If there is one thing I have learned as the editor of Cape Cod ART, it is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone, it seems, has a different idea about what makes a work of art compelling. This truism was underscored for me again when our staff reviewed possible cover choices for this issue.
Ed Chesnovitch’s life-changing moment came not with a bang, but with the soft murmur of a heart engulfed in nostalgia and grief. Until a few years ago, Chesnovitch, an East Sandwich painter, was working in Manhattan as an art director for such business titans as Macy’s, Revlon, and Lord & Taylor. Commuting from the Pennsylvania Poconos and visiting Cape Cod in summer, he had a productive, happy life. Then his mother died.
“It was one of those changes in life, where you have to decide what’s important,” Chesnovitch says. One of the revelations was how much he loved the Cape. So two years ago, he left the Poconos and moved to Sandwich, where he has found the natural world he had been craving. His house, perched on Scorton Creek, opens onto a tidal stream with constantly shifting water. “It’s ever changing,” Chesnovitch says. “I had to live somewhere where I could step outside the door and paint.”
Chesnovitch’s pastels are powerful compositions of the natural world, enticing viewers to enter the canvas’s deeper dimensions. Break Through shows a low, dark sky creeping across the canvas over a burst of sun setting over the marsh. Incandescence, with streaks of light igniting a brilliantly painted sky, is also part of Chesnovitch’s “Sky Series.” In all his work, it seems that something important is happening just below the surface. For Chesnovitch, it might be pure emotion in the guise of beautiful nature.
“Sky is the most emotional part of the landscape for me,” says Chesnovitch. “I’m attracted to a feel of open space.” The power of his skies lies in his talent for taking color and light and turning it into an energy caught at fleeting moments. “I try to capture atmospheric conditions and the envelope of light,” he says.
Today Chesnovitch paints prolifically, often working on 20 paintings at a time, his spirit pulling him from one to another when instinct calls. (He still does creative design as a consultant.)
A graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Chesnovitch studied at The Art Students League in New York City and the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown. He is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod. Constantly enriching his mind—and emotions—is nature in its many forms, just outside the door. As Chesnovitch says, “I’m a student of art always. There’s always something to learn.”
Ed Chesnovitch’s art may be seen at the Left Bank Gallery at 8 Cove Road in Orleans and 3 West Main Street in Wellfleet (leftbankgallery.com); Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery at 91 Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard (mvdragonfly.com); and at chesnovitch.com.
Until 20 years ago, the painter Elaine Coffee focused her art on simple, solitary figures. Then she visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and realized she was more captivated by the other patrons than she was by the art. It was a quiet but significant moment. Coffee’s style took a turn toward convivial interiors with intriguing characters eating, drinking, and talking. She had a new zest for her work, and art collectors responded.
“People began to say there were so many things to look at in my paintings,” Coffee recalls of that switch in direction. “Now I love painting people; they almost come to life in my head.” The first ones she did, of the Metropolitan Museum’s interiors, gave her a chance to paint both people and the paintings. “It was a pleasant double-edge sword,” she says.
Coffee’s art reaches out and grabs the viewer. You want to be in these paintings, where people are living the good life in some of its sharpest moments: engaged in conversation, enjoying good wine and food. Lo the Land Ho and Jazz at the Roadhouse depict convivial gatherings at two of the Cape’s popular eateries. “All these paintings in bars,” Coffee muses. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
A resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, Coffee summers in Orleans and travels to gather ideas for her paintings. She loves playing with lighting and composition. Sizing Up the Competition, an oil painting of young women draped over a fence at an equestrian event in Vermont, is a humorous take on how humans behave in groups, especially when they are competing. “There is an amusing scene here,” Coffee says of the painting. “To me, that was perfect.” There are fascinating tales in all her work. Often, they are told with values instead of storytelling, engaging the viewer and keeping the eye moving around the canvas.
Coffee studied biochemistry in college, then transferred to New York City to study art and dabble in medical illustration. Eventually she moved to advertising and writing before embracing fine art, where her illustrative touch found a warm home.
What Coffee calls her “slice of life” paintings were a natural progression from her figurative work. “I started doing shows 20-something years ago (in Scottsdale),” Coffee says. “People didn’t seem to get the meaning of a solitary figure, so I pushed the figure back. The more I pushed back, the more I got into it.”
