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Colin Page Artist's Talk

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Colin Page studied painting at Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union, receiving his BFA in 2000. He has participated in numerous group shows up and down the east coast. For several years Page has been living in Maine focusing on painting the landscape. Recently he participated in a panel discussion at the Farnsworth Museum of Art, and was the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Door County Plein Air Festival, in Door County, WI.

March 31, 2014

Timing is Everything en Plein Air

His award-winning painting Winter Birches, which caught the attention of Salon judge Evelyn Trebilcock, is a perfect example. This oil painting was done at the end of his driveway. Painting the same location multiple times lets Page work faster and freer. In this case, he didn’t waste any time on a commute to the painting spot, either.

“One of the advantages of painting in my home area is that I know loosely what happens in a lot of my painting spots in a given hour,” says Page. “When I paint a spot for the first time, it’s a chance to consider if I should come back two hours earlier the next time for better light.” In the case of the birches at the driveway’s end, Page picked the time when the light was behind them. “I have painted those birches in all seasons,” says the artist. “In spring and fall they have these great yellowy leaves. In winter I like the starkness of light and shadows—the blue shadows on warm white snow. And I like them backlit—it gives them a luminosity, with the white bark catching reflective color. The shadow area ends up having more color in it, and then even though they are backlit, they glow a little.”

The time was right, too, in terms of weather. Page says winter in Maine generally chases him indoors to paint in his studio, but he has found that as long as the wind is quiet and the sun is shining, low temperatures are quite bearable. In the summer, he takes advantage of any decent day outside. With two kids, he has to budget time carefully.

This extends into his painting process—Page says he takes note of when the light is best in a given spot, then tries to start the painting before the light gets to the perfect place. He shoots for having the best light in the 90 minutes in the middle of the painting process. “I prefer a scene where I know how the light is going to shift,” says Page. “Even when the light’s not right I can draw things in, and then paint in the good light when it comes. I don’t want to paint the light I see when I start.”

It’s interesting Page says this, because he also talks about how the first 15 minutes of a painting and the last 15 minutes are the crucial points, when he needs to devote his full concentration to his work. The first 15 minutes establish the design, the composition. The last often includes highlights, fixes, and notable brushstrokes. The middle, when Page is depicting the light, is easier for him. It is the essence of the painting, but it is the most natural part for this artist to conquer. Maybe it is because this is what he’s focused on for a dozen years.

“Any day the weather is cooperative in the summer I go painting,” says Page. “I’ve been painting outdoors for 10 or 12 years. And it’s generally all about the sense of light—late light, back light, something about the punch of light in the scene. It’s actually harder for me to finish a painting in the studio, with the unlimited time in a controlled environment. Just in the last few years I have been learning how to be a studio painter in the winter.”

Page’s path to plein air is unconventional. It’s true that, growing up, he enjoyed hiking. But he attended a high school for the arts in urban Baltimore, then spent two years at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Next, he studied for two years at Cooper Union in New York City, and stayed in the city for another two years before deciding he needed a change. He and his wife ended up in Camden, Maine, where he has lived for 11 years.

“RISD gave me a foundation in color theory, design, composition, and long days of figure drawing in my first year,” says Page. “I am grateful for my education at both of those schools, but one of the reasons I loved plein air painting after I got out of school is I learned a lot more about paint mixing and paint handling and trying to capture light when I was painting outdoors. And I am still learning more about making strong paintings by doing it on location than I did in school. But the initial appeal was to not be stuck in a studio. I liked painting from life. Also, because you have to paint so fast, you are forced to find more gestural and personal brushwork. And any time you paint from life, you get a richness of color that you can’t get from a photograph.”

One element that carried through from his less technically oriented art education is working big. Page feels comfortable painting 16"-x-20" pieces or even 20"x24" pieces outdoors, but he prefers to work more along the lines of 30"x40". “Last summer I painted one plein air that was 36"x60",” says the artist. “I kind of missed painting big—you can get buried in it. It’s almost a richer relationship you get into with the painting. Rather than a few hours, you will be working on it for months. It’s a completely different way of painting.” Still, the limitations of plein air are very real. “I try to finish a plein air piece that day and not have to come back,” says Page. “It’s hard for me to get back to the same mindset. It’s always a gamble outdoors, no matter what size it is. You can always screw it up, whether it’s an 8"x10" or 30"x40". It works best if I am familiar with the scene and have painted it before. I enjoy it because the brushworks can be a lot freer, and the big gestural stuff works on that scale.”

Page likes strong colors on his split-primary palette. He uses quinacridone red instead of alizarin crimson, and he chooses alizarin yellow as his brownish yellow. He keeps cadmium orange and burnt sienna on his palette, too, so he doesn’t spend time mixing them. Page favors inexpensive bristle brushes.

It might seem surprising that Page traded the bustling art center of New York City for the quiet mid-coast of Maine, but Page says the move has been good for his career. “The area I am in is a very supportive arts community, with good collectors and art lovers,” he says. “It’s a much richer, more real artistic world then some of the art centers. We’re pretty happy here.”

July 7, 2013
by Daniel Kany
link to original article

Art Review: Bruno, Belasco and Page Work Well Together
Since it opened in 2006, the Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth has occupied an 1838 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gallery has now expanded into its companion building, the old registry.

I was particularly drawn to a pair of his unusual paintings.

“Howard’s Garden” is an effervescently disheveled composition of a Maine house whose front yard is piled with a jazzy collection of colorful stuff: Fencing, flowers and cast-off household bric-a-brac. It’s a deceptively complex composition turning on a series of tall posts rising through the midst of the mayhem.

Howard’s Garden Howard’s Garden, by Colin Page

Despite its sparky color, spatial development is the ultimate force in “Howard’s Garden,” and it takes the form of a cascade flowing down and toward the viewer.

Rather than domestic flotsam and jetsam, the dynamic elements of Page’s “Under Repair” are the orange and blue stands used to shore up the dry-docked boat (also in a yard).

Hanging in the companion gallery are Judy Belasco’s Maine coastal scenes bathed in quiet morning silver mist.

Belasco’s works echo the scale and converging horizon perspective of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), whose salt marsh scenes marked a high point of American painting. Belasco’s paintings are surprisingly free of angst despite their dedication to detail and brushwork precision.

Her work hangs comfortably in the quirky (but handsome) space above wainscoting and amongst Greek Revival windows—in a room bereft of parallel lines. (I imagine the building’s eccentricities don’t make installing shows particularly easy.)

In contrast, the new space just opened in the registry building features even floors and a long, flat wall. It’s a nice combination of historic Maine and upscale gallery sophistication, and it breathes.

The first show in the annex showcases abstract paintings by Ragna Bruno. It’s an unusual show for Maine insofar as it follows a mode of dry surface material abstraction usually associated with postwar European artists such as Alberto Burri (Italy, 1915-1995).

Bruno’s paintings tend to be 4-foot squares of grid-oriented imagery in a dry, understated and earthy palette, almost like pastels age-faded to the brink of white.

“Blue Composition” reads like a simplified schematic of an envelope centered on the square canvas with its flap opened toward the left side of the canvas. This sense of unfurling backwards sustains the sense of nostalgia—shared experience and love long ago—that wistfully holds the show together.

Bruno’s “Pompeii” looks to the ancient, frescoed city—buried and then unearthed—with a sense of emotional archeology.

The artist’s music-oriented works echo this sense as well. Rather than scores still to be played, they feel like memories, now more texture than tune.

On one hand, “Musical Composition 2” looks like an ancient, desiccated version of Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” excavated from Pompeii, but because it pulses tonally rather than optically, it feels more like Edgard Varese than Duke Ellington.

By presenting the canvas as a complete thing—found, rediscovered or remembered—Bruno’s work cuts to the quick of abstraction.

Whereas landscape painting is predicated by a sense of place, abstraction stipulates the physical presence of a painting.

While this might not ring out as a eureka moment for most readers, it matters that when Bruno presents music, for example, we see it as a complete system—a structure, a gestalt or a whole.

Conversely, Page’s landscapes turn on the extent to which the act of painting asserts its own presence. Each of his canvases proffers the question about how important the rendered trees or rocks are (i.e., illusion) compared to the strokes and physicality of the paint.

For Page, the answer changes from painting to painting. Not so with Bruno. The paintings and their self-aware systems and structures refuse to fold into the illusion of representational space. When imagery takes form (like in her small case in “Winter Trees”), it does so in a receding whisper.

There is mystery, but Bruno keeps it for herself, like cherished old love letters. We see this in the barely perceptible backwards writing on the surface of the painting in Spanish, and often starting with “solo”—alone.

While you might think of Da Vinci or a libretto to be read from the other side, I saw reverse archeology, and quickly let them go as someone else’s otherworldly and plaintively personal letters.

While most of my favorite abstract painting in Maine bristles with a vital edge (Mark Wethli, Ken Greenleaf, Thomas Flanagan, Garry Mitchell and Cassie Jones among them), Bruno’s work dovetails elegantly with traditional Maine painting. It is quiet, atmospheric and contemplative. It’s a broken romanticism wrapped in bittersweet knowledge rather than lusty sublime.

When I saw William Irvine’s most recent paintings at Courthouse, I felt a place for Bruno as a Maine painter.

Irvine’s newest paintings work harder than ever to clearly present the structural geometry underlying works like Bruno’s. His “Lighthouse,” for example, features a blue rectangle shooting straight across the image, playing the part of sea horizon before it shoots straight up towards the sky—echoing the edge and form of the painting. It’s beautiful as well as brilliant.

There is a great deal of excellent art now on view at Courthouse Gallery. And taken together, the shows by Belasco, Bruno and Page comprise a particularly interesting trio.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: dankany@gmail.com

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