We finished our second week with our new lead painting instructor, Stephanie Pierce, and our fifth week of the overall "Intensive Program" here at Mount Gretna School of Art. Time is flying, as our paintings have grown larger and more ambitious. A devoted and hardworking mind-set grew among the group last week, week 4, as we stepped out from painting what we see in the landscape to painting what we imagined. Jay charged us to work large and make a painting from invention; “work inconveniently large; make a big inconvenient painting.” This challenge sparked nights of late night group painting in the studio, a frenzy we have carried into week 5. I am thrilled to be among a talented, hard working group of students, who work diligently morning, afternoon, and night. The devotion is contagious.
In addition to making work, we have been enriched each week by artist lectures from professionals across the country. In this week alone, we heard talks by Jeffery Reed, Sam King, and Stephanie Pierce—Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, consecutively. Jeff Reed spoke Monday night after a group meal. He talked to us about the essential need in painting to convey pictorial ideas not "postcard scenes." His landscape paintings demonstrate a strong understanding of space, light, and atmosphere. He brought many of his paintings from his time in Ireland and also showed many scenes of rural Pennsylvania, a landscape we have become familiar with over the past 5 weeks. His works served as small windows capturing a fleeting atmosphere and light. He urged us to paint what we love, to make a connection to our subject, and to strive to paint evocatively instead literally.
The next night, Tuesday night, abstract painter Sam King shared with us his work and ideas. He began as a perceptual painter, painting landscapes in Indiana and Arkansas. His early work focused on the changes he observed in the landscapes surrounding him, such as the destruction of an old rail line and the building of a new road through a bird sanctuary. He has taken his perceptual sensibility and applied it to a new abstracted way of painting. He encouraged us to never stop searching for what it is we want to paint and what it is we want our paintings to say. He challenged us to take risks with our work. We should make work that causes us to ask the question, ‘is this good or is this dumb?’ “Learn to push your own buttons. Throw wrenches in familiar ways of painting and familiar ways of seeing.” One student asked how he decides when an abstract painting is finished, and he responded that his paintings are resolved when he still wants to be in the painting but there is nothing left to do. He is finished when the painting needs nothing more to keep him into it—advice I am trying to internalize this summer, as I wrestle with the struggle of knowing when a painting is complete.
Lastly, Stephanie Pierce gave a powerful artist talk during our Wednesday morning lecture series at the Hall of Philosophy in the Pennsylvania Chautauqua. She talked about her fight between representing the image of what she sees verses the experience of seeing. Her work is about movement and transience. Nature and light reveal itself to us in a "now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t" manner. This is also something the writer Annie Dillard heightened in awareness to this summer (we read her thoughts on “seeing” before starting our last three weeks of the summer with Stephanie). Stephanie’s paintings deeply connect with light’s movement across space and time. She spoke of seeing the rectangle of her paintings as a container of space holding restlessness. She confronts the fear of not knowing where the painting is going, an ideal that many painters, including myself, often hold on to tightly. Elements and moment in her paintings compete for importance and existence in the painting. She searches to find what matters to make it into the painting. Wisdom that has resonated in my head from Stephanie’s talk is her belief that painting can point to something outside of itself. Her paintings undeniably point to an experience of looking and the impossibility of capturing reality.