White Pine 50”x36” oil on linen 2019
Normally a reasonably articulate person, I go numb and dumb when someone asks me to describe my painting. Most of the words I manage to sputter are generic descriptions that could apply to anyone’s paintings – strong color, lots of movement and an abstracted view of nature. For someone who actually makes paintings, I failed to paint any kind of picture.
But a couple of years ago in a class I taught at the Providence Art Club, a fellow painter and student gave me the words I needed to evoke the feeling of my work. He told me my paintings reminded him of the jungles in the movie Avatar.
I pooh-poohed the description at first, but I’ve come to embrace it. My painting is an exaggerated view of nature. The colors are both saturated and subtle, the lines move like vines through the picture plane and the work is a wild interpretation of a land without human beings.
Now when I tell people what I do, they don’t just look at me politely and change the subject, they seem genuinely interested. Thank you Bob!
This Is My World, 36″‘x50″ oil on linen 2019
Trees have been in the news of late. Swiss scientists published the results of a study that states planting a trillion trees will go a long way to help solve global warming. Not long after, Ethiopians planted 353 million trees in one 12-hour period. The Ethiopian military delivered the saplings for the population to plant. It was an effort to reforest the country and bring a divisive nation together.
I’ve done my part. In the four decades Ken and I have lived in Providence, we’ve planted more than 35 trees. Our city lot may only be a quarter of an acre, but it is a veritable forest of hawthorns, Japanese maples, Cedar of Lebanon, acacia, amur cork, and quaking aspens. A tree I love – a chokecherry – was a gift from a bird. (They eat the fruit but can’t digest the seeds.)
Trees don’t live forever – there are always losses. We woke one morning to find our 30-foot Blue Atlas cedar on it’s side, a victim of high winds. It took down a fence and damaged a weeping cherry. Gypsy moths have done severe damage to the tree population in our state. You can’t help but see the skeletons, bleached grey and leafless, interspersed among the living trees. Forest fires ravage large swatches of land all over the globe. even now they burn in the Amazon rain forest.
Plant a tree. Plant two. It’s a promise to the future and a way to ensure the planet survives with its beauty intact.
The Yellow Garden Hose June 2019
This July Aunt Vicky turned 101, a milestone no one would have predicted. She’s lost much – her voice a hoarse undecipherable whisper, her memories jumbled and short-lived. Her sole method of transportation is a wheel chair. For a dozen years Hallworth House has been her home and when I visit I’m not even sure if she knows who I am, just a familiar sight that appears periodically, unannounced and unanticipated.
The other day I caught a glimpse of the woman I once knew. We were looking at the newspaper, she reading the headlines (miraculously she needs no glasses) and me trying to find stories and pictures I know she would like. There was a front page article on the Bristol Art Museum and she saw it. Vicky looked at me and pointed to the word “art.” She did it a few times, making sure I saw the article and understood that somewhere in her mind she still knows who I am and what I do.
If years can coalesce into a single moment, they did so that day- a collage of memories of the good and bad times we shared. We are vastly different women living dissimilar lives, but we share the same fierce fighting spirit that makes us never even consider letting go.
“It’s Not a Giraffe,” 36”x50” oil on linen 2019
When I’m in my studio or in my garden, I’m blissfully unaware of what other people think of me and my paintings. But step outside, even for a minute to check my email or to walk the dog, and there it is, someone’s opinion floating about ready to disturb my peace of mind.
Disciplined and perfectionist are two words I hear a lot. These words are foreign to me and how I think of myself. I tend to throw paint on a canvas to see if it works. If it doesn’t, I wipe it off and try again. Over and over and over. I think my whole creative thought process can be distilled into two words, “why not?” Too often our inner critic voices an objection before we can even try something. I try not to listen to the doubter inside me, but to look as objectively as I can.
Does that sound disciplined? Or like a perfectionist? It’s true I’m in my studio almost daily and it’s equally true I work on a painting for months until I get what I want. But to me that’s just being mule-headed and stubborn. Those are words I know and understand. Those are words that I think describe me to a tee. If my mother was still with us, she’d agree.
No Straight Lines 50″x36″ 2019 by Paula Martiesian
I’m happiest in my studio. It’s both a safe cocoon and a creative laboratory that allows me to experiment with almost anything. There are no computers or cell phones to bother me and my mind wanders free, unencumbered with to-do lists or appointments. My dog is my most frequent companion and the sole intruder. She brings in a parade of toys until she finds one that entices me to play with her.
This painting, No Straight Lines, is from a view out my studio window. The windows are north-facing and sit high above the floor. I have to climb up on a wooden flat file to see outside. Often, the view is spectacular providing inspiration for several of my paintings, including this one.
