Painting of the Month

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The Last Dance

by Paula Martiesian

My technique, if I have one, is to put paint on and then take it off. Brush, rag, knife – it doesn’t matter. Whatever paint I put on, however I put it on, I almost always take it off. It’s as if I am unwilling to commit until I’ve tried every option, a time consuming and ultimately frustrating endeavor I call painting.

Each color I do put down presents a whole new series of choices. Each path I take has a seemingly infinite number of side paths I’m eager to explore. Every choice I do make influences old decisions, so I often have to go backwards and repaint something I thought I had finally nailed down.

Not too long ago I found myself sitting in a Boston gallery next to a dear painter friend. I listened as she lamented her growing inability to tell the difference between one of her successful paintings and one that was a complete failure. I had nothing to offer her as I felt the same way.

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Painting of the Month

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The Color of Copper by Paula Martiesian

Lately I have been drawing inspiration from a 17th century Japanese painter named Tawaraya Sotatsu (early 1600s). He created large-scale screen paintings and collaborated with calligrapher Hon’am Koetsu on small poem cards. Sotatsu worked in Kyoto at about the same time Rembrandt was painting in Amsterdam.

Each day in my studio I open a book on Sotatsu and stare at a different page, hoping to somehow absorb by osmosis his open-ended sense of space. I am convinced if I look long enough, Sotatsu’s talents and insights will jump from the page into my mind.

His bold compositions enthuse, but it is his range that astounds. I am half convinced he had multiple personalities. How else could he have achieved such extreme finesse one moment and a crude, childlike quality the next? I don’t know if he lived and worked by the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi, the philosophy of accepting transience and imperfections, but it seems to me he must have. Across the divide of culture and time this man, who painted 400 years ago, speaks to me more intensely then most of my contemporaries.

View The Color of Copper in person at the URI Providence Campus Gallery March 1 through March 31, 2017. It will be part of the exhibit 30 Years of Women’s History.

Painting of the Month

Summer Shadows by Paula Martiesian

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I know you’re not supposed to have favorites. I care for all of my paintings almost as if they were children, but I do, have a favorite, that is.

I wander through my house looking out into the yard several times a day and the views never disappoint. I don’t live on a cliff overlooking the ocean or in an aerie high in the mountains. I live in the city where asphalt reigns, but my garden doesn’t know that. It is a wild oasis, and often something catches my eye and just like that, I see a painting, wholly conceptualized in an instant.

That’s the way it was with Summer Shadows. A trick of light, a dense summer green and my favorite sideways branch combined in just the right way. The painting took a lot longer to actually paint (four to five months is average for me), but in the end, it felt just like what I experienced that summer’s day.

This painting has another, odd kind of front story. Three times I’ve loaded it in the car for an exhibit, but only once has it made it onto the wall. Twice, curators have told me it didn’t work well with other artworks in each respective exhibit – the strong colors overpowering the room. My rebel painting, my favorite.

 

Painting of the Month December

spinner-dolphin-copySpinner Dolphins by Paula Martiesian

 

Once upon a time in the 1980s, I made a series of paintings about fearless, confident women in unusual situations. I called the series Urban Eve.   These were surreal paintings, combining real life places with imagined women, quite different from what I do today.

The women were portrayed as Eve was in the Bible – naked, without sin and with nothing to fear. There was the woman reading a magazine in a claw foot tub out in the garden. Another lounged on a lawn chair while watching Oil Can Boyd pitch for the Red Sox on TV. In one particular painting, a woman leaned over a ship’s rail reaching out to a pod of dolphins.

I sold some of the paintings and kept the rest down in the painting racks.

A few months ago, a woman I didn’t know contacted me unexpectedly about the dolphin painting. She had seen it years earlier and remembered it fondly. Although events in her life prevented her from purchasing the canvas, it touched me deeply that a stranger had kept the memory of one of my paintings alive for so many years.

 

Painting of the Month – November

 

 

 

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Waiting for the Moment by Paula Martiesian

Outside my bedroom window is a Japanese maple I bought from a mail order catalogue several years ago.   When it arrived, it was just a stick and a promise, not more than a foot tall. Today it is a glorious burnished orange six feet high and at least ten feet wide.

Every fall I wait for the moment. The transformation from lovely fern green leaves to shimmering fan-shapes of yellow and orange always takes my breath away. The show lasts only a short week or two, but it’s worth every minute of anticipation. Soon it will be winter and the trees will draw their charcoal branches against the cold grey sky, but in my studio it will be warm. I’ll be painting a memory of fall – spectacular, bright and beautiful.

PAINTING OF THE MONTH – OCTOBER

 

pm_trinity_river-copy The Trinity River by Paula Martiesian

It’s clear I have a thing for trees. They populate most of my paintings in abstracted and figurative forms. They call to me, their stories silent but obvious to anyone who bothers to look.

On trip to the west coast last year, my husband and I visited the redwood forests with friends. We hiked alongside a fallen sequoia twice the length of a football field. We climbed inside a redwood charred and cut down by lightening. Even though the tree no longer lived, it was brimming with life, host to all manner of plants and creatures. The forests astounded me with layer upon layer of life and death, the ancient growth a marker of time oblivious to mankind.

Yet I returned home with not one sketch of a tree. They were too magnificent for me, too large a presence to capture on such a small thing as a canvas.

