Camo Trees by Paula Martiesian
Years ago when I was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 70s, I painted a trio of small portraits. I remember one in particular. It was a self-portrait about 20”x16’ in size and I worked on it happily for hours. At the end of the day, I stepped back to take a look expecting to see a skillful rendition of subtle facial tones. Amazingly there was nothing, or at least nothing of what I thought was there.
Instead a bland painting of no one in particular stared back at me. All those beautiful quiet shifts of color I had imagined were virtually invisible. It was a lesson I learned well – what’s in your mind’s eye isn’t always what’s on the canvas.
A painter approaches a painting with an idea of what might be. If the vision is strong and the artist dedicated, there’s a chance that idea will become reality. It’s taken me years to achieve those subtle color variations I have always seen so clearly in my head. Hundreds of paintings later, the successes finally outweigh the failures.
Watch for my upcoming exhibit at ArtProv Gallery in Providence, “Heart of a Tree” with Karen Rand Anderson and Mary Jane Andreozzi. The opening reception is Friday June 2 starting at 5 pm.
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.
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.
Summer Shadows by Paula Martiesian
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.
Spinner 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.
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.
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.
Between the Lines
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.
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.
The Space Between by Paula Martiesian
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.