Paulownia, the Princess Tree 2016 36”x50”
It’s no secret that I paint slowly. I compare my painting method to a child’s progress wandering down a street, stopping every few feet to turn over some odd rock or explore someone else’s yard. That’s how I paint. An idea pops into my head and I follow it until it concludes, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Despite the frequent detours, my final paintings look surprisingly like the original concepts that inspired them.
Paulownia, the Princess Tree is one of my favorite trees and the subject of the painting pictured above. It’s considered a weed tree in America, but is a valued specimen tree in its native China. In its youth, the tree is often confused with a catalpa as the leaves are similar, but the blossoms and seeds pods are quite different.
I love the perfume of the beautiful lavender flowers and the seedpods that look like a distant cousin to kiwi fruit. The young wood is hollow and breaks easily. The resulting wounds and scars left on the tree bark intrigue me and were the basis for the painting.
The scarred trunk looked very much like a pen-and-ink drawing and I wanted to capture that feeling and contrast it with the vibrant landscape surrounding it. Originally I had hoped to paint the tree in shades of black, white and grey, but that idea didn’t work – the tree stood out too much from the rest of the painting. I wandered around exploring different solutions until I finally added some muted greens, mauve and soft browns to the tree.
“The Wire” 36”x50” 2018
The windows in my studio are high and north-facing. I can’t actually see the street, but I can see the sky and the top of my neighbor’s maple tree. That maple has starred in several of my paintings over the years.
The latest iteration highlights a telephone wire that divides the canvas. I rarely paint manufactured things – grids and straight lines irritate and seem to me entirely artificial. But the wire called and I could see that it was actually made up of several wrapped and angular cables. The contrast between the wire, the clouds, the sky and the tree just beginning to leaf out intrigued me, a siren’s song of inspiration.
I worked on the painting on and off for months. It wasn’t an easy painting, it seemed to fight me every step of the way. And then one day, I realized what I had been doing wrong – I had localized the color in the tree, isolating it from the rest of the painting. It’s important that every element works in concert. Color, composition, movement. Finally they did.
A long lost portrait of Ken circa 1974
If you read the New York Times Style Section, you may see a familiar face or two peering out from its pages. Ken and I are featured in an article by Alix Strauss (It’s No Secret). Take a look see!
Last May Ken and I celebrated the beginning of our 45 years together. Today we are older, creakier and decidedly more opinionated, but we are also against long odds still together.
What does an 18-year old know about enduring nature of love or of the trust it entails? How does a teenager build a relationship that lasts a lifetime? I can’t even begin to analyze all the factors that go into our relationship, but I do know one thing – our love for each other is as strong as our love for the art and music that bond us together.
Photo by Courtney Frisse
Inside Out 36”x54” oil on linen 2018 by Paula Martiesian
For me fall is a bittersweet time of year. I love the long hot days of summer with birdsong that wakes you at 4 a.m. and gardens that grow wild. The days are shorter now. The leaves and the temperature are falling with alarming regularity, but we are New Englanders. We grumble and groan, then we go to Job Lot and buy hand warmers and leaf bags.
Me, I stretch a canvas and try to capture that last bit of gold clinging to a tree. There is such stunning beauty before winters strips the world of color. The sky has so many moods, it astounds me with its quicksilver character changes from foreboding grey to clairvoyant blue.
But it is the angle of light that provides autumn drama. Each day closer to the solstice marks a lower angle of the sun. Shadows frame the landscape with a deep amber glow. Light has no physical weight, nothing a scale could measure, and yet it touches everything and changes our perception of the world with its slightest shift.
Over the Fence 36”x50” oil on linen 2018
On Saturday October 6 at the RISD Museum of Art, my husband Ken Carpenter (composer, musician and designer) and I will give a talk on the crosscurrents of music and the visual arts in our lives and work.
Prepping for the talk is a daunting prospect. Ken is an experienced teacher, lecturer and performer. I am not. We work very differently. He is methodical and works linearly, research and straight lines all the way. I draw the largest circle possible, constantly going down rabbit holes exploring odd options that will probably never see the light of day.
We manage not to kill each other because we understand there are hundreds, if not thousands, of solutions to the same problem and we are willing to put the time in to find a solution that works for us both. That little nugget of wisdom took us 45-plus years to achieve. Come see what else we’ve come up with!
Work in Process: Counterpoint Saturday October 6 from 2 to 4 pm at the RISD Museum of Art
Ken and I many many years ago (circa 1975) at RISD. The photograph was taken by our good friend Courtney Frisse.