In these frenetic days, it’s easy to miss the drama and mystery of everyday objects. Not so for Yarmouthport artist Elaine Gardner. To her, the stuff of life—a book on a table, cut fruit on a board, a china set—is a golden opportunity for expression.
It is the timelessness of the objects that Gardner loves. “Most of the objects could be in a painting a hundred years ago,” she says. Consider Lemons and Oysters, a multilayered, painted still life of cut lemons, oyster shells, a strand of pearls, and a crystal cruet picking up light in the background. In Gardner’s hand, the scene is cloaked in anticipation.
There is some appeal of the old-fashioned here, but it’s much more. While Gardner says simply, “I paint in a very traditional way,” her powers of contrast and ability to bring her subjects from darkness give objects an unusual drama. She gives much of the credit to the things themselves. “They’re timeless objects,” Gardner says. “What attracts me to them is the old, the dusty, things with tarnish or rust.”
In Preparing to Travel, a bust emerges from the dark background, near a row of books and behind a messy pile of maps, a spyglass, and other objects. In the front “step” is a map and a couple of French francs. “I like stepping from the background forward,” she says. And she loves her oil paints. “I love the smell, I love the texture,” she says. “It’s heaven.”
Gardner grew up in Barnstable and studied printmaking at the Swain School of Design. “But I always wanted to paint,” she says. A defining experience was a yearlong trip to Italy at age 23, when she discovered the painter Caravaggio. “What was exciting was the drama of his work, his composition. That has stayed with me,” she says. Then six years ago, she picked up a paintbrush and the fire ignited.
Today Gardner paints part time, but she looks forward to the day when she can spend all her time in her painting shed, with its quiet, natural north light. “I want to be able to paint until I can’t anymore,” she says. “My dream is to be able to spend my days painting. It’s a dream come true.”
Elaine Gardner’s work has been shown at the Cape Cod Art Association at 3480 Main Street in Barnstable, and the Cultural Center of Cape Cod at 307 Old Main Street in South Yarmouth. The Cultural Center features her work from June 13 to 24.