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.
High Tide (India Point) 36”x50” 2014
My parents raised me to be strong and independent. I think they were surprised to find their efforts succeeded. They produced a stubborn, occasionally difficult and decidedly opinionated child.
I often feel the same way about my relationship with painting – surprise that no matter how idealistic and purposeful my intent, the paintings seem to question my motives and fight my every move.
When I start a painting, I’m excited and energized by the blank canvas and what it could become. Sometimes things go well, but more often than not reality hits and the slog begins. It’s hard work to make the paint do what I want it to do, especially when every painting seems to have a mind of its own, hell bent on resisting my efforts. It’s even harder to make the paint flow easily and not look labored.
With enough time and patience, the painting and I usually reach a state of détente much like my parents and I did so many years ago.
Save the date: Saturday October 6, 2018 from 2-4 pm at the RISD Museum in Providence.My husband, composer and musician Ken Carpenter, and I will give a talk about our 45 years together as a creative couple. The program is called Work in Process: Counterpoint and I hope you can join us!
Crossed Branches 36”x50” 2013
Despite last evening’s shower, it’s been an intensely bright and virtually rain-free summer. The earth is parched and everyday I drag a chrome yellow garden hose around the yard watering everything in sight.
The hose is narrow, easily maneuverable and the shapes it makes on the ground have started to invade my thoughts. I love the hose’s curves and swirls even as I curse the need to use it. I’ve taken out the camera to capture some of the shapes it makes and I’d like to think it one day soon it will be the basis for an intriguing painting.
And I’ve tried, in my mind, to combine it with an image that has stayed with me posted on Instagram by JWSmith141 of tree wallpaper at the Bloomsbury Hotel. So far, my efforts have not yielded anything but a vague idea of where I want to go, but I persevere.
Recently someone asked me where my inspiration comes from. He might be surprised to know it often comes from something as simple as a yellow garden hose or an Instagram post.
5 AM oil on linen 1993 25″x30″ from my 1995 exhibit at AS220
If all goes according to plan, my aunt Vicky will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 4, at Hallworth House. She doesn’t remember much, but her personality is intact – she is still the stubborn, spiky woman I knew from childhood. Vicky was the middle child, my mother the eldest. aunt June the baby. Vicky lived a small life, close to her mother, home and work, never venturing too far afield.
When I was six, I started taking classes at RISD. Every Saturday morning for years, aunt Vicky would drive me to the Waterman building and I would trudge up the stairs to class. My mother and June would tag along and shop in downtown Providence until it was time to pick me up. Vicky taught me to garden, to balance a checkbook and to put family first. She wasn’t an easy woman, often suspicious and demanding. She once made a store clerk take back an item she had bought several years beforehand from a totally different store.
And yet, she was Vicky – entirely dependable, stubborn and supportive to a fault. The one who sat with me on the grass looking for, and finding, four-leaf clovers. When I was an undergrad at RISD and learning how to use a camera, she and my grandmother patiently allowed me to photograph them. My fondest memory of Vicky was at AS220. I had an exhibit in the main gallery. There she sat at a table with my mother and aunt June, dressed in navy blue raincoats with their handbags secure on their laps, a plateful of hors d’oeuvres between them. How could I go wrong with a foundation like that?
Where Shadows Meet 36”x54” by Paula Martiesian
Growing up in Pawtucket my bedroom faced Division Street, the main drag on the ambulance run to Memorial Hospital. My mother had very particular ideas about how to raise a child, especially a girl child. Pink was never part of the equation, an all-girls school and a variety of cultural activities were.
When it came to decorating my room, I had a say, but only if my ideas reflected my mother’s. Once when I was about 10 or 11, we had an ugly fight in a wallpaper store. She chose a small floral pattern in yellows and oranges, almost identical to the wallpaper already on the walls. I chose an off white linen with a design similar to a fleur-de-lis, simple, elegant, and probably to my mother’s mind, a bit too adult. I left the store thinking I had won the wallpaper battle, but when I arrived home from school a few weeks later to see the newly papered walls, they were covered with the dreaded yellow and orange flowers.
Later she purchased a Scandinavian design bedroom set that filled my room and left little space to maneuver. I promptly took the three-piece bureau apart and rearranged the room to my liking. After a few days of my mother’s anger and tears, I reluctantly put the bureau and room back to their original state.
