Inside Look: Rose Olson’s Rain and Sunshine

Emma Newbery

The maxim that Rose repeats throughout our interview is: “the person you don’t want to bore is yourself.”

I spoke to Rose ahead of her upcoming show Rain and Sunshine, set to open on June 24th in Kingston’s main gallery. We discussed newer elements of her work, especially in the context of her long tenure as a painter.

“I’ve always painted all my life,” she explains. “I can’t change. No matter what my job was, how many hours of teaching I did or whatever I did, I would have to come home and do some work sometime during the evening before I went to bed.”

Over the course of her career, Rose has honed a distinct aesthetic. Using acrylic wash to play with light, movement, and opacity, Rose brings depth to the surface of her seemingly simple works. “When I was younger, I worked on everything: paper, it might be charcoal drawings. It might be anything because I had to work. Now, I work strictly with paint and wood and nothing else because that’s what interests me right now.”

Her upcoming show at Kingston signals a new dimension of this familiar medium. Perhaps reflecting the mercurial social environment, Olson’s show includes works like Red Intrusion, below. The notion of intrusion is something Rose explores deeply in her more recent work. The push and pull that results from the integrity of Rose’s natural canvas meeting the piercing strip of red that truncates its base is a relationship she relishes.

Rose Olson, Red Intrusion, acrylic on wood, 20”x 30”x 2”, 2019.

“I love what I’m doing right now,” adds Rose. “A lot of it is new because of blocks of colors. And the color is quite heavy. But it doesn’t eliminate the grain of the wood, which is very important to me when I’m painting.” 

Rose goes on to explain the importance of maintaining the integrity of the surface on which she paints. It’s as much a part of the painting as the materials that cover it: “The grain of the wood is something that I respect. So I try to make it clear. I try to make it available for the viewer to see no matter what color is over it.”

“A grain is unique,” she says. “They’re like our fingerprints, so no two are alike.”

Rose Olson, Violet Calm, acrylic on wood, 2020.

Within this medium, Rose’s work retains its fluidity. “Sometimes I’ll look at a painting that I had done and it bores me, so I will go back and work on it. So I guess they never end,” she muses. Five minutes before our interview, she made a final adjustment to a recent work titled Violet Calm, left. “I just finished a painting now that I had started earlier and it needed something desperately and I wasn’t sure what it needed. And I just discovered that it needed a golden band. So I put it in. It’s just a slim band and it enhances the grain as it goes up.”

Once she has finished a piece, Rose strives to keep the viewer’s experience of her work dynamic. “The colors keep changing continually, which is important to me. Also, when the work is on the wall, there’s the light going from one end of the room to the other that continually changes the colors, because there are so many layers of color and the light will pick up one layer after another.”

Rose did not cultivate this dynamic approach alone. She credits a shared workspace and creative process with her interest in the ongoing nature of her work. “My husband was a writer. He wrote poetry. We would very often stop our work and I would show him my work.”

Creating side-by-side elevated both of their processes. “When he would start reading his poetry, I would say, you know, it’s not quite there yet,” Rose recalls. “Then, all of the sudden, he would do it. It would be right there and I would get the goosebumps and I would say, stop. This is it. You’ve made it. You know, you don’t want it any different than this.”

While her husband passed recently, she continues to find motivation through these memories of collaboration: “My husband died suddenly three years ago, and that is a blow to me. It’s overwhelming,” says Rose.

“But,” she maintains, “it doesn’t stop me from painting.”

Rose Olson, Swirl, acrylic on wood, 12”x 12”x 1”, 2019.

Swirl is shot through with two, thick lines of red, lending the work a different feel than Red Intrusion possesses. The color pushes against the grain of the wood, and the whorls through which it slices seem to bend in protest, or perhaps in welcoming. The paler, nearly iridescent wide stroke of violet below lends a tactile element to the piece. Beneath the lines, straight and firm, it almost serves as the memory of a hand has followed their course, leaving behind an imprint. The work, like its maker, is pushing at the boundaries, suggesting a sense of continuance, and of potential chaos.

In addition to her career as a painter, Rose also taught for many years, spurring on her students in the same way she pushed her husband and continues to push herself.

“I don’t think there was anything that I didn’t like, and I don’t think there was a student that I didn’t like,” she recalls. “I pushed them very hard. I wanted them to create something uniquely theirs, and I think they understood that because we would both get excited.”

Rose encouraged her students to trust their unique perspective on shared, human experiences rather than attempting to break away from artists who inspired them. “Sometimes you can try to copy something, just so you understand what, what colors that person is using,” she explains, “but they’ll never come out the way that person uses them. They’ll come out the way you use them. You find yourself doing it in such a unique way.”

“That is, it becomes exciting to you because we are all different from each other,” she adds. “That quality within each person is very important to me.”

Rose Olson, triptych. From left to right: Canals of Mars, Martian Sky, Martian Water, all acrylic on wood, 20”x 20” X 1.5”, 2020.

