The Month of Expectation
THE CANVAS-March 2009
by Suzette McAvoy
Susan Headley van Campen, Monica Kelly & T. Allen Lawson
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period—
When March is scarcely here
Hints of warmer days
Emily Dickinson called March “the month of expectation,” and we sense some of this seasonal anticipation in artist Susan Headley van Campen’s small painting, Arborvitae and Half-Inch Snow, March 24. Executed quickly on site, the artist perfectly captures the peculiar light of early spring, that wan yellow that hints of warmer days to come.
She says, “This oil was painted out back in our garden just after a light snow; the sky was pale yellow. The end of March is when the air is getting a little warmer and it’s not so numbing to stand outside in the snow and try to concentrate. I am a firm believer in sitting, standing, and breathing right in the landscape as I paint.”
Van Campen is perhaps best known for her exquisite, precisely rendered watercolor paintings. These often feature simple still-life arrangements of seasonal flowers, selected from her extensive gardens. “I like to paint what I see that strikes me at the moment,” she says, “things that don’t last long—like flowers and skies, water, the sunrise, clouds, approaching storms, a dandelion, an open tulip just before the petals fall off, a poppy bud before it bursts—as simple as possible, without laboring. I am trying to capture the color and shape the first time, that’s all.”
In contrast to her still lifes, van Campen’s landscape paintings are smaller in scale and more loosely painted, yet are no less assured in their technique. Their rapid execution allows her to catch the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere, the very essence of her aesthetic approach. “When working inside on my much larger watercolor still-life paintings, I’m usually also watching outside for some special moment of light or weather…my paints at the ready by the barn door. It’s very instantaneous and a challenge to grab for it.” It’s a challenge van Campen embraces and at which she excels.
Susan Headley van Campen and her husband, Tim, who is also an accomplished artist, live in Thomaston, where they exhibit their work in the Van Campen Gallery on Oyster River Road. Susan is also represented by Dowling Walsh in Rockland and Hirschl & Adler Modern in New York City. She is a graduate of Moore College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Multiple sensory pleasures
Over the past ten years, Monica Kelly, an artist known for her paintings of luminous skies and atmospheric landscapes, has been steadily adding one or two new works each year to an ongoing series collectively called Fragrant Portals. As the evocative title implies, there is the suggestion of multiple sensory pleasures imbued in each of these small-scale works.
In Fragrant Portals #13, as in others in the series, the sky is filled with the notes of a musical score, providing visual energy through the symbolic evocation of sound. Kelly is a serious amateur pianist, and music plays an important role in her life and art. “I listen to specific pieces of music while I am working that are carefully chosen for their mood, instrumentation, and emotional qualities,” she says. “The piece of music in this painting is by Chopin—one of his Ballades for piano.”
While all of Kelly’s work references landscape, it is always approached from an abstract perspective rather than from visual perception. She uses naturalistic elements—such as skies, trees, and horizon lines—in service to her own poetic interpretations of imaginary scenes. “Monica Kelly’s allusive landscapes are fugitive and provocative,” writes art critic Phillip Isaacson. “They require the viewer to penetrate near abstraction and to supply the details.”
Beautiful surfaces are a hallmark of Kelly’s paintings. In the Fragrant Portals series, she begins her process by attaching the musical score to the gessoed panel with rabbit-skin glue. She then begins painting, building up the surface through thin, successive layers, and selectively sanding certain areas to bring the music back into view. In this example, she says, “I hoped to convey a view into a vast space, a distant horizon line and a changing sky—the scent of recent rainfall.”
Monica Kelly lives in Thomaston and is represented by Greenhut Galleries in Portland. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and received her master’s of fine arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art’s painting program in Lacoste, France. She completed her undergraduate work in visual arts at Bowdoin College, where she studied with Joseph Nicoletti and Thomas Cornell.
A Closer Inspection
A consummate landscape painter, T. Allen Lawson’s work is distinguished by a lyrical quietude and a deep respect for the art of the past. His work has garnered him national praise and attention, including his selection as the artist for the 2008 White House Christmas card. While his art has taken him throughout this country and across three continents, he continues to find inspiration close to his Rockport home.
In Dooryard, an oil painting from 2005, the subject is a farmhouse along the Duck Trap River, north of Lincolnville Beach. A light blanket of fresh snow confers a subtle beauty on the otherwise ordinary scene. “I was instantly struck by the neutral gray-white of the house as it was seen against the cool snow and how the snow played against the warm lemon-yellow sky,” Lawson says. “As with many scenes, the more you look the more interesting it becomes.”
Closer inspection discloses the complexity of the composition’s underlying geometric structure. The diagonals of the lattice lead the eye to the vertical rectangle of the door, where the walkway and handrail create a visual bridge to the dark upright of the tree, which in turn balances the strong horizontal bands of small, square windows. A broad range of whites adds richness to the nearly monochrome palette. “From an abstract aspect,” says the artist, “I tried to convey as many whites as I could as they related to each other—the house to the snow, the propane tank to the house, etc.”
An extended look also reveals the painting’s details—the birds in the branches of the tree and those gathering seeds at its base, the frost patterns on the windows to the right contrasted against the bare windows to the left where the building is unheated, and in the corner, a push-mower awaits, a lone harbinger of impending spring.
For more information, see Resources on page 88.
T. Allen Lawson studied painting at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art in Connecticut, the American Academy of Art in Chicago, and the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. His work has been featured in one-man shows in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. Tim is represented by Ten High Street gallery in Camden and by Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe.