Since boyhood, painter Mike Rooney had dreamed of being an artist. But there were no art fellowships, ateliers, or scholarly art classes waiting for him. “I always wanted to paint fine art,” Rooney says. But life came at him hard and fast. After dropping out of college to support his family, he had a long stint in the military, where he painted designs under airplane cockpits. “It’s tough,” he says. “Life can get in the way sometimes.”
But no matter the twists and turns, Rooney has always kept his focus. “I’ve been a lifetime student,” he says. “You can work at a supermarket, but be thinking about painting every minute.” Now his childhood dream is coming true: the Harwich summer resident has found his niche, traveling throughout the East Coast teaching and painting, and creating in Key West for the winter months.
Rooney’s oil paintings are celebrations of the natural world, inspired by his favorite places on the East Coast, one of which is Cape Cod. Many of his paintings—with names like From Corn Hill to Roseville, Nauset Beach, and Cape Cod Morning—exude a tangible sense of the Cape’s light, air, and gently shifting shapes. The Virginia native’s paintings and travel choices reflect the coast for a reason: “It’s the way the light and the air comingle,” he notes. And almost always, he paints outside, going inside only, he says, “under duress.”
Rooney’s childhood and time in the military were followed by an income earned through professional sign painting. “It wasn’t the best time, but I just got out there and did it,” he says. When the business changed with the advent of computer graphics and his last child left for college—despite nerves about leaving a secure income—he made the leap to fine art. He still seems surprised at how his career has taken off. Today he paints and teaches, traveling among his favorite eastern locales. Showing at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery in Orleans has been a perfect fit. Owner Elizabeth Rowley, he says, “understands art and understands the artist.”
Rooney muses about his roundabout introduction to fine art and the drudgework he did that endured up to it. Now, he sees his experience through a lens of serendipity. “The thing that I was never able to do was what bailed me out,” Rooney says. “Art allowed me to reinvent myself.”
Mike Rooney’s work may be seen at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery at 84 Route 6A in Orleans, and at elizabethrowleygallery.com. He will teach a painting workshop at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery on the weekend of September 15-16, from 9a.m. to 4p.m.
Whether she is painting in oil, pastel, or mixed media, Christie Scheele’s message is carried on atmospheric elements of light, air, and moisture. By softening her images’ shapes and lush colors behind a silky veil, viewers are free to gather their own message or simply a stirring—perhaps a forgotten memory or dream.
In Scheele’s eyes, the more minimalist her artwork, the more evocative it is. “I prefer the shape to be simpler, so the eye doesn’t get snagged on too many things, including brushstrokes,” she says. Images of big sky and water—pools, marshes, tidal rivers—abound in her work, much of it inspired by our area.
Scheele, a resident of New York’s Catskills, began coming to the Cape at age eight. Today she spends large chunks of every summer here with her husband, usually staying in Brewster and sometimes accompanied by their college-age twins. She finds many happy moments in places like the Brewster tidal flats or Paines Creek marsh, camera in hand, capturing settings for her studio work. She loves stepping back from the ocean into quieter areas and stiller waters. “The way the sky reflects on a tidal pool is completely different from way it reflects on the ocean,” she says.
The effect is mesmerizing. Wide swathes of color as weightless as clouds float across Extravagant Sky. Scheele is fascinated by how the eye travels across art. In Two Trees, a color field painting composed of a bit of shore, a couple of spare trees, and a water hole reflecting the sky, the eye first goes to the water hole or the trees, then circles around to masses of color. Her multi-panel works, such as the three-piece Exuberant Wave, are opportunities for her to increase the effect. She almost never paints foreground, relying on “simplicity of shape,” to carry her message. “In abstract painting, it’s all on the surface,” she says.
After Scheele “kind of tumbled” into landscape painting in the early 1990s, she quickly developed her visual voice. “I had no rules about what I was supposed to do,” she says. She found she loved reducing the details in landscape paintings to shapes of minimalist luminescence. As Scheele says, “My nature is to get blissed out when I’m outside.”
Christie Scheele’s art may be seen at both locations of the Julie Heller Gallery, 2 Gosnold Street and 465 Commercial Street in Provincetown (juliehellergallery.com) and at christiescheele.com. The gallery is hosting the group show “Three Visions,” featuring Scheele with artists Jenny Nelson and Polly M. Law, at the Anchor Inn in Provincetown, through September 16. An opening reception is being held on July 28. Scheele is teaching a landscape painting workshop July 30-August 2 at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
Sarah Slavick’s abstract art explores some of the most basic elements of the body’s interior—DNA, blood, veins—and their societal implications—birth, family, disease, recovery. Expressing such complex concepts in a minimalist framework is no easy feat, but Slavick has spent her full artistic career doing just that.