Elaine Coffee’s work may be seen at Tree’s Place, located on Routes 6A and 28 in Orleans (treesplace.com), and at elainecoffee.com. New work can be seen starting Memorial Day weekend.
Carole Ann Danner gives new meaning to the concept of a working artist. She is committed to her painting and knows that getting better takes discipline, stamina, and energy. “My personal goals are to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, and self-directed,” Danner says. “You’re your own best critic.”
Studying with mentor Jim Peters and inspired by his use of dark lines, Danner enrolled in a collaborative program at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. After graduating, she continued to learn—through mentors, fellow artists, and museum visits. Today she paints at least 20 hours a week at the Shirley Blair Flynn Center on Pearl Street in Hyannis, juggling work as a bookkeeper and caregiver.
Danner looks to many sources as creative wells. “I’m a studio painter, working from life, photos, memory, imagination, and poetry,” she says. Currently she is working on a painting based on Cape Cod poet Mary Oliver’s work, “The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water.”
Danner’s artwork, a blend of realism and abstraction, continues to evolve. Her figurative work and landscapes are energetic, intuitive, and emotional. It is imperative, she says, that the art “moves me emotionally and physically.”
Vertical lines and rich color are prominent in many of her pieces, such as Jack’s Wharf 2. “I love line, form, shape, color, and structure, whether it’s rocks or a wharf,” says Danner. “I need a structure.” The dark lines, she says, are “a repository to put the paint in.” Some of her landscapes are done in encaustic, or hot wax, for its sculptural texture. Playing with a blend of realism and abstraction, she says, is the most fun. “You’re playing with all the possibilities and choices.”
A couple of years ago, Danner created a series called “Mothers, Aunts, and Grandmothers” after being inspired by her 80-year-old mother-in-law, who is wheelchair-bound. “I tracked down interesting seniors with stories to tell,” she says.
Danner asks a lot of herself, making constant value judgments about her work, always striving, she says, for “something that has a presence, is authentic.” And always, she says, it is done by keeping her options open and continually asking herself, is it working?
Carole Ann Danner’s work may be seen at both locations of the Julie Heller Gallery at 2 Gosnold Street and at 465 Commercial Street in Provincetown (juliehellergallery.com), and at caroleanndanner.com. Heller’s Commercial Street location is featuring Danner’s work August 17-30.
Whether it’s Lady Crab 2 Riding in Swirling Kelp, from his new “Crustacean and Shell Series,” or Big Fall Maples, Jack Dickerson’s acrylics exude reverberating, wonderful color.
It’s no surprise that nature, the wellspring of creativity, is his guiding force. “My painting is about discovery and exploring,” Dickerson says. “I’m always looking for new color or composition experience,” he says. Since the day he and his wife, artist Kate Dickerson, moved to Brewster two years ago, he has been intrigued with the local natural world. “When we moved here that winter, I started walking on the Brewster flats, when everything washes up on beach,” he says. “I take these tiny things and make them big, to show their beauty.”
The couple’s house isn’t one of Brewster’s majestic antique homes, but a contemporary design in French-Italian style. Dickerson’s mother was Dutch, and Dickerson went to school on a Ford Foundation grant in Switzerland, so the European mood suits him. In a large attached home studio, Dickerson displays his colorful oils, along with his very different calligraphic “Rooster Series.”
“Painting is a very complex thing,” he says. “There are so many problems to solve. I try to be buttoned up, but loose enough so it can go wherever it wants to go.”
Dickerson began focusing on his art after his career as a graphic artist eventually led him to a period of reflection. “I thought, there must be something more,” he says. He studied for a time with Wolf Kahn, a studio assistant of Hans Hofmann’s, clearly a high point for Dickerson.
He considers himself a risk-taker, likely something that dates to childhood. “We lived in Connecticut in the woods,” he says. An illustrator who lived nearby set up young Dickerson with art materials. When he wasn’t creating artwork, Dickerson sailed, hung out in marshes, or packed up sandwiches and went adventuring. “Those two elements played an enormous role in what I paint,” Dickerson says. The ocean so nearby in his boyhood and today—its inhabitants, boats, and flotsam and jetsam—shows up in its many guises. He is also drawn to trees, and paints their colors in vivid brushstrokes.
Today, art is a large part of his inner consciousness. “People ask me, ‘why do you paint?’” Dickerson says. “I say, because I have to. You could say it’s a calling; I don’t know. I’m just doing it. I’m trying really hard to just let it flow.”
