A conversation about painting

Alicia Savage of Melrose Arts fired some polite questions in my direction in the spring of 2013 as a prelude to the Melrose Arts Festival, Melrose, MA. As she went to the trouble of publishing my ramblings, I submit them here for the morbidly curious. I have substituted a few images of paintings that are among my favorites, although not available for sale.

The shared thoughts and artwork of Margery Jennings:

Margery is a visiting artist from Amesbury, MA. Her work will be on exhibit at the Melrose Arts Festival from April 26-28, 2013.

summer marsh
Swamp, 16x12 oil en plein air, Epping, NH, circa 1987.

Q. How long have you been painting?

As a child I was always drawing. I got my first set of oils when I was about 13 and have been painting most of my adult life. I worked as a graphic designer for many years and painted around the edges, so to speak, of my regular jobs. For the last six years I’ve been able to take painting front and center.

Q. The majority of your work is of landscapes. How do you connect with nature and how do you reflect it through your work?

I grew up in the woods, in a rural area. As far back as I remember, I felt connected to those surroundings and still have a powerful emotional response to the natural world. I hope some of that emotion comes through in the paintings. I think about the vulnerability of that world. Most are painted on location, and the immediacy of place—of sounds, smells, wind, temperature and light—all affect me as I work. Standing quietly and painting in one place is like bearing witness at that specific place, at that moment. With any luck the painting allows me to capture something of that numinous quality and share it with the viewer.

salt pannes
At the Salt Pannes, 9x12 oil en plein air, Plum Island, MA, 2012.

Q. While painting do you see and feel the world differently?

I think perhaps it’s the other way around. I paint because I see the way I do. I will see something visually arresting and it stops me cold. If I’m lucky I can stop, or get back there with my paints; otherwise it remains simply a sharp intake of breath, a vivid memory. There is, though, an almost meditative state that happens when I am painting: I lose any sense of time, and hours can pass without notice. It is an intense and focused process. I’m seeing in three dimensions, converting it to a flat surface, trying to hold on to what caught my attention in the first place. For it to work it also must convey what the painting is about, that emotional response, not necessarily what it is of. There’s a difference.

Q. Is there a particular location or time of day you tend to paint at/in?

I seem to like times of long light: the shadows of morning and evening can help emphasize or dramatize a subject; the hard light of midday is tough for me. In the studio I have painted at almost every hour when the impulse becomes irresistible. Often I will wake early in the morning with a technical problem nagging from an unfinished work and go into the studio “just for a look.” It’s a good way to get odd colors onto a bathrobe.

Morning Light, 9x12 watercolor en plein air, Gaylordsville, CT, 1990s.

Q. What details of your work are you most particular about? (color, paint strokes, lines, etc)?

Painting for me is an endless learning curve. I love playing with color, but “color” is an opinion—infinitely variable. I’ve enjoyed working with a limited palette—a couple of earth colors, black and white–and seeing how much you can do within those constraints.

Composition bedevils me, but I feel it’s the key to everything else. When you walk into a gallery you may see something from across the room that speaks to you immediately, even before you know what the subject is. You then walk closer to get a better look: that’s composition. I think about edges in a painting, but as they contribute to the composition; I rarely pay any attention to paint strokes. They take care of themselves… or not. Maybe if I get to a different level of accomplishment I’ll decide that paint strokes are everything. It’s all process.

Q. To someone enjoying the sight of a landscape, what words of wisdom would you share?

Turn off your cell phone.

gulls on a float
Resting. 10x8 oil en plein air, Ring's Island, MA, 2010.

Q. What is your current work about? What are you trying to explore and how has that evolved since you started?

I will probably always enjoy painting outdoors, but I have been doing other work in studio as well—I like painting figures and faces; I’ve also experimented with mixed media and different themes. I feel it’s about the process of creating, and the process of learning, rather than outcomes. I could probably go in a very different direction if I found a good reason to.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?

A lot of people come up to me and confide that they either wanted to paint, or did and gave it up, or “can’t” paint but would like to. Don’t listen to the negative messages in your head. No one can judge you. Never be afraid to take up an artistic pursuit at any age. Take a class. Watch a video. Go to museums. Draw something simple like an apple, or an orange if the stem intimidates you. Look at paintings (or sculpture or whatever). Take it all in. If you have the desire, find your voice.

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