Slavick loves polarities and other puzzles. “I’m interested in duality,” she says. Her nature is not to prescribe messages for viewers to take away from her artwork, but to encourage them to travel their own interior paths. “I look for broad interpretation,” she says. “I don’t want my work to have singular meanings.”
That may be how she manages to turn out paintings that are raw and intense, but also lyrical and joyful. Her “Phylum Series” is comprised of works with deeply colored patterns that are almost a system of shapes—beautiful, complex, organic. Some of the pieces have dizzying numbers of wooden panels of varying sizes and depths. “I was referencing nature visually and conceptually,” Slavick says. She quickly settled on her key theme for the series, mostly oils on wood: phylum is the primary subdivision of a taxonomic kingdom. “I was thinking how we categorize nature and control it,” she says.
A resident of Jamaica Plain, Slavick travels with her husband and their teenage son every summer to Provincetown. She also visits the Cape-tip town with her students from the Art Institute of Boston at Leslie University, where she is a professor of painting and drawing. She grew up in a large family, and several of her sisters are artists as well. The siblings assembled the exhibit “Flesh and Blood,” which touched on genealogy and the body and traveled to points including Carnegie Mellon University, Florida, and Hong Kong.
Her current work is in the “Phylum” vein: paintings composed of hundreds of pieces of wood in varying shapes and sizes. Slavick sees it as a journey to understand how separate entities are linked with their “surrounding neighbors and how they change by becoming something greater than themselves.”
Change is in the air for Slavick; for one, her materials are more refined. “I use this teeny little paintbrush now, close up to canvas,” she says. “I can’t tell you why that happens.” Her color sensibility is changing as well. “I think it’s more optimistic in certain ways,” she says. Where she will be with art in 10 years is anybody’s guess—10 years ago, she says, she had no inkling that she would be where she is today.
Sarah Slavick’s work may be seen at Tao Water Gallery at 352 Commercial Street in Provincetown (taowatergallery.com); at sarahslavick.com; and at the Ellen Miller Gallery at 38 Newbury Street in Boston.
If anyone is living their art, it is Provincetown printmaker Kathryn Lee Smith. Smith was barely out of baby shoes when her maternal grandmother, the late Ferol Sibley Warthen, started exposing Smith to the art of white line printmaking. Warthen, a painter and printmaker, had learned the technique from the renowned painter and printmaker, Blanche Lazzell. “She got hooked and started making prints,” Smith says. “I was fortunate to have my grandmother take me under her wing.” In the summer of 1981, Smith spent the season with Warthen, learning from a master.
Today, Smith lives in Provincetown, the home of the famed Provincetown Printmakers, where her life centers on a powerful fusion of art expression: creating prodigiously, teaching, and lecturing, at such institutions as the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Her first woodblock prints tended to be representational; her later works still have an organic feel but are more abstract. “Ancestor Series,” such as Dawn #3, are both primitive and modern, with a range of rich color infusing each print with its own life force. “The ‘Ancestors’ were a vision,” Smith says. “They build as they go along, with each one informing the next.” Subjects, she says, draw on one fleeting moment snatched from the past, whether that moment is conveyed as a representational image or an abstraction.
Smith’s technique is very physical; as she manipulates color, she pulls each print, with the work constantly informing her theme. Large prints, such as Provincetown Daylilies, are challenging, she says. “You’re continually moving the paper, lifting,” she says. “You sort of hold your breath.” Because every print has a full color range and she can change the colors in every successive print, or not, each print is unique. Provincetown Daylilies is a delicate floral print of butter-yellow and green against a flat background.
The summer she reconnected with her grandmother and refined her printmaking was life changing. As Smith says, “It gave me the pathway of my life’s work.” She is embarking on new themes, but they are still in vision form. “I’m on the cusp of a new body of work,” Smith remarks. “I can’t say exactly what it is. I don’t know yet. I have ideas floating in my head, as always.”
Kathryn Smith’s work may be seen at Gallery Ehva at 74 Shank Painter Road in Provincetown (galleryehva.com); Crowell’s Fine Art (crowellsfineart.com); and Fine Framing in New Bedford; and at kathrynleesmithwhitelineprints.com. Her work is showing through Aug. 26 at the Cape Cod Museum of Art exhibit, “Tides of Provincetown.”