Instead I hunkered down near a lovely jade-colored river named Trinity. It was there I found inspiration in the movement of the waves and the undulation of the plants growing in the water.   I’m not sure anyone would recognize the painting as a river, but to me it embodies the constant motion of the current and the subtle shifts of color as sunlight glimmered across the water.

Painting of the Month Club – September

Between the Lines by Paula Martiesian

 

Dreamlike, psychotropic, phantasmic – these are words critics have used to describe some of my paintings. The words are a mystery to me, as I’ve never set out to make anything decidedly otherworldly.

Stepping back to take a more objective look, even I could see the paintings looked softer, blurrier, and more suggestive than I imagined. In fact, they looked quite dreamlike. How did this happen?

It was an innocent progression. Frustrated by the limitations of brushes and palette knives, I had started to use rags and paper towels to rub color into the pores of the linen canvas. When you deal in subtle color shifts s as I do, it’s all about creating depth anyway you can. If I rubbed a darker color into the linen and then a lighter color on top of that, I could create a suggestion of depth.

First I cut up stacks of old clothes and sheets to use as rags, but I went through my supply pretty quickly. Then I settled on paper towels, specifically the cheaper Stop & Shop brand that seem to have no weird chemical additives.   I couldn’t use virgin paper towels. I am, after all a native New Englander, an honorary Yankee. I started mining used paper towels. Blotting lettuce? Save that paper towel. Cleaning the mirror? Save that towel. Even my husband now sets aside paper towels for me, all cut up in neat little squares.

These innocent looking little pieces of paper towels have changed the look of my paintings, softening the edges and blurring distinct lines. Now how I experience the world without my glasses is how people see my paintings.

Painting of the Month Club – August

diana's tree Diana’s Tree by Paula Martiesian

For years I walked by the dogwood unmindful of its beauty, but one afternoon last October I stopped for a closer look. The tree bark was etched with wrinkles, the leaves small and fanned out in concentrated pinks and reds. Its branches looked a bit like a jester or a male ballet dancer with arms open wide.

Sometimes inspiration hits in the most mundane of places. One day, for no apparent reason, a scene you have seen hundreds of times before looks completely different.

Perhaps the autumn sun cast a particularly vivid shadow altering my perception of the dogwood dramatically. Maybe an early morning rainstorm seeped deep into the crevices of the tree bark creating an inky map. But I think nostalgia and regret played a part. The tree sat in the front yard of a friend of mine who was preparing to move out of state.

This is the moment of recognition, my “aha” moment.”   It is the instant when I see a painting whole in my mind before I even stretch a canvas. For me, it is the moment when a painting is born.

Painting of the Month Club – July

 

 

 

The Space Between by Paula Martiesian

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It was just a fence, a 16-year-old ruin from Home Depot put up to keep my dogs in. Time had remade the once honey-colored stockade into a moth-like rainbow of gray pickets so thin you could almost see through them. But beauty is everywhere, even in rotting spruce. An autumn downpour transformed those uninteresting grays into a lovely pastel fairyland waiting to be painted.

 

I am a slow worker. Sometimes I paint the same area over and over again hundreds of times just to get the right color in the right place. This painting was no exception. I worked on it for months before I asked photographer Erik Gould to document it for my website. Presumably I was finished, but a few hours after he left, I was repainting an area that still troubled me.

 

Later I put the painting in the storage racks, unsure if I could make it better and unwilling to give it anymore of my time. There it stayed until one day I took it out along with some other paintings to show a potential client.  After he left I stared at it, debating whether I dared try to make it better. Then I picked out a paint brush and started in.

Painting of the Month Club – June

 

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My garden is an urban oasis, a wilderness where greenery grows as it pleases. Plants regularly migrate to spots of their own choosing, tree limbs tilt horizontally across pathways and weeds are happy neighbors to hot house flowers.

This spring, I lost one of my favorite horizontal tree limbs. This dear evergreen friend had patiently modeled for several of my paintings, but now it was covered with lichen and home to a tribe of carpenter ants.   It didn’t have a single living pine needle on it. I sketched it one last time, stretched a canvas and blocked out the painting. Then I gathered up my resolve, found my bow saws and marched into the garden. Several times I made for it, and each time I turned back. Finally I started a cut on a small branch. Then another and in a few minutes the limb itself lay on the ground.

For years I had coddled this tree limb, propping it up with wooden staves and brushing off the snow in winter. It was a living archway into my fern gardens and a perfect frame to nature that I used over and over again in my paintings. The final painting, still unfinished, depicts the needles with halos of rusty pink, a bittersweet reminder of an old friend. The above painting, Looking for Light, shows my pine friend in better times.

Paula Martiesian

This summer my paintings will be included in three group exhibitions; please come see them in person!

June 17 through July 12

Summer Group Show

Charlestown Gallery

charlestowngalleryri.com

Reception June 25 5:30 to 8 pm

 

July 5 through August 3

#My Gallery Night!

URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery

uri.edu/prov/arts

Gallery Night Reception July 21 5-9 pm

Special Gallery Night Birthday Celebration Tuesday August 2 from 5 to 7 pm

 

July 22 through September 4

Contemporary Women Artists

Bristol Art Museum

bristolartmuseum.org

Opening reception: Friday July 22 6:30 to 8:30 pm

 

And as always, visit with Cathy Bert at the Bert Gallery  in Providence to see more of my paintings.

bertgallery.com