Jack Dickerson’s work may be seen at Dickerson Gallery at 1050 Rt. 6A in Brewster; and atdickerson.com.
Whether it is the expressionistic strokes that sweep over Dartmouth Rooftops or the light daubs of color in the playful Jellyfish!, Sue Dragoo (Lembo) paints landscapes and architecture with a precise eye, bringing her subjects home with sublime color, light, and shadow. When she brings out her clothing-themed art, it’s clear that no matter what the subject is, a thread of sentiment runs through all her work.
Dragoo’s “Clothing Series”, a blend of fine art and illustration, has entrancing stories behind it. In 2001, after the death of a loved one, Dragoo was devastated. “After he died, I realized the connection people have with clothing,” she says. “For me, creating paintings of clothing was a healing process.” It also held two important firsts for Dragoo: her first cohesive body of work, and the first time a gallery accepted a piece of her art.
For what can be a pedestrian subject, clothing and shoes are very different through Dragoo’s vision. “In my family, instead of reminiscing over photos, we reminisce over clothes,” she says. “I can get lost in fabric stores, taking it all in. I love patterns, texture, materials.”
Much of Dragoo’s fine art is pegged on architecture: old Victorians with beautiful clay chimneys, columned porches, a red barn just visible behind the house. Dragoo painted these when she moved to Melrose, Massachusetts, where she lives today with her husband, and discovered history on every street. Her careful execution of buildings and clothing—the lines, texture, shades of color—may be due in part to her first profession, graphic design (which remains a part-time business for her). She studied under the plein air painters Kim English and the late Charles Sovek, and is thankful for her experience with her first oil-painting teacher, John Kilroy.
Now, Dragoo is working on a series of beach clothing. “Literally, in my studio window, I have a clothesline with bathing suits strung on it,” she says. “Neighbors must wonder if I’m trying to start a new design trend.” It is a part of her art she treasures, and rightfully so. As she says of her clothing theme, “it’s gotten me where I am today.”
Sue Dragoo’s art may be seen at the Little Beach Gallery, located at 539 South Street in Hyannis (littlebeachgallery.com); South Shore Art Center at 119 Ripley Road in Cohasset (ssac.org); The Copley Society of Art at 158 Newbury Street in Boston; the Hourglass Gallery at 458 Main Street in Melrose, and at suedragoo.com.
There is the light that every dawn brings, and then there is the light imbued in the work of Nantucket artist Elle Foley. Muted or clear, subtle or strong, reflected or refracted, light rays cast a lovely, gauzy net over her evocative impressionist landscapes, lending them focus, definition, and clarity. “It’s my greatest inspiration,” Foley says.
A summer resident of Nantucket, she travels extensively and considers her art “a painterly travelogue” of places in Europe, New England, and Nantucket, where she sets up easels outdoors for en plein air painting, or in a studio for more complex pieces.
The island, emblematic of our region’s sublime play of light, gives Foley limitless opportunities for expression. A first look at Summer Surf, for instance, reveals bands of blue ocean dotted with breaking waves and seabirds and offset by a swath of grass in one corner. Then the lyrical clouds come into view and finally, a light—clear and iridescent—washes over it.
One of her newer works, Red Sail, makes use of warm tones to brighten the sky over a sailing dory. “I’m always struck by the beauty of Nantucket,” says Foley.
Color, paint, and brushwork ultimately allow her to explore the natural world and sense of place in her art. “Varying the brushstrokes and layering is part of the fun of working with water and land. It adds depth and dimension,” says the artist. It also helps establish the place. “Each building, boat, hillside, or human figure is carefully painted in the context of its surroundings,” she says. “I like to keep it simple, to keep the eye moving.”
Foley has been coming to Nantucket since the 1980s, when she was a practicing architect and remodeling houses on the island. She studied painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and architecture at the Boston Architectural Center. After her architectural career, she returned to painting at the Art Students League in New York City, and began picking up awards—in New York at the Salmagundi Art Club, from the National Arts Club, and from the Nantucket Artists Association.
As both an architect and artist, Foley has an uncanny balance of an analytical mind and a creative spirit. It keeps her moving, literally and figuratively. As she says, “My energy and delight in color, light, and shape are ever changing.”
