this frequent traveler and veteran teacher took up full-time residence on Little Cranberry Island, located just off the coast of Mt. Desert Island, where he has spent summers for many years.
The locations that Isaacs favors for his paintings are often reachable only by hiking or back-country skiing, and it is rare that he travel anywhere without canvas, a few brushes, and tubes of paint in his backpack. A preferred hiking and painting destination is Aunt Betty’s Pond, located in a remote corner of Acadia National Park. It is a site that he has returned to many times over the past decades, drawn by the pond’s isolation and the opportunity for quiet reflection. “A summer’s treat,” he says, “is to watch the pond, half choked with water lilies, come into green, bloom pink, and retire into the autumn colors that are found in this small painting.”
Even in his small-scale works such as Aunt Betty’s Pond #3, the artist strives to “paint it all”—the trees, water, sky, and spaces in between—in order to convey the experiential sensation of this enchanting place. “I’ve layered staccato strokes over areas of more solid color,” he says, “to help me communicate what it was like to sit by that shore.” In his recent works, Isaacs pays homage to the cubists Juan Gris and Georges Braque, compressing the depth of field and expressing multiple points of view simultaneously “in an attempt to show several kinds of space.”
Isaacs’s success as an artist has afforded him a lifestyle of which he is appreciative, and he donates a portion of his earnings to local causes and global humanitarian efforts. “It remains as essential to my life as an artist,” he says, “as are my paint and canvas.”