The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 20, 2005


Four artists grace Gleason Public Library

The Art at the Gleason program has mounted "4 at the Mill," an exhibit of paintings by four area artists who share a studio at the Littleton Mill. Last Saturday afternoon, Joan Terrell Smith of Boxborough, Dona Julian Spillane of Chelmsford, Arlene Richman of Concord, and DeAnne Thorn of Groton rendered their own perspectives on art in their work and in their lives and talked about the collegial relationship in their shared studio space.

Joan Terrell Smith revealed that the artists eat lunch together each day, and Arlene Richman chimed in that lunchtime is a chance to converse and share their lives. Richman said that she has to "get that part out of the way" before she can begin work. Smith added that "conversation is an effort not to work: when you're blocked it's easier to talk." Spillane noted that when conversations focus on art, especially on technique, they can be helpful. Everyone agreed, saying that the shared space affords the women the ability to ask for help and exchange ideas about materials. Thorn enjoys the luncheon chat, but solves the problem of conversational noise by wearing headphones when she needs to concentrate. Each artist works differently, but all agree on the advantages of their shared work space.

Joan Terrell Smith paints light and balance

Smith is a painter in pastels. She focuses on treatment of light, and as a result, light dapples, angles, and shimmers in her landscapes, among her trees, and in her skies, balancing the realism of the subjects with an other-worldly effect that hints of magic. That balance is as evident in her life as it is in her art: after graduating from Tufts University, Smith went to Europe and became intrigued with sculptural elements there and in the U.K. This led her to start a business in museum reproductions of sculpture, in which she specialized in product development and production. Working with such prestigious institutions as the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Biltmore and Newport mansions, she and her business partner had about 35 employees at the height of their prosperity. Smith enjoyed the frequent travel in Europe and other areas, but said that the business suffered from "the all-too-familiar problem" of cheaper knock-offs of the products, and was disbanded in 2001.

At one point, Smith had painted a mural on the back of a show booth that the company used to exhibit products. She found that she enjoyed mural work, and that it sometimes sold more easily than her smaller efforts. She now styles herself a muralist as well as a painter.

Dona Julian Spillane creates landscapes and color values

Spillane has been experimenting with a "limited palette of color, heavy on cadmium [red]." She graduated from Newton College of the Sacred Heart (now part of Boston College), and studied with, among others, author-artist Tomie DePaola and Philip Markus of the Museum of Fine Arts School. This latest experiment in color, painted in oils on linen canvas, begins with the use of cadmium as underpainting. When a "local" color (used specifically for the subject) is painted over it, the red shows through. Using dark or pale cadmium hues creates a study in color value, and the effect is grounded in a wealth of voluptuous color.

Spillane incorporates this technique into the landscapes in which she specializes, seeking to find "an intimate moment of serenity" in her scenes. One of her most frequent subjects is Cape Cod, which she "knows by heart" and where she can always find "topics and subjects." She also finds other areas with which she connects as deeply: her daughter's home in Oregon, for example, affords this kind of "by heart" connection for her work.

Spillane was Smith's original partner in the Littleton Mill studio, as well as her "oldest living employee" in the museum reproduction company. With her children in middle school, Spillane worked in a fabric store. Smith's business partner came into the store to purchase yards of black felt for a project of the museum reproduction company. Fascinated, Spillane blurted, "Are you hiring?" and so began her 13-year career with Smith's firm and her eventual partnership in the studio.

Arlene Richman layers colors, interests and careers

Richman started as an art major at City College of New York, but became interested in art history. That interest pointed her to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and from there to the general history and literature of those periods. Before long, she found herself with many courses, but not enough in one discipline to graduate. However, she convinced the administration of CCNY to grant her a degree in a "completely new discipline" based on her layered course patterns: humanistic studies.

That same approach of layering interests to form a finished creation is delightfully evident in Richman's art. She says that her "main motivator is to play with color." She works in mixed media, including pastels, paint, collage, paper, acrylics, and more. Beginning with her backgrounds, Richman says she builds her compositions intuitively, blending color upon color, in "veils," or layers. The results on exhibit at Gleason Library are both representational and abstract pieces, where rich colors, patterns, and subjects seem to build forward toward the viewer and sweep nearly off the canvases, almost as if they had three-dimensional movement.

DeAnne Thorn looked for New England and found portraits

Thorn, who joined the studio with Richman, hails from St. Louis, where she trained at Washington University. In St. Louis she taught Art for 20 years to students from kindergarten through high school.

In 2002, she decided to relocate to New England, in order to "paint lighthouses and the ocean." Laughing, she declares that she could paint neither well, but she began to paint from photographs: her own and those of others, and to specialize in animal portraiture. On exhibit in the Children's Room of the library are her paintings of dogs and cats, which evoke the animals' personalities. She paints pets on commission, as well as human portraits, but styles herself more accurately as a commission wildlife artist. Among her wild subjects at Gleason are her portraits of a rhinoceros and a lion. The rhinoceros painting, she says, began with a spray-painted background of various blended and textured colors, in which she saw the creature and drew it three times in intertwining angles. She finished the painting with paint and pastel, and merely three rhinos look like a herd charging straight out of the picture. Vincent, the lion, is so named because the shape of his face and the red tones in his mane are reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh's famous self-portrait. He was painted from a photograph of a lion in a Scottish zoo, taken by one of Thorn's studio colleagues. She has taken to digital photography too, shooting zoo animals and even a cooperative shark at the New England Aquarium, which will soon appear in a painting.

On the red wall of the Children's Room is Thorn's treatment of small close-up paintings of train parts, mounted with industrial-strength Velcro on one of her spray-painted and textured backgrounds. The pictures are framed with industrial strapping. The effect is machinery made into art, and the title is, appropriately, "Industrial Strength." Thorn says that much of her work arises from her backgrounds, but the core of her subject matter is always achieved through drawing.

4 at the Mill

Here at Gleason are the works of four different artists and four different approaches to art. Yet from this studio come four friends who work together but separately, each respecting the others' special talents. The "4 at the Mill" exhibit offers the viewer a variety of interpretations, surprises, and emotional effects. The exhibit will show through June. Check the circulation desk for details and painting prices.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito