A Promise of Things to Come: Works of Energy and Optimism in Oils

On display at Gallery Sitka in Fitchburg, Mass through March 29, 2018


Doreen LaScola is always searching out new means of expression. She is continually evolving as an artist, creating her works from the inside out, or from what she refers to as her “core” (a word that comes from the Romance languages, meaning “heart”).  She relies on instinctively understanding her subject matter rather than merely copying onto canvas or paper what the eyes see. She believes that art is about revealing the artist’s thoughts and feelings as much as representing the world that we all share objectively. It all adds up to continually looking to the future and seeing a world of possibilities. The artist will offer 26 pieces of startlingly original work at Gallery Sitka in Fitchburg starting on Saturday, Feb. 10, in a show she has entitled “A Promise of Things to Come.”


Ms. LaScola considers herself primarily a studio artist focusing on the conceptual and the abstract. She has always chosen her various media — oil, woodcut, acrylic, pastel, pen & ink, and mixed media — carefully and painstakingly. But a few years ago, Ms. LaScola, “on a lark,” decided to try painting right within the natural world she loves. She began to do “plein air” painting, out-of-doors, with her subject surrounding her. At first, she disliked that very feeling of sensory bombardment coming from all sides. Her style had always come from a quiet place inside her, and so depicting the overwhelming power of the natural world seemed foreign. But she pressed on, palette knife in hand until she established the connection she was looking for. By painting outdoors, Doreen found a way to take in the energy of the trees, the water, the stones, and all the manifestations of forces larger than herself. She felt humbled by this new approach to looking at the world. The overall feeling was centering, calming, but also thrilling.


The paintings in this show all display a remarkable energy. The colors are vibrant, bold, and seem to rush right at the viewer, creating a plain where all the elements — the trees, the ground, even the shadows — come up flush within the frame. Yet it is surprising that in such highly kinetic images the various objects do not seem to be clashing with each other. In fact, there is a feeling of peace, balance, and unity. These pictures of New England outdoor scenes express that almost hypnotic feeling of connection to the natural world — “the woods are lovely, dark and deep” — while carrying a charge that unapologetically demands our attention.


In “An Energy All Their Own,” the bright colors don’t correspond to any we would capture in a color photograph. The bark of the trees is violet, set off by shafts of rich yellow that we might assume are little fields of straw or some other ground cover that we might see in the forest. But the bold yellow seems to have a lot more to do with depicting the sunlight as it reflects off the straw than with the straw itself.


“Essence” presents colors that are more immediately recognizable. In the foreground, we see lilacs, with bright spring green in the immediate background — although the background is not exactly what that green feels like, since once again all the colors seem to rush forward. Curiously, this almost electric energy so completely captures the sense of life and promise we might see in those lilacs that we are pulled in. The sensation of depth comes not from one field of color fading away into the background while another field comes forward, but simply from the intense energy of these living things themselves.


This way of seeing the depth of the image is even more striking in “In Attendance.” The trunks of the trees in the foreground are a sort of vivid red with a touch of russet brown. They frame the waterfall in the background, blue water crashing over rocks and turning white. Somehow we know the waterfall is further away from us, but even so, it seems to jump upon us and playfully splash us.


By contrast, “Waning Beauties” is almost documentary in its focus and concentration on one small area. We see in close-up some flowers that may have seen their best days but are still sporting brilliant reds and yellows. The stems interspersed among the flowers are not exactly green but rather a strange pale blue that perhaps reminds us of the sky overhead.


“A Promise of Things to Come” — the title painting of the show, so to say — also presents us with impossible colors that speak more of the general feeling of the place than of the colors a camera would come away with. “Behind” the spring-green leaves in the foreground is a sky that is not powder blue but something like that lilac color we saw in “Essence.” The brownish red of “In Attendance” is here again, the bark of these shortish trees communicating more, really, about how Ms. LaScola is seeing it and feeling it than how it would appear in some objective rendering. The optimistic attitude toward the future comes through very strongly here, carried primarily by that commanding energy of Mother Nature herself to which Doreen has become so acutely sensitive.


An award-winning mixed-media artist, Ms. LaScola first found her voice as an artist at Minneapolis College of Art & Design and later at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She has many works in private collections in the U.S. She works out of her studio at the School Street Art Studios in Gardner, Mass.


Gallery Sitka veteran Thomas W. Bradley wants to “capture the hidden treasures…that surround all of us” by means of the works in pastels that he has created in recent years. He has also been experimenting with new kinds of textural surfaces on handmade board. Mr. Bradley suggests that the precious moments he’s seeking are all around us but we too often miss them as we hurry from one place to the next.


The artist has an exquisite sensitivity to the countryside. He catches the quiet beauty of these rather lonely but also very welcoming scenes far from the noise and confusion of the city. “Queen Anne’s Meadow” pictures a clearing on a hillside that may have once been, or may still be, a pasture for sheep or cows. The grass of the meadow is decorated discreetly with wildflowers of white and yellow and cornflower-blue. “Right to Farm” brings us up a dirt roadway leading to a barn and a small white farmhouse. We see no fewer than four vehicles — a tractor, a truck, and not one but two earth-movers, each parked somewhat haphazardly around the yard. There’s definitely a story here, but no one is around to tell it. We see all the necessary machinery for farming, but the farmer himself is otherwise occupied. The title may refer to the farmer’s right to be doing what he does, or to the proposition that any person looking for the peace of the countryside ought to have the right to make a living on a small, family (as opposed to factory) farm.


Mr. Bradley’s recent trip to the southwestern United States was a revelation and led to the creation of 10 new paintings that will be featured in this show. He painted these works at the Cibola National Forest near Albuquerque, N.M. and along historic Route 66 (yes, as in the old TV show and the Nat King Cole song) from Albuquerque to the Texas Panhandle. “The landscape, open skies, and lighting of the southwest are so different from what I have lived within New England,” Mr. Bradley says. He felt inspired to “capture the light and excitement of the desert.”


“Cibola—Into the Valley” illustrates this change of scene admirably. The viewer can almost feel the dry air and the expansive feel of the place, with immense blue mountaintops far in the distance. In the foreground, there is a lot of exposed, ragged-edge rock. The single tall tree in the picture seems to be whipping around in the wind. With that “big sky” and the mountains in the background, it makes the tree seem like some lonely soul fighting for survival in a harsh environment. But it’s an exciting, stimulating environment too. That upbeat feeling comes through very intensely in this painting.


“Save Us” portrays two old automobiles set amid the sparse greenery of their southwestern home — just some grass and low shrubs, with that same endless blue sky opening up above. There isn’t a single tree to be seen in the foreground, only a short, whitened one shorn of all bark that may already be dead. The title of the painting seems to be what the pickup truck and the station wagon would say if they could talk. Both sport a paint job that must have been brilliant red once upon a time but which is now battered and faded. The station wagon seems to be the older of the two vehicles, showing little resemblance to the long, sloping family cars that people used to drive back in the 1960s and ’70s. This one seems to date back even earlier. What are they doing here? The viewer doesn’t know. All we can assume is that these two old highway warriors belong in this expansive, sun-dried country. They even seem as though they might be able to keep on going for years — so long as they can stay here in the desert.


Artists Joelle Feldman and Susan Wadsworth will join Ms. LaScola and Mr. Bradley in this exhibition. The theme of the world as seen out-of-doors continues with these artists, as they depict both wide-open landscapes and crowded street scenes.


A native of Normandy, France, Joelle Feldman lives in New England. She began painting watercolors 30 years ago but now mainly paints in pastels and oils. These media serve her well in the works she will exhibit in this show. She captures the motion and hubbub of public spaces with her pictures of people in such a rush that we often see them only from behind as they are walking past. A picture of one woman dressed in black (highlighted with striking red-orange shoes, gloves, scarf and purse) walking away is a contrast to another depicting an entire crowd that seems to move as a single mass. They seem to form a wedge, but an unthreatening one, as — once again — they are all walking away, not charging toward us. A warmer kind of togetherness comes through in another picture of a (presumably) married couple on either side of their child, a boy (or possibly a girl). Still, the boy just slightly betrays the look of a kid feeling a bit trapped, with Mom to one side and Dad to the other. Both parents seem to be (of course) in a big hurry to get somewhere and to carry along their little one as expeditiously as possible. Another picture shows us no special hurrying at all — four figures that appear to be four young schoolgirls huddling and taking the time to pass around information and gossip.


A member of the Humanities faculty at Fitchburg State University, Susan Wadsworth enjoys “the experience of exploring certain sites,” such as the remarkable landscapes that she rendered while adventuring out west (Utah and North Dakota) in 2014. “Dead Horse Point” depicts an apparently unforgiving landscape that might indeed be a place where a horse or a human might end up dead. (Indeed, the title of the picture is the grisly name of the state park in Utah, where horses were often left to die.) The scene is a desert that sports a little green but a lot of brown and gold, along with “painted desert” hues, purples and misty blues that are not what an easterner would expect to see in the great outdoors. “Theodore Roosevelt Park” has the same sort of big sky feel, even though we see only a sliver of sky framing a landscape of great gold western mountains with only the barest traces of greenery popping up here and there.


“A Promise of Things to Come” is available for viewing at Gallery Sitka at 454 Main St. in Fitchburg, Mass., through March 29th, 2018, Thursday-Saturday, 10-4. Visit gallerysitka.com to learn more.