Contact: Tamar Russell Brown — 978.425.6290
Susan Wadsworth — 603.801.6746 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Painter Susan Wadsworth has created beautiful images of Mother Nature in all her glory in recent paintings of scenes witnessed and studied in Maine, Vermont, and Ontario. She travels with a sketchpad that takes in the tiny, the gigantic, and everything in between. She has employed her eye for the telling details that an insightful artist can pick out of immense expanses, as well as the majestic sweep of those big vistas. These subjects of study and celebration are “Mountains, Trees, Rocks, and Seas: Small to Mighty.”
The work is mostly very recent, and features Ms. Wadsworth’s latest interests, including the challenge of executing huge pastel murals, capturing stunning sunsets at sea, and employing a new freedom with ink in the landscapes of mountains and trees. This is the artist’s first solo show at a commercial gallery, and she is very excited to be exhibiting so much new work.
The big “show piece” in the exhibition is Quoddy I. It was inspired by the Quoddy Head State Park in downeast Maine, near the Canadian border. It is the fifth very large piece (42″ x 108″) that Ms. Wadsworth has completed since April 2020, in addition to three “smaller” pieces — each a mere six feet wide.
The medium for all of these is pastel and ink on paper. Formerly the artist always began with pencil, later going over these lines with India ink. Now she finds she can do smaller studies applying the ink directly. But with very large pieces, she still relies on some underlying graphite lines to work out the overall structure of the composition. Further on in the process, she adds pastels in multi-colored layers — as many as 20 such layers! These she rubs by hand to achieve a smooth finish. The ink is the final ingredient, contrasting very energetically and solidifying the entire work.
The Covid crisis of 2020 forced many exhibitions online. This turned out to produce a unique opportunity, as Ms. Wadsworth had much less to worry about in terms of “frame-ability” of her paintings. “I could submit works, large or small…I was free to experiment with sizes and formats,” she says. “And thanks to the visionary support of Tamar Russell Brown and Gallery Sitka, that is exactly what I will be doing with this upcoming show.”
In May of this year, the artist “escaped” to Maine for 10 days, “knowing only that I wanted to draw rocks.” She found plenty of inspiration at Bailey Island, Pemaquid, Schoodic, and Quoddy, this last location nestled beside Quoddy Head State Park. From her base in Lubec, she hiked, stopping to sketch when she found a view that was especially beautiful and inspiring. She produced 10 studies and took numerous photographs. From these, she pieced together the vistas now that appear in Quoddy I. The large pieces might appear to be from one point of view, but in fact they are meticulously constructed combinations of at least five different viewpoints. She compares these to some landscapes well known to admirers of Cubism. The difference between her own work and those cubist paintings, says the artist, is that her vision is more “organically connected.”
Ms. Wadsworth’s understanding of her own work tends to change and develop over time. This process is reflected in the relationship between different artistic schools and even across national borders. An admirer of Chinese and Japanese art, she has long studied the rocks depicted in Chinese scrolls, perhaps once imagining bearded sages strolling in the hills at a leisurely pace, surrounded by the natural beauty of the exotic rock formations looming over the river below. (Well, exotic for North Americans, perhaps. Obviously, the Chinese, accustomed to their surreal, bulging rock cliffs on the banks of the Yang-tze, may find the mesas of Monument Valley quite exotic indeed.) The rocks that she draws from life in New England and in Canada, do not exude peace of mind. “These rocks suggest trouble,” she says, “but one that is negotiable. And the light, I hope, suggests spiritual hope.” In other words, the images drawn straight from nature are often quite beyond words, but they conjure up powerful thoughts and feelings when she takes another look at one of her landscapes months or years afterward. “The inner content of my work,” she muses, “sometimes evolves with the work itself or becomes evident later on.”
The artist directs viewers to the kanji — Japanese characters — that she sometimes includes along with the images. These can be imperfectly translated as “transform…transcend…eternity…breath…true…be,” among others. The use of kanji is purposeful in terms of meaning and the graceful, decorative emphasis on planes that we see in Japanese screens. The kanji create a kind of “pictorial tension — a play of planes and flatness” — in place of traditional perspective.
This Sitka show also has small tableaux of unframed pieces, of a size (c. 10.5″ x 13.5″) that fit comfortably into the artist’s drawing backpack. She executed many of these as “walk and draws.” She hikes until she is tired — or inspired. Then she sits down and begins to draw.
Another new section for the show will be Ms. Wadsworth’s sunsets. These were completed on two different cruises — one through the Panama Canal in late 2021, and the other in March 2022 from Brazil to Barbados. The artist intensely studied these spectacular sunsets, taking as many as a hundred photos, in the process catching many subtle changes in the color and composition of the sky, the sea, and the sun in the course of one shoot. The artist created drawings from those photos. “I tried to create a focused essence of each sunset,” she observes, “without all the encircling details that are possible but often distracting.”
The last bank of drawings at Sitka will be “mountains and trees” done on walks near the Vermont border and at Lake Temagami in Ontario. Here the artist plays with color and layered lines, seeing them more as “energy lines.” She maintains: “There is always something else going on that is more than just a mechanical reproduction of reality.”
Susan Wadsworth earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Cranbrook Academy of the Arts near Detroit, and an MA in Art History at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Readers who want to learn more about her work or the Gallery Sitka show can contact Ms. Wadsworth or the hostess of the exhibition, Tamar Russell Brown, at the numbers and email address listed above.