“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.
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?