After teaching art for nine years and then working at a small "greenery" on Cape Cod, I decided to begin painting full time. Drawing from natural landscapes and the human figure, I began producing pen & inks and watercolors in a palette of limited earth tones. These timid but accurate renderings were basically "watercolor 101", lacking emotional conviction.
Then, I decided to try solid paint. In the summers of 1987and 1988, I was fortunate to attend two painting workshops taught by Salvadore del Deo, at Castle Hill in Truro, Massachusettes. A veteran artist and wise teacher is an invaluable combination for a student. He described the advantages of oil paints. (I had always hated oils! They took SO long to dry.) Their rich, organic pigments become more beautiful with age. After taking his advice I was amazed to find that I reveled in all of the aspects of oils that I used to dislike, and have never considered returning to watercolors.
Those workshops also provided a rare moment when I heard the right comment from the right person at the right time. This brought about a major shift in my perspective of painting. Del Deo urged me not to draw with the paint, but to paint with the paint. Sounds simple; but, that advice took six months to sink in. It meant that I had to free myself from the proven, safe, generically realistic style that I had been hiding behind and strike out on my own.
In 1989, my husband, writer Hugh Aaron and I moved to Maine. After gentle, soft, and small Cape Cod, the tremendous drama and power of the vast Maine landscape was all around me. Having rediscovered the strength and intense color possible with oil paint, I was ready to break loose. I wanted to paint this powerful land, its heaving rocks beneath the surface, the rush of wind over land, sea, and sky, the warmth and life in this earth.
Over the years, I have looked at the work of other painters for guidance and inspiration. At the top of my list is Vincent VanGogh. In his letters to his brother, Theo, he expressed sentiments about painting that I myself feel and that I continuously struggle to apply. Excerpts are posted on the walls of my studio, to redirect me during my occasional lapses into the old timid ways. These words to Theo are reminders of what is important to me and why I'm in the studio: "…paint things as you feel them, not as they are.", "…let your personality be so powerful as to stand irregardless of the age in which you paint.", "…leave something of yourself behind…", "…brilliant color, well-arranged, resplendent…", "determine the purpose for a painting and have all go toward it.", "…work must have a vitality and reason for being all its own that will override any variations in the 'truth'."
Having always loved drawing and painting from the human figure, I have occasionally painted a portrait as a change of pace between landscapes. Indeed, I view a portrait as simply a different kind of landscape. Currently I've been working on mini portraits on 8" x 8" panels - oddly enough, the smallest surfaces I've ever painted. These include faces inspired by 19th century opera characters. In their stage make-up, they become everything from fools to devils. Working as wildly as the images I portray, painting is exciting all over again. After a dozen or so such portraits, I'm planning to start some large portrait canvases. That's a great signal that another spring has begun both here in Maine and in my studio.
Now, at 51, I can look back on more than twelve years of dedicated painting. I hope you enjoy seeing a small sample of that work on this web site.
A photographer captures a moment. To me, the art of photography is in the photographer's ability to capture an exquisite moment and present it to us in such a way as to transform the commonplace into a revelation. The photographer may use techniques of selection, point of view, focus, tint, etc., and make intellectual and intuitive decisions about the unique presentation of the components that the camera has captured and that already exist on film.
A painter creates a moment. Facing the blank surface, a painter must be willing and able to unleash his feelings and emotional responses. Of course, we learn the chemistry and techniques of painting, but that knowledge serves only as background for the creation of very personal translations of our world. (It sometimes seems that the more personal the artist's response, the more universally it is felt.) The painter who produces faithful renderings has come only part way and has given us only a taste of skill. Such paintings give neither deep satisfaction, nor long lasting pleasure. To me, a valuable painting is one in which the painter has been a conduit, allowing an idea or vision to filter mysteriously through his unconscious, through his body, arm and hand, to come out onto that blank surface as an exciting, surprising and inexplicable translation. The viewer may be shocked, satisfied, delighted or disturbed, but definitely affected at a gut level. A great painting is one that can be lived with for years, always revealing something new and rich to the eye. It can take a long time for the painter, himself, to fully see and understand what he has created.
To "deconstruct" a painting in order to verbally support or destroy it, or to provide an ability to "teach" how these small miracles were achieved can be an intellectually stimulating game. But, in the end, the value of a work of art remains its unspoken and unexplained ability to touch us emotionally and irrationally. And in surprising ways, to reveal to us something of ourselves which has been undiscovered or dormant.
© 2011 Ann Stein