Ultimately, Rose views painting as a deeply personal, emotional experience that turns one’s internal experience outwards to face the world. “Whatever you are, whatever your passion is at the moment, whatever you see out there comes through in the work.”

“Whether you’re a painter or you put it into poetry and words, the way my husband used to, when it hits just right, that’s it. You get the goosebumps and that’s when you know.”

In any creative pursuit, Rose concludes: “When something is real, it’s it. It just affects you completely.”

Elif Soyer: Art that Moves the Mind

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Untitled, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

At the opening reception of Elif Soyer’s exhibition, Throughwhich is on view until Sunday, March 27, I discussed the work with one of her fellow member artists. We commented on how the elegant paintings that are inspired by organic matter such as plant roots could as well be the tracks of a person fencing in the snow. This is not so random an association as one may think, because Soyer co-owns Moe Fencing Club in Somerville, MA.

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Classic dance step diagram

Her two areas of expertise-art and fencing-can’t help but inform each other. I can’t speak to fencing in detail, but I understand the sport to involve a combination of physical discipline and strategy. Meanwhile, during my recent studio visit with Soyer, it became clear that she was doesn’t so much literally represent her chosen subject as recreate the connections between things, incorporating multiple types of information about the given subject, such as multiple viewpoints, times spent observing it, and characteristics of its nature, into the rendering. Rather than starting fresh, the previous marks accentuate the marks in the foreground, appearing to emerge from layers of white acrylic. Each gesture visually accumulates to achieve the completed work. As the exhibition press release describes, the paintings register experiences of memory, space, and time.

A flat, neutral background is consistent throughout this new series of works on canvas and paper. It brings to mind both diagrams and specimens, and in that way causes me to associate them with sharing ways of thinking and understanding the world, rather than straightforward, optical representations.

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A rough schematic of energy shifting planes from an article about synaesthetic motion. See the original context on the website Creative Applications

I brought together a few images to demonstrate what I mean: a vintage diagram of dance steps,  a rough, hand-drawn schematic of energy shifting planes that I found in an article about synaesthetic motion (this article is quite technical, but they mention James Turrell in the third paragraph), and an illustration of an algae specimen by Mary Wyatt. I like the contrast with illustrations of algae particularly, as Soyer focuses on roots, the parts of plants that are typically not visible, but they are essential to their sustenance and growht.

The paintings in Through are not any one of the examples I bring in, but consider them while keeping in mind the concept of motion, specifically the motion of objects shifting in space, and sharing ideas. The series can be seen as interpretations of how thoughts and perceptions change over time, and how the progression toward understanding is as interesting as the mastery of any given subject.

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Mary Wyatt, Algae Danmonienses, or Dried Specimens of Marine Plants, found on Zucker Art Books. 

At a time when we all may all guard ourselves against steadily decreasing attention spans, these paintings demonstrate not snapshots of objects, not hints of narratives, or even one specific idea or value, but rather the process of living with things over time. Painting this series, for Soyer, was a way of learning and knowing, with graceful and thought-provoking results.

 

Elif Soyer is a Turkish-American artist. She received a Diploma in 1995 and a MFA in 1997 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and is the longest-serving member of Kingston Gallery.

She is also a fencing coach and co-owner of Moe Fencing Club in Somerville, MA, where she trains Olympic hopefuls, weekend warriors and some of the top-ranked fencers in the US.

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Another work in Through shot at Elif Soyer’s studio in Somerville, MA earlier in 2016. Untitled, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

 

 

Snapshots from Barbara Moody’s Residency

Barbara Moody is a resident artist at the Vermont Studio Center this month. She kindly sent photos of her studio and the drawings and paintings in progress. Like much of her work, these pieces possess rhythmic compositions that make the imagery seem to float, despite the elaborate compositions.

Those of you who visited Kingston Gallery this month may recall Moody’s large biomorphic, abstract piece in I Know Just What You’re Saying. It is the first piece you see when you walk in the door, and when you visit the exhibition page of our website: kingstongallery.com. My favorite part of it are the scratches into the surface of the varied colors.

Have a look, and take note that Moody’s next solo exhibition at Kingston will take place in April 2017. Stay tuned for other opportunities to see her work in Greater Boston and beyond.

Studio Visit with Luanne Witkowski

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Luanne Witkowski in her studio

This month marked the end of Lucky Li’s internship at Kingston Gallery. In addition to assisting with marketing, social media, and other duties, she accompanied me on studio visits. I’m very pleased that Lucky will remain with us as one of Kingston’s part-time gallery sitters. Here’s her description of the last studio visit we made together:

 

Recently I accompanied Shana Dumont Garr on a visit to Luanne E. Witkowski’s studio in the SoWa district. She graciously welcomed us and showed us her past and current work while sharing stories as she did so, giving us insight into the evolution of her process over time.

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Detail of artwork by Luanne Witkowski, inspired by and responding to landscape.

