The Zen of Red Trees, Gardens, and Seabirds
Cape Cod Life / July 1990 / Home, Garden & Design, Nature, People & Businesses
Writer: Edwina Halsey / Photographer: Edwina A. Halsey
The Red Tree was a gift, a gift to be shared,” Anne MacAdam says of the major abstract which appeared in her 1989 show at Bayer Fine Arts in Provincetown. “It grew there, on that canvas, through three months of intensive work. I had no idea when I started that it would realize my hopes so completely.”
When you first encounter this large (59″ x 66″) painting, you are immediately drawn into it. It has great power, and the sweeps of its major compositional lines are irresistible. The exuberance of its color shocks, then excites, and finally reveals a profoundly detailed complexity of textures, forms and rhythms, which both intrigue and entertain. It is hard to find a place to stand clear of such passion.
At first you are not aware of what this surging maelstrom could be. Upon getting closer and reading the title, it becomes apparent that it is, in fact, a red tree. By then it doesn’t matter; you are engulfed. The forms and patterns of the tree itself are so aligned and reinforced by their harmonic relationship that the object is irrelevant; only the energy, the order, and the intelligence found in the tree’s innermost structure remain. This is not a destructive abstract but rather one of probing and understanding, an expression of love and, perhaps, reverence.
Provincetown artist Jim Peters was among the many people attending Anne’s show. His admiration of her work is obvious: “The large, based on foliage patterns but expanded to become a lesson in red, a blazing declaration of constrained passion, was the anchor of the show – a most beautiful painting.”
Anne found a profound sense of gratitude upon completion of The Red Tree, a joy in the power and clarity of it. Reflectively Anne says, “I think this is the closest I have come to the center of my own path. It is so much my deepest sense of truth.” Her eagerness to get on with the search is electric, and she is working hard on a disciplined program to get to where she wants to be. “It’s great to have talent, but taken alone it’s not worth anything if you don’t know how to work.”
Anne’s determination and drive come from her early childhood. She was a solitary child, raised on a farm with rolling hills and open fields. Of those days, Anne remembers, “I drew all the time on any type of paper. Fantasies, dreams of the way life is and could be as an adult were always in the form of drawings, comic strips, pictures in the margins of schoolbooks, all over the place. Rather than listen to what my teachers were saying, I drew what they were talking about.” The things Anne valued most were her imagination and the relationship between herself and her environment. It was also during these formative years that Anne began to express her deepest feelings visually, but it was not until later, during art school field trips to the Philadelphia Zoo, that things began to click into place for her. “It struck me as a revelation,“ Anne says, “that we have a harmonious relationship with so many animals in bone structure, muscle, and body functions. I felt it had to be from the same primal source.” She felt a relationship with all things: art and music… painting and dance… man and beast. These relationships have become the central core of her beliefs, and motivating force for her paintings. “What attracts me in nature,” she continued, “is its complexity, its growth pattern. There’s a tremendous fire within me to have things right.”
After five years of art and dance studies in Philadelphia and New York, and after several years of uncertain struggle and graduation from art school in Philadelphia, Anne entered the corporate world. Unsure of her talent, she didn’t think she could make a living painting. But her inner sense, her inner focus, remained the same. She would paint, though she would not be a “Sunday dabbler.” Her commitment to her professional career was absolute. She channeled all her energies at being the best she could be at what she was doing. She worked to build a financial platform for an early “retirement” so that she could attack painting with the same total dedication.
That day came in 1985 when Anne moved to Provincetown. Unable to locate a house to suit her particular needs, she designed and built her own. She incorporated a personal gallery into the foyer of the house so she could show her work. The front door opens to a large staircase done in black slate, with stark white walls to display her paintings. The effect is dramatic. Anne’s private quarters are to the right at the top of the stairs, the main house is to the left. This allows her to continually view her paintings, to refine them if need be, and to sense whether or not they “speak” to her. Her studio is reached by going through the gallery and out the back to a breezeway, which shelters a separate entry. She wanted to get away from the day-to-day duties of running her home and “go to work” – only a few steps away, but still important to her concentration during the day, and her freedom from work demands at night.
Anne does not want to paint “pictures” – paintings of things you can look “at” and say “that’s a charming house” or “a lovely landscape.” She does go out and paint landscapes, “pictures,” but only as a means of searching for concepts of paintings that she feels can transcend the subject. She loves going out for the search, but when she hits on one of these sketches that has the potential to be a painting – to convey her personal message, “to speak in her voice” – that’s when she gets excited. She doesn’t always know when this will happen. The sketch of The Red Tree was done in October, but it didn’t open up to her until January. That was the sketch she could use as a vehicle, as a platform from which to launch a major work, to go far beyond the subject.