I often tell these stories to illicit sympathy (albeit sympathy for a spoiled only child). But I’ve come to see these mother-daughter skirmishes from a different angle. They taught me valuable lessons, demonstrating that ideas about beauty are not universal and that everyone has their own personal aesthetic. More importantly, these episodes built in me a resolve to develop and defend my own ideas about beauty. With so much ugliness in the world, beauty is always worth the battle.
Coral Bark Maple in Fall (36”x54”) by Paula Martiesian
Deep shade fills my backyard. I’ve long since given away the roses and tree peonies that graced past sun-filled gardens. Instead hostas and hydrangeas keep company with a slew of trees – big trees, understory trees, trees I planted and trees that moved in on their own.
But the winter has been tough. Many large limbs came down and some older trees show the unmistakable signs of age and decay. As saddened as I am to say goodbye to old friends, it’s time for me to plant some new trees and I am very, very excited.
For me the act of painting does not start with an idea, it starts with the planting of a tree. I pour over books and email old friends and acquaintances asking for tree advice. Cedar of Lebanon, a favorite tree of my late mother, tops the list. Chinese Witch Hazel, the most optimistic of all trees blooming as it does in late February, is another. Sassafras, a fragrant and forgiving tree, is a suggestion by a RISD friend who is a horticulturalist for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. It currently sits third on the master list.
I’ve been deliberating all winter and finally (I hope) spring is here. I have a pickaxe, a shovel and all my tree books. It’s time to start digging!
The True Nature of Gold
The golden slant of autumn light transforms the scene outside my kitchen window. I stare at it for days when it’s my turn to wash the dishes and soon it becomes a drawing, then a painting. I’m thankful for the prime view my current sink affords me. For years, dishwashing was an unpleasant chore, not the inspiration-filled meditation I now enjoy.
Our first kitchen was a converted closet with a stove, a sink and a slit masquerading as a window. The sink faced the wall, and my husband or I (we couldn’t fit in the room together) did the dishes while looking at a soap-stained square the size of a folded newspaper.
Three other kitchens followed; all of them with the disappointing sink/wall combo. It wasn’t until we renovated the kitchen in our home that I was finally able to have a large window above the sink overlooking our yard.
Now when I wash dishes, my mind wanders through the trees and follows the flight patterns of the birds. I bear witness to the ever-changing view and am thankful for the inspiration it provides.
Promise of Spring
This is one of my favorite older paintings, Promise of Spring (36”x50”), completed a few years back when winter was melting away and spring within arms’ reach.
Most of my paintings focus on the wilds of nature within the urban environment. Vines grow unchecked, trees are never pruned, weeds celebrated. Uncharacteristically this painting features something manmade – a wire plant support.
The hydrangeas are bedraggled and winter worn, the rocks surrounding a plant bed look more like a necklace than stone, but it’s the tomato cage that people notice most. Why they are in my yard is anyone’s guess as I don’t have enough sun to grow a tomato, but they still dot the landscape and even make it into a painting every once in a while.
Here’s an even older painting from the 1980s when I was still working figuratively. It features the great opera singer Leontyne Price. I love almost all kinds of music and on occasion, opera fills my studio. Ms. Price recently turned 91. She possessed an amazing talent and has lived a life worthy of her wonderful name. Diva measures 20”x30.”
There are times when you just have to take a break. Constant pushing can be counter-productive. Around the holidays, I allow myself some time off. I still go in my studio and I still paint, but there are no extended sessions – the shortened days won’t allow it. Truth be told, half the time I have a book or a crossword puzzle in hand to distract me.
Several years ago at a family gathering, my cousins and I (mostly female) watched the next generation at play (mostly male). Several of the young boys were trying to push toy trucks through a wall, an impossible, but clearly fascinating endeavor. I laughed and pointed out the futility in their undertaking, but sometimes that’s exactly what I feel I am doing in my studio – trying to push a solid object through an impenetrable wall.
I started the above painting Understory (36”x60”) this past summer after my exhibit at ArtProv. Several people suggested I should include smaller paintings in my repertoire. Predictably I stretched this much larger canvas and started painting!