Artist Profile: Tamalin Baumgarten
Musician Bob Dylan is often credited as saying, “The purpose of art is to stop time.” For artist Tamalin Baumgarten that has proven true. Even from a young age, she recalls, “I loved art class because it was a subject that grabbed my focus, and I could get lost in a project for hours.”
She attended a liberal arts college, majoring in art but soon transferred, realizing she wanted to take only art classes. Finishing with a BFA degree from the Cornish College of Arts, she continued her education and received her master’s degree at New York Academy of Art, a program she says “is unique, as it focuses on anatomy and life drawing; realism and old master techniques applied in a contemporary way.” Using oil paint, she paints mostly on wood panel. The smooth surface allows the artist to control the brush without interruption in her strokes.
Baumgarten’s grandfather lived in Cuttyhunk, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands, and she fell in love with the simplistic beauty found on the island, becoming the inspiration for much of her art. “A lot of my paintings’ subject matter is inspired by Cuttyhunk. When I was living in New York or other places, I was still painting scenes from this tiny island, doing portraits of people there or landscapes.”
Her paintings—landscapes, architecture, portraits—are exquisite and evoke a feeling of quiet realism. Her pieces speak to her own experiences with the island, but one doesn’t need to know Cuttyhunk to relate to her images—focusing on light and shadow, her paintings, sometimes haunting in detail, allow you to feel a sense of familiarity. People often remark the same of famed artist and Cape Cod resident Edward Hopper. As a realist painter, Baumgarten says this is what she strives for in her own work. “I believe the ‘real’ part comes from an ability to capture the feeling of a moment beyond just describing in paint what it looks like.” Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning might be her favorite painting of all time. Her inspiration comes not just from the spit of land west of Martha’s Vineyard but also, in the works of the prolific American poet Emily Dickinson. She shares, “I’ve been told that my paintings bear resemblance to the themes found in Dickinson’s poetry, particularly the evocative motifs of mystery, melancholy and wonder.”
Her grandfather’s historic house, built in 1910, would become The Avalon Inn, where Baumgarten was the innkeeper for several years. It is at the Inn where she has established the Cuttyhunk Island Artists’ Residency in 2017, which has brought more than 100 artists to Cuttyhunk’s majestic shores. She says having been the innkeeper, “it trained me to understand how to run a residency because so much of it involves hospitality.” Baumgarten opens the doors to artists inviting them into a supportive environment allowing them the time to focus on their art in the peaceful setting of the island. Being an artist can often feel isolating she says, “You are by yourself, making decisions alone and you can often lose direction. Finding and maintaining an artist’s community, having friends who are also artists, can be so supportive.”
Carving out time for art, in fact is one piece of advice she would give to those wondering how to set priorities. “Allowing yourself enough time to create your work and making life adjustments to be able to pursue it in a consistent way,” she acknowledges, “It’s not always easy, because life can get in the way.” She speaks from experience. As a new mother, she has had to learn to juggle responsibilities and find a balance that artists often struggle with.
The subtle and serene detail in the artist’s work is intentional and she credits her MFA thesis advisor at New York Academy of Art, Peter Drake, for bringing her attention to “the strength of paring back, of not cluttering a scene with unnecessary detail.” Baumgarten goes on to say, “I want to capture the essence of a scene by imbuing a minimalist quality in my paintings.” With her new perspective as a mother and her desire to show the beauty and independence of Cuttyhunk to her son, her work will continue to awe.