Linda Packard, Kathi J. Smith, and Milena Banks paint with vigor. Their fluid brushstrokes convey the emotion and energy of moments in nature, impressions captured in colorful paintings alive with spontaneity.
The natural beauty of New England is Packard’s primary subject. Her approach to landscapes is to seek out the details. “I’m drawn to small and ordinary elements in nature, intimate views more than sweeping vistas,” she says. The “visceral experience” of working en plein air allows her to “respond to the smells, sounds, and feelings in the air,” she says. “I’m much more interested in expressing how the place feels to me than describing how it looks.” Her process “is as much about manipulating the paint—rubbing out, scraping, scratching, and other kinds of reductive mark-making—as it is about what I’m observing.” The resulting images are “grounded in landscape but evolve toward abstraction.”
Embracing the Moment was painted at Sand Beach in Stonington, a special place for Packard. She had been painting there all day, but a scene across the cove caught her eye as she was preparing to leave. The reflection of the trees on the water juxtaposed with the rose-gold hue of the rocks sparked her imagination. The light and tide were changing the elements quickly, so she approached the piece as she would a quick sketch. “I focused only on the elements of intense interest at that moment,” she says. Delighted with the results, she decided not to do any further work on the painting. “It remains just as it was when I left the beach—all about the experience,” she explains. Embracing the Moment is aptly named, as its serendipitous creation is evident in the vibrancy of the colors and fluid brushwork.
Kathi J. Smith
Smith paints landscapes primarily outside, carefully observing the “color nuances, space, and light” of her subjects in the field before returning to the studio for finishing. Smith notes the balance between “close observation and abstraction” in her work. “I use color, texture, surface, and light to evoke memories and sensations I have about any specific space,” she explains. “These qualities become descriptors of place, and my selected subjects host narratives that are both personal and universal.” Her recent work expands on this idea, focusing on “the role of landscapes in developing a sense of self,” she says.
Searching out those narratives within the landscape often leads Smith to quieter, more intimate locales. For example, Home Sweet Home depicts her childhood house, looking up from the perspective of a small child. “I was interested in revisiting this space visually, particularly because it was my window to the world for all of my childhood,” she explains. Her loose brushwork and her choice to partially obscure the house with a veil of leafy trees lend an abstract quality. Subtle touches of red pop against rich greens; the palette has the feeling of a warm, carefree summertime afternoon. A moment with Home Sweet Home conjures a nostalgia for childhood and simpler times.
Art and the smell of linseed oil have a lovely association for me,” says Banks, who recalls being immersed in painting from a young age. Her grandmother took her to the ateliers of well-known artists in Belgrade, and her parents would take her on weekly trips to a museum. “My father told me stories, too, and as he did, he would sketch out the animals and characters,” she says. “Storytelling and pictures always went together in my mind.” Early on, Banks became enamored with writing, which led her to pen her novel. Years later, while living in Tokyo, Japan, she started painting. Her style has evolved over the years, but her passion for the materiality of painting has been a constant. “I find color poignant, full of flavor,” she says, also noting the appealing sensuality of thick layers of oil paint, which she builds up on the canvas using robust impasto. “Every time I see my riot of colored paint tubes I’m thrilled to get started with my brushes, photographing moments in my mind and transforming them into paint,” she says. Her lush landscapes represent an “escape from verbiage” into a realm of “simple, evocative forms and colors.”
Apple Blossom Road “is inspired by Van Gogh, and the apple trees themselves,” explains Banks. Her lively brushwork echoes the impressionist style of the Dutch master, but her soft palette has a uniquely luminous quality. Blushing pinks and leafy greens evoke the sweet floral essence of fragrant apple blossoms. The pale blue sky embellished with breeze-blown wisps of cloud further enhances the painting’s atmosphere. The trees are drawn with personality, posed by the painter’s hand “like ballet dancers,” says Banks of one of her favorite subjects. “Sometimes trees have nothing to say, and it’s only the way light falls on them that makes you stop and say ‘wow.’ Other times, all their leaves are gone and you see a fascinating gesture in a branch.” Banks prefers subjects with character, prizing distinctiveness over conventional beauty. “Ordinary reserved beauty doesn’t offer up a challenge,” she says. “There is no flaw in it.”