I’ve spent this stormy day working on the Painter’s Notes for the new paintings. If you are of a mind to spend some time away from the news of the ongoing apocalypse, and would welcome some detours down the pathways of this artist’s musings, follow this sign…
On my website…https://heatherneill.com/ Under the menu tab…Portfolio You will find, sorted by year, all the paintings I’ve ever done.
When you click on a thumbnail there, you open up the larger format image for each painting.
There you will find info like size, and which gallery it is currently exhibiting the work. Down there, at the bottom of each of those pages, is that quill and teacup logo at the bottom left.
When you click on that…POOF ! It takes you to the Painter’s Notes.
I started writing them when I had my first solo show back in 2001. I had been a chairmaker for a decade or more, so I could make money, so I could paint. That was a whole lot of work, and scads more fun, but a creative reality check.
Turns out, 16 years later, it was a better bet to try this painting gig out, so I could carve spoons in my free time.
At that first show I wrote some journal like notes with each painting to help my chairmaking patrons understand that I was putting the handtools down and picking up brushes.
These notes have become an integral part of the painting process for the patrons who took that leap with me, and I offer them for anyone who might be curious about where my mind was wandering when I was at the easel.
We’ve got some new people checking in, hi there, so I thought a review was in order. For you well-seasoned followers… this is just to send a nod and a wink, and all the thanks in the world.
I’ve written the PNotes for all the new paintings I’ve launched so far.
Tomorrow I begin to document the last six of the new works. They are the beginning of a substantial body of work that has taken me full circle, back to the core of my artistic soul, from the very first brush strokes, and all the halting stages of creative adventures in between, to the cascading circles of how I’ve gotten to here… to the painter, who walks into the studio each day, wondering what does it mean to be a mature artist.
Who picks up the brushes, with aging hands, and trusts that the muses have her back.
My first solo show, way back in 2001, was titled, Vernissage.
Wiki defines it thusly…A vernissage (varnishing, from French) is a term used for a preview of an art exhibition, which may be private, before the formal opening.Guests may be served canapés and wine as they discuss with artists and others the works in the exhibition.
Right about now I’d love to serve you up some canapes and wine but, since we are here in cyberspace, this will be a Virtual Vernissage.
You are cordially invited to preview the new paintings which will be exhibited two weeks from tonight at the Granary Gallery !
This year I am going to launch the new work in groups.
As I sat last winter, with sketchbook in hand and snowflakes flying outside the studio, and began to pare down the list of compositions, some distinct and new series began to take shape. Try as I might to fit them all under the umbrella of one theme, they pushed back and up and out and I gave up worrying about it and just kept painting. What emerged after several months of work were a few smaller grouped ideas with the occasional common thread. I’m not sure if anyone but me will see those threads, but I’ll point them out along the way.
We start, yes, at the beginning. The first three paintings I did were studies of barns, and wood, animals and earth. So…from the ground up…here we go
Stable Light – 24 x 30
Click on this logo below each painting to read their Painter’s Notes –
The Hay Whisperers – 24 x 36
Angle of Repose – 60 x 40
Time now for a bit of my own repose… tomorrow the journey continues…
This one goes a little deeper… and as the Painter’s Notes reveal even deeper than I thought.
I’m listening to Paul Winter as I write this.
His song, Belly of the Whale from his Earth Music Album.
If you were here and we were both sitting in front of this painting listening to it together… I wonder if it would expand your thoughts about it, the painting that is, too.
His saxophone is tilting in a graceful arc above the water while a clear soulful whale song bubbles up from the ocean deep. They meet a hair’s breath below the surface in a gentle but haunting cello solo…and dance.
There is darkness and pain which flows into a brilliant blue tenderness. A compassion that makes me weep, and one or two notes that are all I need of joy.
I never would have chosen any of those words to describe this painting. I’m not sure why I’m including them now. But I do know that this painting was a mystery from day one. It does not appear in any form in any sketchbook I’ve kept. The objects are as far apart from each other in the studio as it is possible to be.
I remember picking up the clarinet in order to adjust the string that was holding it askew on the wall. Then taking the painting of Ted, which hangs facing the easel, off the wall so I could hang it there. Seeing the yellow of the whale oil strainer from across the room… and then noticing the morning light catch the tip of the seagull feather in the driftwood. How I got them all to stay like that on the wall and how that window got there I don’t know.