Early on in the visit I noted Witkowski’s astute take on how others react to her art. She explained that her work often tends to evoke stories from people. Similar to the way she visually expresses a memory with her art, viewers come to her with verbal memories of their own that were evoked by her artwork. The stories others share with her seem to delight and inspire her, and she shared a few with us. One came from a man who said the piece he enjoyed the most was the one with the large fish in it, and proceeded to show her which work he was referring to. He said it reminded him of an anaconda he saw on vacation once. Witkowski didn’t intend to depict any animals in that particular work, but she enjoyed the man’s vivid description, and even changed the name of the work to reflect the story.

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A display of recent work by Luanne Witkowski in her studio.

One of the things that struck me the most about her from our visit was Witkowski’s passion for connecting with individuals and with her communities she is a part of. She is an active member of several local artist organizations including the United South End Artists, Mission Hill Artist Collective, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. She also offers Basic Training for Artists and Creative People Workshops (Healthy Artist/Healthy Studio) for institutions and individuals.

It is unsurprising that Witkowski is well-respected within her communities for presenting opportunities and skillfully advising those who express passion and potential in their work and personal character. She is an entrepreneur with a history of making opportunities for herself that started when she was young. She sees her responsibility as an artist being about filling the world with art, and supporting fellow artists. As she carries out these responsibilities, she helps others do the same. Always working with a larger vision in mind, her work is done with the interest of bringing the world to her art, and bringing her art to the world.

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A view of Witkowski’s studio, including past series and a work in progress.

Nature in Flux: A Studio Visit with Joan Baldwin

Joan Baldwin in her Waltham Mills Studio.
Joan Baldwin at her Waltham Mills Studio.
I recently climbed the wide staircases of Waltham Mills to visit Joan Baldwin‘s second-floor corner studio. The former mill has tall ceilings and lots of light streaming in from big windows. Viewed on a sunny midday, the oil paintings were radiant. Evidence of past series, such as huge, vivid foliage scenes and surreal depictions of chairs leaned near corners and against walls, offering an appealing, low-key way to take in her work.

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A sunny corner of Joan’s studio, including an earlier painting of upholstered furniture.
Baldwin’s Members’ Gallery show opening at Kingston Gallery on June 3, 2015 will feature framed works, but her previous Kingston exhibition transformed the Center Gallery with an installation where, like her current pieces, painted vistas set the scene. For the installation she cocooned dolls in sheer fabric, so hints of their round eyes and bald heads shone through, and hung them, with painted white sticks, from the ceiling. A curiosity about divergences between human life transitions and those of insects and other animals persists through her years of art-making.

Joan has been focusing on a mid-size series of what she calls terrariums, as they contain nature in three dimensions, and in some cases, the sculptural collage elements press right up to the interior of the Plexiglas. The diorama-like format incorporates her speciality, details of nature, rendered with spot-on accuracy, as the background. Next, she collages nests and cocoons onto the foliage and tangled networks of brush using items that by context aren’t immediately recognizable, such as beads and lightweight, lacy fibers. The collage elements complete the habitats where the lives of insects and birds emerge.

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Joan Baldwin, Hair Flies, oil on board, collage, 27 x 33 inches, 2014.
The terrariums seem to usher in new life, and so we could also refer to them as incubators. Areas with the cocoons and nests are at times frothy and slimy, and yet still beautiful. The materials that compose what in reality would be foam or young new wings are decorative in their original purposes of barrettes and other hair accessories. In past works, Baldwin has also collaged with hair from wigs. She says some people are at first repelled by the visual complexity that studs the foliage. Like much thought-provoking visual art, the works ask more questions than they can answer. Some questions may get under our skin, such as “Does it depict birth or death?” and “Is it forming or falling apart?” Rather than distancing or idealizing the life of small creatures, these works hone in on it.

Foggy Morning, 2010
Foggy Morning, 2014
Baldwin’s imagery is from photos she has taken of the wildlife on Pleasant Bay in Cape Cod, where she has a home. She explores, takes photographs, and then returns to the photos to paint from a combination of memory and her own vision. More than anything else, the photographs inspire her incubators. Rather than seeking photographic accuracy, she applies her own instinct of how to make clear, compelling scenes from spots that in lived experience may have been overlooked. Particularly adept at conjuring eye-catching foliage in oil, she balances bright and dark area–often enhancing the lightness–to depict the weedy, leafy paths by the salt water marshes. The effect is airy and lush, making the Cape Cod settings seem tropical.

Previously in her career, Baldwin illustrated furniture. She lived in North Carolina, near the immense furniture markets of High Point, where her editorial illustration work made a good living. Over time, Baldwin was not satisfied with direct furniture painting, and her couches and ottomans became more surreal. The furniture she painted was tiny for a time, scaled for dolls or ornamentation. In other canvases, a couch may stretch out, morphing into a hand, or stand in a wooded scene, nearly transparent, taking on the appearance the forest itself, foretelling her future artistic direction that is based in surreal meditations on natural processes.

-Shana Dumont Garr