Island Life, Island Light

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Island Life, Island Light is the way I’m characterizing my latest six paintings. You can see them for a while at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, where the Blue Hill Concert Association graciously invited me to be the featured artist for early March. On Sunday, the Calidore String Quartet was scheduled to perform, and I couldn’t wait to hear them.

One can get a little starved for classical music on Deer Isle. (But just a little.)

Island Life, Island Light

I’ve been used to making small watercolor paintings, so these are big for me: Wood panels, two feet by three feet. I bought them on sale last fall. I hadn’t decided what to do with them. Then Ron Stegall called me one day and asked if I’d be a featured artist for one of the chamber music concerts. Duh. Of course I said yes.

So I chose the March 10 concert, which gave me a few months to (a) find a studio (b) order plenty of oil paint and (c) decide what to paint. I knew I wanted to go beyond pretty landscapes, but I wasn’t sure how.

Then I remembered what Jules Maidoff once said to me in Florence, where I was painting portraits in a studio with the Art Students League. My roommate knew Jules’ daughter, and we visited them at his home. “Why paint in a studio?” Jules said. “You’re in Florence, so paint Florence.”

I’m in Deer Isle, I thought, so paint Deer Isle. It’s not quite like any other place in the world. Not by a long shot.

But actually, one of my paintings, Mail Boat, is about Monhegan Island, not Deer Isle. In the fall I’d taken a trip to Monhegan with my husband Dan and my parents. We took the first mail boat, which left very early in the morning. The light was spectacular. Liquid and golden. Almost unearthly.

So as I stared at my blank panels, I kept thinking about the light on that mail boat. Hence painting No. 1.

island-light-mail-boat
In Mail Boat, I try to capture early morning island light

Two and Three

Then I looked for other subjects, different kinds of island light. Every day on the way to the post office I walk past the green house with the pier, the shed and the lobster traps. On a gloomy January day when I felt blue I noticed how a sliver of light through the clouds gave a glow to the front of the house. Painting No. 2, Gray Day.

island-light-gray-day
Gray Day, another kind of island light.

Just past that house is the Fish Pier, where fishermen unload their lobsters and scallops. Refrigerated trucks then haul the seafood off the island. I’ve always wanted to do a nightscape, and the Fish Pier from my studio window has a lot of exciting imagery at night. So I had three ideas. I decided they were coherent enough as “Island Light, Island Life.”

island-light-fish-pier
It’s very dark on the island at night, except when there’s a full moon and down at the Fish Pier/

Glazes

I wanted rich color, but I didn’t want to do wet-into-wet painting, which reminds me of frosting a cake, something I’m not good at. I remembered I’d written a story for the New England Historical Society about Maxfield Parrish’s glazing technique. So I researched glazing, and I bought a bunch of galkyd paints and solvents and mediums to go with. Then I put on my work clothes and spent a couple of cold winter months painting all day.

I started with underpaintings, or grisailles, either of acrylic or galkyds. I chose grays for some, umber for others and cadmium red for the most muted paintings.

One evening I walked past the old sardine factory and saw it glow in the late island light. Painting No. 4. The old factory is used for parking now, as the sardines are gone and the sardine factories mostly moved to the Far East. There are people on Deer Isle who’d like those jobs back. I think of this painting as Ruin Porn.

island-light-sardine-factory
Island light at the end of the day transforms the old sardine factory.

Island Life

I also had a bunch of photos in my cell phone of LDI Lobster, the lobster shack at the end of the bridge. They have, without doubt, the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. I love the look of lobster shacks, how they evoke the glories of a sunny summer day. I’m sure no one has committed suicide while waiting for a lobster roll to come up. Painting No. 5.

island-light-lobster-shack
Best lobster rolls ever.

I wrestled with what to do for painting No. 6. One day in the summer I had gone to East Point for a book club meeting. It was hard not to notice the gorgeous views (I think that’s Cadillac Mountain in the background). So I returned the next day and hung out on the bait dock for an hour or so. I took a lot of pictures of the charming ruffian in the painting. We talked about the Wyeths and about cool stuff around the bait dock – the fish bones, the hidden salt marsh at low tide, the driftwood.

His image kept haunting me. I was struck by the almost magical light and the contrast between the tender way he held the fish bones and the offputting message tattooed on his fingers: FUCK OFF!

So I took elements from all the different photos and voila! Painting No. 6.  I thought about painting in his tattos, but then I decided I preferred a G rating. Maybe I’m just a coward.

island-light-bait-dock
The amazing island light down at the Bait Dock. It does something to reds, so I had to include the bait shovel.

Anyhoo, that’s the story of my latest six paintings. I hope you like them!

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Day Eighteen: Stonington Harbor

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I get a lesson in climate change at The Harbor Café, which overlooks Stonington Harbor.

Oscar and I decide to have lunch there on Day Eighteen. (Thursday, Jan. 27, if you’re keeping track of our artists-in-residency at the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery.)

The Harbor Café is a Stonington institution, open year round and, when nothing else is open, the restaurant of last resort. The food is what you’d expect in a Maine fishing village: hearty American fare.

Oscar and I sit in the window so we can watch the world go by, mostly in pickup trucks. Sandra brings me the haddock sandwich I ordered. The fish is the size of a pork roast. Oscar ordered the same. This is about as good as fried fish gets. We are happy.

Stonington Harbor. Hagen Dock is on the left.

“They’ve stopped working on Hagen Dock,” I say. “The barge is gone.”

A fisherman, an older gentleman at the next table, laughs. “They ran out of money,” he said. “They’re good at that.”

“They’ve done the hard part,” says Oscar.

“The hard part is finishing it,” says the fisherman.

“Maybe the hard part is paying for it,” I say.

Arrow points to the orange barrels on Hagen Dock. View from Harbor Cafe

The fisherman explains the dock has to be built up to the orange barrels. They’ve actually just paused because of the weather.

“There’s going to be a catwalk around it, so we can’t tie our skiffs up to the floating dock anymore,” says the fisherman. “Years ago I wanted them to fill in the harbor, build a wharf, shore up those buildings. When I first got here all those buildings were on dry land.”

Now they’re on pilings. “Wow,” I say.

“The tides are two feet higher than they were 20 years ago,” the fisherman says. “They used to be 10 feet. Now they’re 12. Those buildings are all gonna be gone. If they’d done like I suggested, we could put our boats right up to the wharf, there’d be parking.”

“People could walk along the waterfront,” I say. “Tourists love that.”

“And there’s plenty of grout,” he says. “Just barge it over from Crotch Island.” There is a quarry on Crotch Island. Some days when the wind is right you can hear the rumble and roar of the quarrying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjiuCuuZQv8

Sandra brings the check. Oscar insists on paying. I always worry, because Oscar can’t do numbers. He pays with a credit card but he doesn’t leave a tip. I slip Sandra $5 bill. “Oscar can’t do numbers,” I say. She smiles.

I painted one of those buildings on the waterfront. Wonder how long it will last.

Lobster Traps on Stonington Harbor

 

 

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