Ovid Ward’s paintings jostle all the senses: the smack of a catboat hitting the saltwater in Racing Off Chappy, the skin-prickling chill of Winter on Cape Cod, the salty smell in Clear Morning Air. In Ward’s art, you are there: on the waterfront, walking the snowy field, riding the hulking ferry. “I like the paintings to tell a little story,” Ward says, “a glimpse of time.”
The artist’s impeccable execution places the viewer square in the center of the scene; not by way of photo realism, but by a looser method that engages a deeper part of the interior mind. “I think of my work as slightly less real than photorealism,” Ward says. “You can see brushstrokes, and not all areas are tight. It’s a little more painterly.”
The pristine technique is no surprise. Ward designed cars for Chrysler for many years and then boats for Hatteras Yachts. In between he painted a “vision”— an artistic plan—of the waterfront in Oakland, California. Now he is in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, where he has lived for 40 years, photographing his subjects and returning to his studio to paint. It’s a simple island life, what he had always wanted. “I’m not the richest person in the world,” Ward says, “but it’s okay.”
Back in the studio, Ward draws a grid on a board and the photo to get correct proportion before applying paint. He paints exclusively with acrylic on board. “It dries quickly and cleanup is easy,” he says. The board gives him freedom to compose his paintings and introduces a rigorous physical aspect to his work. “Sometimes I might whack a part of the board off to change the center of focus,” he says. “Canvas seems so delicate and fragile.”
He loves action, movement, and weather that can knock a person to the ground. One painting, Sunrise on South Beach, is a taste of the way the oceanfront weather can turn on a dime: “I like the darkness of it,” Ward says. “I wanted to get the violence of the weather.” The physicality of his paintings is often cut with a calming nature. Cat Nap, a lonely scene of a gaff-rigged day sailor, is draped in a purplish-blue autumn sky, the boat reflected in the still surface. Water, in fact, is somewhat of an artistic bar Ward reaches for, what it all boils down to. “It’s the water,” he says. “I try really hard to be good at water.”
Ovid Ward’s work may be seen at North Water Gallery, located at 27 North Water Street, in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard (northwatergallery.com); The Hearle Gallery at 488 Main Street in Chatham (thehearlegallery.com); and at ovidward.com. His work is also shown at A to Z Gallery in Wellesley (azfineartgallery.com).
Truro artist Cammie Watson is from a long and storied line of artists, but her surreal ability to create sumptuous color palettes and use them in compositions is uniquely hers. Watson’s oil paintings—such as Brush Hollow, Little Pamet House, and a new work, Pamet Harbor—tap into an intuitive sense of self.
While she also works in watercolor, collage, pen and ink, and sumi-e (a Chinese and Japanese art form in which she lays shades of black ink on white washi paper), oils seem to give Watson the most freedom of color, not a small thing for her. “Color is extraordinarily important to me,” she says. “Colors remind me of the taste of food. They’re very luscious.”
Watson achieves this lusciousness by starting with an under painting of reds and yellows. “For the final painting, I paint over that, so some of the under paint shows through,” she says. “It gives warmth to the painting. It also allows something to happen without me doing it.” After the rigors of starting a painting, she steps back and lets another force take over. (She says she owes her sense of color mixing to a three-year apprenticeship in Germany with a puppet-maker.)
Watson grew up in a family of artists, writers, and illustrators. Her grandparents, Ernest and Eva Watson, were pioneers in color-block-printmaking. She and her siblings traveled with their parents from Vermont to Truro every summer. That experience and her unique perception of the Outer Cape allow Watson to capture its boats, barns, fields, big sky, and blue ocean. Brush Hollow, with its earthy colors and soft contours, has particular meaning for her: she recalls riding horses through blueberry bushes and beach roses to reach that special place on the Truro beach.
Watson, who lives in Truro with her two school-aged children and teaches at Truro Center of the Arts at Castle Hill, has won accolades from Kirkus Reviews, the Society of Illustrators, and others. She holds it all in perspective, especially regarding her children. “The children are a work of art, just as much as a painting,” she says. “They’re a work of art themselves, but much more beautiful. Watching a child develop is sort of my philosophy about my art. I like putting stuff down and watching it grow, not imposing myself too much. It’s a lot like looking at another person.”
Cammie Watson’s work may be seen at Addison Art Gallery, located at 43 Route 28 in Orleans (addisonart.com), and at cammiewatson.com. The Addison Art Gallery hosts a show of Watson’s work on July 6, 5-7 p.m., at Watson’s home studio, located at 6 Swale Way in Truro. The Addison Art Gallery is also presenting a demonstration, “Behind the Oil Painting with Cammie Watson,” on August 18 from 3:30-5 p.m.
