Rambling old off-season houses, spare and silent, pop up in winter like acorns along our area’s winding streets. In Joan Albaugh’s hands, they thrum with uneasy silence.
Whether her focus is a house, a buoy, a snorkeler, or a kiddie pool, the Nantucket painter’s canvases almost always center on an isolated figure and an unnerving air. For Albaugh, it comes down to simply being. “It’s the human experience, with yourself and with nature, the fleeting time we have here,” Albaugh says. “Maybe it’s living on an isolated island in the winter.” She laughs and adds, “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Albaugh’s focus on isolated objects and structures began almost two decades ago when she divorced and moved to Nantucket with her son. “When I first moved to Nantucket, I was attracted to these empty houses off season,” she says. While she is known for painting houses without windows, sometimes windows appear, but are disguised by powerful slants of light. “The light can often be so strong, you’re more entranced by it; the light can obliterate the details.”
Each depiction is, Albaugh says, “a portrait of isolation.” The ultimate in cool solitude may be her painting of an iceberg, cloaked in blue and towering into a steely sky. The pristine brushwork stems from the skills she learned at the School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and she says her artistic influences include Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent.
She recently started a series on what she calls lost lighthouses, unmanned and isolated, almost to the point of appearing bereft. “But I got burnt out,” Albaugh says. “That’s when I turned to the kiddie pools. There are no kids; it’s almost like it floated away, got lost, or abandoned. Not that I was thinking that when I did them, but I like the mysteriousness.”
Albaugh is looking forward to traveling to Norway and the Arctic this summer. After that, she says, “Maybe I’ll try more icebergs.”
Joan Albaugh’s work may be seen at Old Spouter Gallery at 118 Orange Street; Nantucket Looms at 51 Main Street; and the Artists’ Association of Nantucket at 19 Washington Street, all on Nantucket; Kindreds Antiques and Folk Art at 845 Main Street in Osterville; and at joanalbaugh.com.