Elle Foley’s work may be seen at the Artists Association of Nantucket at 19 Washington Street and the East End Gallery at 3 Old North Wharf, both on Nantucket; Powers Gallery in Acton; Mecox Gallery in Palm Beach, Florida and at ellefoley.com. The East End Gallery hosts a one-woman show from 6 to 7 p.m. on July 27.
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.
Ann Hart is the quintessential self-taught artist. After a creative childhood, she was diverted from art, then returned in unexpected style. While waitressing one summer as a college student at The Squire in Chatham, she drew chalkboard menus and designed t-shirts during slow times. Today, 37 years later, Hart is a little awed that she is back on Main Street in Chatham, this time in Gallery Antonia, where her dynamic watercolors hang.
The contrasts in Hart’s life are mirrored in her art. “When I choose a subject, I’m looking for that brilliant contrast that allows me to use my paper in a dramatic way,” Hart says. She creates her effects through “negative painting”—using the paper as another palette of colors and saving white space as she works.
There is no going back in this method. In All My Marbles, a small, lovely piece that rings with color, shape, and depth, Hart thought she might have met her Waterloo. “It was such a challenge to create all that depth and brilliant color, and saving all those whites,” she says. “It was kind of a terror, but so much fun to do.”
She admits that her fellow artists think she’s a little far-gone. “You have to be a bit of a detail freak,” she admits.
Pocket Patio is a different angle on Provincetown, but purely stamped with the spirit of the Outer Cape: the brilliance of coleus and vines catching the light; the texture of the stone; the complementary shades of aqua, burnt orange, and violet. “I think of them as just singing against each other,” Hart says. Another charming Cape Cod scene, Ryder’s Cove, with dinghies lazily tethered on a marshy patch of sand at low tide, brought her an invitation to exhibit in a national show of the Transparent Watercolor Society of America.
Hart also does more structural pieces, mostly in another setting she loves: New York City. Signs of the Times is a vignette of a street scene with contrasting colors and eras. Amid contemporary signs and a faded brick building is an everyday traffic light, Hart’s favorite part. “It’s so artist centric,” she says. “I guess all artists are pretty self-involved with their work. We just zero in on something visual that gives us great pleasure.”
Ann Hart’s work may be seen at Gallery Antonia, located at 578 Main Street in Chatham ( galleryantonia.com) and annhartsart.com. The gallery will stage a solo show of her work August 8-September 30. She also exhibits at the Cape Cod Art Association in West Barnstable and the Creative Art Center in Chatham.
Considering the challenges that life has thrown her way, Patricia Kaufman is remarkably attuned to its goodness. After all, Kaufman says, all her life events led her to her art, a personal journey for 40-plus years.
“My life’s experiences have provided the catalyst for the birth of my paintings,” Kaufman says. “Art is my life. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Kaufman’s oil paintings brim with rich creativity, symbolism, and the subconscious mind. Almost all contain threads of personal history, such as Grandmother’s Garden, which depicts a young girl kneeling, head bowed, over rows of flowers stretching into the far distance and lilies in the foreground providing a talisman of protection, all under a sapphire-colored sky. It is at once deeply somber and joyful. The kinetic Heart Chakra focuses on a dancer, with allusions to mysticism, yoga, and the body’s chakras.
Though she is often influenced by poets and philosophers, such as the 13th century mystical poet Rumi, she is not afraid to bare her deepest joys and wounds in her oil paintings. After a difficult childhood, Kaufman entered a disastrous marriage. After divorcing, she went on welfare and put herself through the University of New Hampshire, earning a bachelor of fine arts and a master’s degree in art education. While rebuilding her life, her son was paralyzed in a fall at age 21.
Her life today, in New Market, New Hampshire, with travel to the Cape for exhibits and visits with friends, is filled with personal exploration and painting, her sacred ritual. “We’re connected to some inner guidance,” she says. “We don’t really do anything alone,” she says. As she sits before an empty canvas, she connects with her subconscious, trusting that the stories that emerge are the real deal. Always, she is “moving through the piece.” What begins as a playful manipulation of colors and shapes expands into androgynous figures, landscapes, and underwater images, fantastical, symbolic, and deeply meaningful.
Art is a permanent fixture in Kaufman’s life, as crucial as water and air. As she says, “The art has saved my life.”
Patricia Kaufman’s art may be seen at Bowersock Gallery, 373 Commercial Street, Provincetown, and Mount Dora, FL (bowersockgallery.com). A show of her work is being held at Bowersock’s Provincetown location on August 17th.