Many of Anne’s paintings deliberately impact on the observer’s way of looking at things, disrupting their everyday perceptions. Such is the large painting that hangs on the ceiling of her gallery, 20 feet above the floor. It is of a seabird soaring high above the earth. But what you feel gazing up at it is not the bird circling in space. The bird seems to be still, at peace in its element, while the storm clouds swirl powerfully around it. She muses, “We need to find that same sense of inner calm, to be at ease within our own element and not too easily buffeted by the surrounding turbulence. Sometimes we see chaos in nature only because of our perspective. But if we go further, we can resolve it. I’m trying to reveal the beauty, the wonderful intelligence and order in our natural world.”
Anne describes Low Tide, a 30″ x 17″ canvas, which she has chosen to keep in her personal collection, as “a very kind painting. The sand bar forms beautifully, almost like the hip or a leg … a close relationship to human form and a very erotic painting. The color shapes of this particular canvas roll toward and away from the edge forming an organic voluptuous force.” She was able to locate a wood grain frame that imitates this same relationship resulting in a very successful synthesis of diverse elements.
Standing Water, an 18 1/8″ x 17 7/8″ painting, came about entirely differently. “It came easily … the paint seemed to come right off the palette and onto the canvas in just the right places … the voice spoke right to the painting.”
Anne prefers painting outdoors when weather permits. Two of the major works in her 1989 show, The Gardens of Suzanne Sinaiko #3 and #4 were done totally on site despite 95 degree days and almost constant changes in the light and flowers in bloom. The challenge for her in this subject was its overwhelming complexity and the great compositional opportunities it offered. She built these intricate paintings structurally, using line, form, texture and color primarily as compositional tools. She altered focus and light to create a sense of magic or mystery, to entertain, and sometimes to deceive the eye.
She speaks of working into these paintings until they seem to take on a life of their own and begin to reveal themselves to her. This is the moment of the “gift” that she refers to often in talking of The Red Tree and of her other major works. Anne feels that when a work reaches that level, she has been granted a trust, and it becomes her role to simply fulfill it. Her single concern is to not betray that trust by her unwillingness or an inability to do whatever the work requires. All of her training, experience, and study are seen as merely preparing herself for these rare periods of “transparent realization.”
On a sketching trip to Vermont, in snow and freezing temperatures, such a trust was not given to her. She realized that what she was working on could never be more than a simple “picture.” With a band of blue across the top and a strip of green across the bottom, it would immediately be labeled a “landscape,” and most people would look no further. She gave it no more of her time; yet, in her journal for that day she wrote, “Still, it is a beautiful day, and I would rather be here doing what I am trying to do than anything else I have ever done before.”
The Garden of Suzanne Sinaiko #3, a 22″ x 21″ canvas, is a painting she loves fervently. In it she deliberately put a vertical element dead center and swirled the composition around it with such vigorous sweeping curves that you are not aware of the center focus at all. You rotate around it. The composition’s dynamics back you up. It pulls and pushes you, plays with you and draws you into the back garden and shifts you, again, to the front. Though you may think you know where you are going, it will shift you around another curve and return you to a place you didn’t expect to be. The canvas is rich with colors and compositional expression.
This painting was first exhibited at Bayer Fine Arts when it opened for the 1989 season but was listed as “not for sale.” When 26 people indicated an interest in buying this piece, Sam Hardison, owner and director of the gallery, contacted Anne. They decided it was time for her to do a show. That September, when everything was ready for hanging, they met to set prices. The 1988 Garden was sold that night. “It’s hard to believe that this show of 19 works was produced by one artist in such a short time,” Sam says of Anne. “When her exhibition was in here, the gallery was alive with an expression of creativity. So much of what art is about was in that room.” Her show was a near sell-out in the first two days.
The 1989 Garden painting is a larger canvas, 36″ x 34″. Again, it exhibits a complex compositional vigor, but the mood is entirely different. This is an open, warm, and enveloping world. It welcomes you into its center with a broad path leading to the middle distance. The great cascades of flowers and foliage surround and embrace you. The eye is invited to wander many paths and is rewarded at every turn, but the center is a place of great peace and beauty. It was purchased immediately after the gallery opened. Anne says, “It is the painting I most regret selling so soon. It was like losing a child you never got to know.”
Anne is intense when she speaks. “The wonderful part of art is that everything you do is new, there is always discovery. You have to keep looking for a better way, a solution that will be more perfect, more transparent to the meaning, to the feeling. I am always trying to get the painting to vibrate to my feelings – like a tuning fork – so that my feelings and the painting become symbiotic, become one.”