CRAFT OF MAINE-April 2010
by Suzette McAvoy
Sara Crisp, Meg Brown Payson & Penelope Jones
“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” -Henry Miller
Sara Crisp, Untitled (Wheel-Leaf), 2008, encaustic, lotus, ligularia leaf, mica on wood panel, 36” x 36”
Microcosms of the Macro
Snake ribs, beetle wings, tulip petals, a yellow rose—these are just a few of the natural objects embedded within artist Sara Crisp’s exquisite encaustic paintings. Encaustic is an ancient painting technique that fuses powdered pigments with hot wax. The method allows Crisp to build up the translucent surfaces of her paintings slowly, one thin layer upon the next. This painstaking process confers a textured and seemingly time-worn quality to her hauntingly beautiful compositions.
Each wood panel on which Crisp begins her work contains a small central opening—a treasure box for a special found object, which is then preserved behind a thin, delicate sheet of mica, like an insect trapped in amber. A passionate gardener, Crisp often includes petals or stamens from plants she has grown, or bits of insects and animal bones she has collected on walks in the woods or by the sea. “I choose these elements as I choose all aspects of my paintings: for their meanings and their beauty,” she says. “Inherent in my work are the themes of transformation and interconnectedness, which are part of being a mother, a partner and a member of the human family present on this Earth.”
The microcosm of Crisp’s created world suggests the power and magnitude of the macrocosm in which we live. In Untitled (Wheel-Leaf), a fan-shaped ligularia leaf is contained within a shallow square opening and surrounded by interlocking circles formed by a lotus leaf. As in all of the artist’s work, the symbolic references inherent in this deceptively simple arrangement are complex and deeply reflective. Traditionally, the circle is the shape assigned to the Heavens and the square to Earth; when united, they imply the merging of Spirit and Matter. The brownish-red ligularia placed within the golden-yellow circle underscores this interpretation, suggesting a human heart in accord with the spiritual sphere of heaven.
Sara Crisp is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and currently resides in Cumberland. Her work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in New York City and throughout New England. In 2008, she participated in the Virginia Center for the Arts international residency program in Auvillar, France. She is represented by June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland and Denise Bibro Fine Arts in New York City.
Meg Brown Payson, Frost/pause, 2008, acrylic on panel, 30” x 30”; courtesy of Walker Fine Art
Meg Brown Payson is a lifelong resident of the Maine coast and a frequent traveler to the canyons and deserts of the American Southwest. Her great affection for these disparate landscapes is a central catalyst for her art. Wrestling with the reconciliation of opposing forces—known and unknown, familiar and strange, fluid and static—is a foundation of her approach to painting.
“I am fascinated by the human need to construct order in a world filled with too much information,” she says. “At the core of this interest is a love for one deeply familiar landscape, refreshed and illuminated by adventures in radically unfamiliar ones, and by a profound concern for the frequent dislocation of human culture from its place on a wild Earth.”
Payson begins her radiant, abstract compositions by pouring, dripping, scraping, and blotting paint onto panels laid flat on a tabletop.
Approaching the painting from all sides, she both builds up and erodes the surface as she works. From this seemingly arbitrary and random application process, the artist manipulates her materials to create a coherent and balanced image. Floating forms and fluid ribbons of paint swirl and coalesce, suggesting the harmonic moments of our ever-changing world. “That each new painting emerges from the same chaotic conditions speaks to me of the unpredictable complexity and instability of meaningful order in the world, but also of the inevitable, if temporary, moment of finding it,” she says.
The titles of Payson’s works—such as Frost/pause, Bud/bone, Pine/tide—provide evidence of their origins in nature and her fondness for dualities. Her primary palette of watery blues, deep greens, soft pinks, warm yellows, and ocher reinforce a sense of connection to the natural landscape. Evoking the woods and shoreline of Maine and the colors and landforms of the Southwest, Payson creates “new worlds, unmoored in space and impossible to narrate.”
Meg Brown Payson earned an MFA from Vermont College and a BFA from Boston University School of the Arts. She has exhibited widely in New England and New York City, including at the University of Maine Museum of Art, the Portland Museum of Art, the ICA at Maine College of Art, and the DeCordova Museum. She lives in Freeport and is represented by Walker Contemporary in Boston.
Penelope Jones, Coyle, 2005, casein on paper, 5.5” x 4.5”
Precision and Spontaneity
Artist Penelope Jones creates small-scale geometric abstractions that reward close investigation. Their intimate dimensions—sometimes, as with Coyle, only slightly more than four by five inches—invite the viewer to draw near, revealing subtle nuances in color, line, and surface. Disarmingly personal, these petite, luminous compositions blend geometric simplicity with visual complexity. Their formats, while unified and contained, imply infinite variation and repetition beyond their boundaries.
“When I paint,” says the artist, “I have a need to be both precise and spontaneous in my mark-making.” The effort required to strike a balance between these two seemingly antithetical approaches is a challenge she relishes during the creation of her art. While she loves “hard-edged lines and structures,” she is simultaneously “attracted to the playful and at times happy accidents that occur in moving paint around.”
References to architectural details, decorative tiles, Renaissance paintings, and ornamental designs from many cultures abound in these small works. Traditional Islamic design elements are particularly prominent. Islamic patterns typically begin with a central circle surrounded by six others from which endless derivations can be formed, signifying the infinite and the omnipresent. “I find these designs to be beautiful and ingenious in their use of shape variation, geometry, and repetition,” says Jones.
In Coyle, the dominant design of the upper square was inspired by a stained-glass window spotted by the artist in her Portland neighborhood. The lower pattern of crossed lines suggests the ubiquitous lattice fencing used in gardens. As Jones began working with this pattern, she became interested in “what could be seen through the lattice, how it overlapped, and how it defined planes and created boundaries.” Color is also important to her, and her choices “are often informed by natural phenomena such as the play of light and color within cloud formations or the effects of weather on landscape.”
Within the borders of her imagined realms, Jones intimates the larger world that is the source of their inspiration.
Penelope Jones lives in Portland and for the past twelve years has been a lecturer in fine arts at Bates College in Lewiston. She received her BFA from Maine College of Art in 1984 and an MFA from Cornell University in 1986. Her work has been exhibited frequently throughout Maine and in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. She is represented by Susan Maasch Fine Art in Portland.