The House as Painterly Opportunity

Out Back, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 16" x 20"
Paul V. Bonneau 

Ocean House, Port Clyde, 2010, oil on panel, 24.5" x 27.75"
Peter Poskas 

Monhegan Lighthouse with Black Pickup, 2011, oil on linen, 12" x 12"
Collection of Ann Page and Rick Stecker 
Mary Alice Treworgy 

THE CANVAS – November, 2012
by Britta Konau

Exploring the symbolism of houses in the works of Paul V. Bonneau, Peter Poskas, and Mary Alice Treworgy.  


The shape, color, location, and symbolism of houses—and buildings more generally—offer the possibility of a variety of aesthetic responses. Paul V. Bonneau, Peter Poskas, and Mary Alice Treworgy highlight their individual styles by addressing painterly treatment, emotional content, and atmospheric and coloristic mood very differently. Their divergent styles are especially striking in the selection of images featured here, and because the houses share significant formal similarities, the paintings become variations on a familiar theme.

Paul V. Bonneau

Out Back, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 16″ x 20″

Paul V. Bonneau grew up in Massachusetts and took classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Heartwood College of Art in Kennebunk, among others. In 2011 he was awarded first place in the Impressionism Landscape category by the jurors of the American Art Award. Bonneau’s work was included in the 2006 exhibition Masters of Watercolor at the New Bedford Art Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He contributes to many local benefit auctions and has been juried into numerous shows throughout Maine. He is represented by Flat Iron Gallery in Portland and the Mast Cove Galleries in Kennebunkport.

Bonneau paints landscapes and built environments such as houses, harbors, and highways—subjects that allow him to incorporate history and man-made structures in a natural context without having to include actual people. Working en plein air and in the studio from sketches and photographs, Bonneau creates works that appear to have been quickly painted, which is due in part to his working method. Bonneau starts with a canvas toned in yellow ochre, onto which he applies a thin cadmium-red underpainting, establishing the relative lightness or darkness of all big shapes. This process also gives his finished paintings a warm glow. The colors he uses to describe a scene are not necessarily those he sees. Instead, Bonneau attempts “to heighten the experience of the viewer” and “increase the joy even an ordinary object can create.”

It is Bonneau’s penchant for compelling color and light relationships that draws him to paint architecture. The simple, concrete shapes of houses and barns are often defined through strong contrasts of light and shadow—an approach that justifies the artist’s intensification of color.

As much as he manipulates color, Bonneau does not hide his brushstrokes—a technique that displays his admiration for the work of John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) and Winslow Homer (1836–1910). In Bonneau’s simple rural scene titled Out Back, field and trees are constructed out of clearly visible strokes. The three buildings are attached to each other in the typical New England style of home expansion, which provides the artist with an extended horizontal focal point framed by trees at the painting’s edges. The sun throws strong shadows across the building, and its warmth can almost be felt. “My narratives are not complicated,” says Bonneau. “I am looking for what is universal.”

Peter Poskas

Ocean House, Port Clyde, 2010, oil on panel, 24½” x 27¾”

Peter Poskas switched from studying forestry and wildlife management to art when he realized that he was more interested in the aesthetics of trees. He divided his years of training among the Paier School of Art in New Haven (now the Paier College of Art in Hamden), the Hartford Art School in West Hartford, Connecticut (where he received a BA), and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Poskas has had solo exhibitions at several museums, including the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University and the William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Public collections that hold his paintings include the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Poskas is represented by Haynes Galleries in Thomaston and the Spanierman Gallery in New York.

To convey his strong sense of connection to place and people, Poskas returns to a painting location during different seasons, times of the day, and light conditions. In Connecticut, where he lives, Poskas focuses on old farms that support a traditional life of self-reliance. In Maine, which he has been visiting since 1962, Poskas is inspired by the sea and the fishermen who depend on it for their hard-earned living. At the same time he pays close attention to atmospheric changes of light. “I arrange my life to both anticipate the light and be open to its surprises and revelations,” the artist explains. On his annual trip to Monhegan Island, Poskas has passed the houses depicted in Ocean House, Port Clyde for about 20 years, until one day the light and atmosphere were just right for him. What caught his eye was the way the light reflected by the ocean cast the scene in a hazy palette.

Having built several houses, Poskas has gained an understanding of architecture and structure that enables him to envision the main house in this painting in an earlier state, before recent renovations. The artist has taken other liberties as well. The entrance to the house is on the side with the small addition where in reality there is a sidewalk, and the house of the painting’s title is actually the blue one in the right background. The painting’s low vantage point, strategically divided horizontal composition, and exaggerated perspective create pictorial drama and recall techniques employed by Edward Hopper (1882–1967), an artist Poskas greatly admires.

In Maine, Poskas takes large numbers of slide photographs, and for a single painting he may refer to dozens of them. “I try to remain true to the subject and strive for authenticity,” the artist explains, even though he does not shy away from making adjustments for a stronger effect. Poskas is fascinated by the fact that the old Connecticut farms and Maine houses he depicts have been generations in the making. “I am bearing witness to the marks of the people who farm the land and the sea,” he says.

Mary Alice Treworgy

Monhegan Lighthouse with Black Pickup, 2011, oil on linen, 12″ x 12″

Collection of Ann Page and Rick Stecker Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mary Alice Treworgy received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. After several years of working as a commercial artist, Treworgy started taking studio classes at Bowdoin College and, later, at the University of Southern Maine and the Maine College of Art. Her paintings were included in three biennial exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art and two at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Her work is in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art and was featured in the 2004 book The Art of Monhegan Island by Carl Little. Treworgy is represented by the Lupine Gallery on Monhegan Island and the Summer Island Studio Gallery of Fine Artisans in Brunswick.

Treworgy thinks she has always been an artist. “The only thing I did well as a child was drawing,” the artist recalls. “It was inevitable that I’d become an artist.” In fact, her mother preserved two large paintings of buildings she made in kindergarten. And today she is still painting buildings.

What draws Treworgy to edifices is the geometry of their architecture. While basing her paintings on actual buildings and sites, Treworgy concentrates on only the most significant shapes, thus elevating her views to an elegant, abstracted, and non-prosaic level. She shares this approach with American Precisionist artists, who flourished between the two World Wars and painted the emerging industrial structures as sharply defined forms. However, Treworgy herself learned about Precisionism only after she had developed her own style.

Her focus on stark forms is softened by the subtle color values she carefully chooses for their harmonic or contrasting effect, and by the flattened pictorial space within which it is happening. While her style may look coolly cerebral, Treworgy is deeply and emotionally engaged in her slow and meticulous working process. “I am trying to capture the essence of the place,” says the artist. It is no wonder, then, that on average Treworgy executes only four paintings every year.

Monhegan Island Light is one of the artist’s favorite subjects. Fascinated by the relationship of volumes and angles to one another, in Monhegan Lighthouse with Black Pickup she renders the adjacent buildings volumetrically, yet without an attempt at illusionism. Utilizing unmodulated planes of color, the painting displays no differentiation between sky and ground—all is a uniform gray—and all the roofs are rendered in the same terra-cotta red. In this severely restricted palette, the black truck stands out. Its tailgate logo constitutes the only element one could call a detail in this pared down yet highly sophisticated painting.