During the weeks I painted this Pat was away caring for a critically ill Uncle and his wife. We weren’t expecting it and the separation was disconcerting. I suppose the muses knew I needed a meaningful distraction. And so they brought me to the edge of this latest in the spirit vessel series.
And I suppose they are at it again…
choosing tonight, as I write, to have Paul Winter’s Saxophone to fill the studio, my heart, and my spirit
When I decided to give painting my full time attention I was well into my forties and had been a traditional chairmaker for ten years before that, in addition to a dozen different jobs and professions, so that when it came time to unveil the first batch of work at my show in 2001 I felt the need to help bring along my craft show patrons and friends, who never knew me as an artist…to go some way towards explaining the radical shift from woodworking tools, et al, to brushes and oil paints. So I wrote down some thoughts to go along with each painting and hung them off to the side.
There was some good response so that when, a month later, my work was accepted to show at the Granary Gallery I asked if they might also like the painter’s notes. Chris Morse, the gallery owner, said sure but he confessed to be not quite certain what to do with them so I assembled them into a folder which he put out for the viewers to look at casually should they be interested in more info.
I admit some naivite at the time and over the years these painter’s notes have been waved away by other gallery owners as not appropriate and on one occasion I was personally chastised by a critic for what he called the “conceit” of “writing poetry” to go along with my paintings.
Oh well…what helped me to get over that poke in the eye was the overwhelmingly positive response from the Granary’s patrons and staff and, for what it’s worth, I have continued to write.
After 9 years and over 200 paintings I have lightened them up some and see them more as journal entries that are there to add another layer to the work and the gallery keeps a notebook of the complete collection for those rainy day visitors to browse.
On my website you can navigate from the Portfolio page and browse through the paintings, sorted by year, open a thumbnail and scroll down to the logo on the bottom left (seen above) and click on the quill to open each paintings’ notes.
Got me thinking of all this because I am sitting here in the air-conditioned studio escaping the 90 degree afternoon heat and writing up this year’s painter’s notes. Some ponderous reflection made me pull up the very first one I wrote back in the Spring of 2000. Here is a look …
A sacred place.
On a great measure of bluff overlooking Squibnocket Point
there is a century old chicken coop become camp cabin.
Outside, the seagulls rise on the warming October air and cry out over the persistent sound of the ocean swells. The rust and sienna and gold of the late season meadow is accented with tiny red specks of newly opened bittersweet. There are long shadows and down along the stone wall the deer have settled into their beds of bracken and cattails hidden behind the grapevines.
I have spent a hundred evenings on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Familiar with the darkening shapes of rabbits coming out to find their supper of greens, beacons from the West Chop light house signaling brighter on the horizon, the milky way preparing for
its spectacle, and the magic of sparks arcing into the night wind
as the logs are emptied from the too smoky fireplace.
Inside on this evening with lobster pots and wine glasses stacked in the porcelain kitchen sink, the dog walked one last time and the candles gently blown out, we retire to our cubby hole of a bed.
When the last light of the reading lamp goes out there is an indigo blackness, a ghostly breeze lifting the curtain from the sliding window, and a stillness broken only by the rhythm of the waves.
So named almost a century ago by Grandma Sophie for the spectacular sunrises which grace this edge of the planet. It is a humbling moment to stand on that bluff with the Atlantic ocean before you and all of the continent behind and watch the sun break over that horizon.
I confess to having witnessed more sunsets than sunrises
and covet the cool crisp sheets of the morning.
It was on such a morning that I awoke to a mysterious light.
The center of my waking world was awash in firelight.
The door alongside the bed was opened to the bathroom.
Herself had placed a small candle in the sink while I slept.
The interior of this cabin is painted white at the beginning of the season every other year or so. There have been great Nor’easters weathered there when I believed that it was only those thick
layers of paint which held the walls and roof together.
The orange light of this morning’s candle was alive and dancing across that whitened wood.
The brilliant blue square of the bathroom window had long been a subject in waiting and
I had done sketches and taken photographs for a decade in anticipation of capturing that scene.
But it wasn’t until that moment, when the echo of her spirit was reflected in the worn surfaces of the enamel and dawn, that I found the way in to the heart of this painting.
The advice to writers is to write of what you know.
I believe that is true for artists.
I paint of the Vineyard to testify and to claim and to hold tight to that sacred piece of the planet.