Other Worlds



THE CANVAS-October 2010

by Annaliese Jakimides

Robert Van Vranken, Nicole Duennebier, & Alison Hildreth

“With our thoughts we make the world.”
Gautama Siddhartha

Untitled (Gulf of Alaska), 2008, oil and paper on board, 37” x 42”


There is no mistaking a Robert Van Vranken. One could say it is the material, the handling, the inscrutable detail, or the compellingly old-world palette that feels as if it has lifted the past—its history, complexity, emotional tenor—and created a vision of a future filled with real possibility. And it is all of that, but what cinches it is the “voice” of the painting—and the invitation to enter that the voice extends. You cannot refuse.

Van Vranken begins with nautical charts, maps, which he glues onto plywood, followed by perhaps fifty layers of polyurethane and oil paint thinned with linseed oil—and detail upon detail upon detail.

He says he has always had an eye for maps—“not for their content but for their graphic quality.” For Untitled (Gulf of Alaska), he found a map with “this wonderful bowl, like a swoop—looking at it upside down—and it felt to me like it wanted to be filled up.” And so for the next six months he did just that.

Each piece, he says, is informed by everything around him. Like his powerful spoken-word work, inclusivity is at the core.
Today, Van Vranken works in a new studio he built on his property in Brunswick after the first was consumed by fire in 2004. It’s a “refuge, a safe place,” he says. “To do this kind of work, I need a refuge from the craziness of this world.” And so he lives and works off the grid at the end of a dirt road. He can see the ocean through the trees.

“The process,” he says, “is filled with graceful accidents. But what’s key is to be comfortable in daily uncertainty. There is nothing extra that you need to know. Trust your own experience—it is exactly right.”

Untitled (Gulf of Alaska), 2008, oil and paper on board, 37” x 42”




Nicole Duennebier’s paintings continue to confirm her self-observation that, as an artist, she is “most interested by things hidden and unknowable.” Yet within the unknowable terrain she explores is a crystalline world of remarkable clarity and light—whether she is creating her small, precise paintings or her recent larger ones that reflect her interest “in fragmented space and violent explosions that are illustrated without literal movement.”

“Working on this painting,” she says, “I was consciously trying to break up my mark, which is generally very detailed and hesitant. All my painting previously had more to do with the very slow or stagnant. I wanted to paint something with nauseating movement. At the time I had been thinking about the way carnivals look at night, but also experimenting with different ways of representing a fast-moving swarm—a swarm that is molding the form within by the force of its own frenzy.”

When Duennebier begins a painting, she has an understanding of how she wants everything to move—“the turning, twisting, jumping”—but currently she is trying to allow more accidents to occur, employing tricks, she says, to take away the control she craves, and push her to work with things that make her uncomfortable, like sharper angles and the color blue. “I have an aversion to certain colors. Absolutely, blue is the hardest. I consciously went into Blue Orange Spinner intending to explore this movement through what I consider an unpalatable palette.”

She is surprised by the variety of things that inspire her, including design elements such as book covers and graffiti, which she sees daily on her commute to work. “I am jealous of their line, their control,” she says. No need for jealousy—Duennebier’s young hand has, for a long time, displayed extreme control, shaping luminescent worlds of meditative precision.

Blue Orange Spinner, 2008, acrylic on panel, 36” x 24”


hildreth-passagesAlison Hildreth had just finished a group of oils and watercolors when she moved into the Passages series, of which there are approximately fifty, all of different sizes and materials—she categorizes them as drawings. “I become obsessed by one medium. I go until I just stop, and I have exhausted the investigation,” she explains. And Hildreth’s investigations delve deeply into a broad range of media: printmaking, painting, drawings, and installations. She often works in series: Metamorphosis, Long Lines, Poor Farm, Fragments, Passages.

Lightness floats through all her work, ephemeral and yet weighty. In Passages #1, like in the rest of the series, we know we are somewhere—not necessarily a somewhere we know, but a somewhere we could know, or that we might know without knowing we do. The world Hildreth renders might even exist within us. No matter—the punctuation of the marks, the bold ink, insist we focus and read on.
“I have an idea where I am going,” Hildreth says, “and I do exert a certain amount of control, but I stay open to possibility because a lot of unexpected things just happen in the way I work.”

She is reluctant to do much more than title and categorize her work. “It’s awfully hard to talk about your own work,” she says. “You’re so enmeshed in it. I don’t want to be secretive, but I don’t want to mislead anybody. I want people to find their own story in the work.”

Hildreth works every day, in the barn at her place on Vinalhaven if she is there, but most of her days are spent in her spacious studio in the Bakery Studios in Portland, where, she says, a collaborative energy permeates the building. “I love to go to my studio,” she says. “I’d love to stay there.”

Passages #1, 2006, graphite, pen, pencil, and watercolor on Japanese paper, 18” x 22”

Share The Inspiration