Wendy Weldon’s large, color-laden canvases of structural shapes seem, at first, to have little tie to the wee birds she paints on cigar boxes. But the two styles have uncanny commonalities: both were her subjects when she decided, as an abstract expressionist, to learn to draw, and both types of subject matter have continued to garner audiences through the decades.
A resident of Martha’s Vineyard for many years, Weldon first studied abstract art at Bard College in the 1960s. “It was cool in the sixties to be an abstract expressionist,” she says. Eventually, living in Vermont, she had a yen to learn to draw. “So I started drawing barns,” she says. Then the birds captured her, becoming another way to refine her pen-and-ink technique.
Although she also produces monotypes, Weldon is probably best known for her large-scale, color-field paintings of structured objects—boxy barn designs, rocks, and doors. She says the massive canvases (some are almost five or six feet in dimension) most represent who she is. “I’m the most vocal on the big abstracts,” she says. “They capture more of who I am.”
The setting she used so prolifically to practice drawing—the barn—continues to hold her. “I’m still reconstructing the barn image I’ve done through the years, seeing what’s going on in it,” she says. They are symbolic too, of course—it is what the structure holds, its essence, which fascinates her. One of them, a mossy green barn with a red door—the inspiration for many of her barn paintings—may look familiar to Vineyarders: the painting is based on the Keith Farm barn, on Middle Road in Chilmark.
Look no further that the wide-open plains and fields of Indiana for Weldon’s affection for barns. She grew up on a farm in that bucolic state and spent plenty of time feeding animals and checking on her horse. She began coming to the Vineyard as a child in the 1950s and charts her prolific years as an artist by the decade. “When you change it up, it can be complex,” she says. “I don’t want to get formulaic.” For Weldon, the basic goal is innate: keep reaching for the voice.
Wendy Weldon’s art may be seen at North Water Gallery at 27 North Water Street in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard (northwatergallery.com) and at wendyweldon.com. She is holding an open studio on Sept. 8-9 at her home in Chilmark from 10am to 4pm as a benefit for Featherstone Center for the Arts (featherstonearts.org).
Welcome to the maverick life of artist Ryan Young. Since age 14, almost 40 years past, Young has labored long hours as a dockworker for the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole. His long workdays are followed by whatever time he can grab—perhaps an hour or two—to work on his lilting watercolors. “I guess you could call me a blue-collar painter,” Young says. “There’s not enough hours in the day.”
The peaceful spirit in Young’s watercolors—scenes of the Cape and Islands in endearing detail—is as counter as it could be to his working style. Dock work is the medicine he must swallow; art is the tonic.
Almost all his paintings depict a classic Cape Cod element: a road winding to the beach, a pair of swans on a lily pond, dories tied up at a dock. Ebb Tide; Little Sippewissett, centered on a meandering tidal river, lined with eelgrass and prints from a visitor, has all the majestic depth of nature itself. Amycita depicts a sweet little dory tied up at Eel Pond in Woods Hole.
The Falmouth resident felt the urge to paint as a small child and by age 12 or 13 was selling pieces. It was totally unplanned. “I was around the water a lot, loved to draw, and fell into painting,” Young says. Then, he adds, “somebody noticed and stuck me in a decent art class.” As a high-schooler, he took lessons from Falmouth artist Joe Downs.
“He was a watercolorist and kicked me in that direction,” Young says. Jan Collins Selman, who hangs his work in her Main Street gallery in Falmouth, has been impressed by Young for decades. “I met him when he was 14,” she says. “I loved his work even then.”
After high school, Young studied at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he fell in with a group of Italian art teachers and thrived. He married his childhood sweetheart, Frances, and life rolled out in its busy way: establishing a home, raising children, working to send them to college. Painting became a passion that he refused to give up. Today Young shoots photos and then, in the studio, places them on a computer monitor to paint. He also builds walnut furniture in Queen Anne and Chippendale style, inspired by the many afternoons he spent as a boy admiring the furniture at his grandmother’s house
He still thrives on his artwork and nurses a yen to paint full time. “This painting thing is a double-edged sword,” Young says. “It’s a delicate balance, painting and going to work. Painting is still a passion.”
Ryan Young’s work may be seen at Jan Collins Selman at 317 Main Street in Falmouth (jancollinsselman.com) and at Watershed Gallery in Kingman Yacht Center, located at 1 Shipyard Lane in Cataumet.
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.
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