THE CANVAS- May 2010 | by Suzette McAvoy
Ingrid Ellison, Mary Barnes & John Knight
“The beautiful is in nature, and it is encountered under the most diverse forms of reality. Once it is found it belongs to art, or rather to the artist who discovers it.” -Gustave Courbet
Mary Barnes, Aquatic Edge, 2009, graphite, ink on Mylar and paper, 22″ x 22”, private collection
Defining The Edge
I have always been intrigued with the edge,” says artist Mary Barnes. “Where the land meets the sea, where the pond’s edge meets the sky.” This fascination with the edge—with the line of demarcation that separates places, experiences, and the visual field—informs Barnes’s approach to her art. In several recent works, including Aquatic Edge, the artist references the division of earth and sky, land and water. While these observable divisions are found in nature, her work also implies the unseen line separating the known and unknown worlds.
“It is reverence for Nature that binds my art,” she says. “I gain spiritual and emotional resolve from the experience and the disbelief of such beauty.” Her deep appreciation for nature began in childhood with visits to her grandmother on Mount Desert Island. “I have roamed the shores of the Maine coast since the early 1950s,” she says. The pleasures of immersing herself in the physical environment—swimming, hiking, and sailing—are not only activities that she relishes to this day, they are experiences that have shaped her unique aesthetic.
“Each abstraction is a dialogue between memory and imagination that I venture to share,” she says. In Aquatic Edge, her playful yet sophisticated handling of imagery and materials is readily evident. Filling the top and bottom of the composition are stacked and graduated lozenge shapes; those in the lower half are grass green, while those above are a watery blue. A band of spiky grasses drawn in water-soluble graphite pencil on Mylar is literally stitched across the center of the supporting paper. By slightly extending the Mylar strip beyond the edges of the paper, the artist subtly questions the definition of the “edge” and suggests variable interpretations of its meaning.
Barnes’s nuanced attention to her surroundings is conveyed in her sensitively conceived and constructed images. “I relish intuition, cherish spontaneity, and strive for beauty,” she says—admirable goals that are reflected in her art.
Mary Barnes holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her work has been shown in solo and invitational group exhibitions throughout the northeast and in Oregon. She lives in Sedgwick and is represented by Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle.
Ingrid Ellison, When the Bough Breaks, 2009, oil on panel, 14” x 14”
One of artist Ingrid Ellison’s earliest childhood memories of Maine is of floating in a small sloop “amidst the fog and rocks of the coastline.” Faint traces of this memory seem to linger in her lush, evocative paintings. Throughout her work, patterns and forms derived from nature appear to float above and below the two-dimensional surface of her compositions. Building up her images gradually, in many successive layers, Ellison says, “It is a quiet meditation to paint in such a slow, methodical way.”
A passionate gardener, in springtime Ellison finds herself torn between the studio and the allure of her garden. “This is the time of year when I feel most productive and also most distracted,” she says. “When I’m in my studio I think of being in the garden. And when I’m in the garden I think of being in the studio. Luckily they are right next to each other, so I can easily go back and forth.”
While moving between the exterior and interior worlds in her life, Ellison finds a harmony between the two realms in her paintings. In works such as when the bough breaks, she strikes a poetic balance between visual elements of the natural world and organic designs imagined by the artist. Leaf shapes and unique forms reminiscent of seed pods or cell structures mingle with patterns that evoke rock formations or perhaps ice breaking up on the surface of a stream. The whites, blues, and greens that color the composition conjure the merging of sky, water, and land. When viewed with the title in mind, the small, stitchlike marks scattered across the painting’s lower quadrant suggest leaves carried on a current of wind.
Reflecting nature’s aesthetics, Ellison’s painted abstractions are potent visual metaphors—treasured moments available to every attentive and contemplative observer of the world.
Ingrid Ellison was born in Boston and moved to Maine in 2007. She is a graduate of Skidmore College and earned her MFA from American University. She spent a year studying printmaking at Il Bisonte, an international graphic arts workshop in Florence, Italy. Ellison currently lives in Camden and is represented by Aarhus Gallery in Belfast.
John Knight, Queen Anne’s Lace, 2005, oil on canvas, 40” x 40”, private collection
Harmony of Forms
Artist John Knight finds beauty and strength in the humblest of plants. For the past several years, he has been painting common weeds in their natural environments, reveling in their “ignored splendor” and ability to thrive. “I have let these often small weeds become monumental in my paintings,” he says, “running the whole vertical length of my canvases, uniting the solid ground below with the atmosphere above.” In this way, the plants depicted in Knight’s paintings serve as conduits between the earth and sky—stalwart testaments to the interconnectedness of all things.
Throughout the series, the principal motif is a single plant, enlarged in scale and positioned in the foreground of the composition. In Queen Anne’s Lace, the doily-shaped white blossom with tiny blood-red center—its delicate appearance belying its innate strength and invasive nature—is positioned front and center. In contrast to the flattened, abstract landscape forms that surround it, the plant is rendered with specificity and naturalistic detail. By conferring visual status to his modest subject, the artist draws our attention to the often overlooked, reminding us that beauty is subjective and that what endures is not always the most powerful, but sometimes the most tenacious.
Knight frequently hikes along the shore or through the fields and woods of southern Maine, where he currently lives, in search of subjects for his art. While his images are rooted in direct observation, he also draws inspiration from remembered sensations and memories of past places. “Back in my studio,” he says, “I try to generate the sense I experienced standing or painting with my easel planted in a large outdoor space—with the ground sweeping up under my feet and clouds rushing overhead. I try to get back to experiences I have had walking in certain outdoor spaces and being struck by a feeling of harmony in the forms surrounding me.”
John Knight holds an MFA from American University, a BFA from Indiana University, and has completed additional studies in Florence and Perugia, Italy. He was the Maine Arts Commission 2007 Fellow in Visual Arts and in 2004 was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is represented by Elizabeth Moss Gallery in Falmouth and Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth.