Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sandra Hildreth: A Local Lesson in Art History

What follows is a guest essay by Sandra Hildreth, a member of the Adirondack Artists’ Guild. The Guild is a cooperative retail gallery with 14 member artists, located at 52 Main St. in Saranac Lake. Gallery hours are 10 – 5, Tues – Sat, and 12 – 3 on Sundays. 518-891-2615.

The current featured artist exhibit at the Adirondack Artists’ Guild in Saranac Lake could easily be a lesson in art history. Nancy Brossard is a well known local artist who lives between Tupper Lake and Childwold. Brossard primarily paints Adirondack landscapes in the tradition of “en plein air” artists, that is, outdoors, on location. Her works interpret the environment in wonderful animated brushstrokes, reminiscent of some of the French Impressionists, but faithful to the Adirondack views they portray.

Accompanying Brossard’s oil paintings on canvas are a number of her “pulp paintings”, previously exhibited in a show at Bluseed Studios. These are paintings made of paper pulp – chopped up shredded cotton fiber, in a watery pulp solution, that is spread out on a screen to make large sheets of hand-made paper. (Bluseed Studios offers many paper-making workshops). What is most fascinating about the process is that while the basic sheet of paper is white, Brossard also made different colors of paper pulp, by using different colors of old cotton rags and clothing, and then “painted” with them.

Brossard’s “pulp paintings” are pretty much totally abstract compositions – swirls and blobs and twisting lines of colors. I am reminded of a film I saw of the famous American artist Jackson Pollack working on one of his large, abstract “drip paintings’. There was a huge canvas flat on the floor and Pollack animatedly walked around it with a bucket of paint in his hand, flicking and dripping layers of color. The painting had no subject matter but was actually a record of his movements and actions! It really helped my own personal understanding of what abstract art was. Well, I can see Nancy doing practically the same thing – dancing around the large flat screen of paper pulp, swirling in blobs of colored pulp with her hands and slashing and dripping “lines” of colored pulp onto the surface using a plastic squeeze bottle! What creative fun that must have been.

But the real lesson in art history comes from seeing the oil paintings and the pulp paintings side by side – because it’s obvious how the oil paintings are clearly focused on the natural environment and the pulp paintings are evolved from the oil paintings. It’s not often one can witness the actual transitions of an artist’s development, based on art history, education, and personal experience. Nancy Brossard’s show this month at the Artists’ Guild does exactly that. The show will run through January 31.

Photos: Above, Nancy Brossard’s “Pulp Painting #3” (hand made paper); Below, Brossard’s “Fall Run, Massawepie” (oil on canvas).

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.

Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.

Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

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