Friday, March 31, 2006
Capturing nature with a rose-colored paintbrush
The inviting watercolor paintings by Carlisle resident D'Ann Brownrigg at the Gleason Library evoke spring. Her works always include yellow and "two shades of red" according to the artist. These shades end up giving Brownrigg's pieces a happy glow and inviting aura.
"I love magenta," she says, which means that her work also includes blue. Because plants appear frequently in her paintings, they often include greens as well, but she mixes them from primary colors. Her preferences for certain shades have led her to conclude, "I noticed in the show all the paintings are the same color — not exactly, but pretty much."
If you like rosy colors or have an affinity for nature, you'll enjoy Brownrigg's solo show, entitled "Baubles and Birds" which runs through April 29 as part of the Art at the Gleason program. The exhibit includes 41 paintings on both floors of the library. All pieces are framed in light wood and are for sale.
Brownrigg will demonstrate her technique on Saturday, April 8,at 2 p.m. in the Hollis Room of the library.
Discovering art in Carlisle
Brownrigg became a painter late in life. Many artists who show at the Gleason have loved art since childhood and devoted a life to studying and perfecting their craft before their Gleason show. Not the forthcoming Brownrigg: "I hated art in grade school, and I had no interest in art until 15 years ago."
Born in San Antonio, Texas, during World II, Brownrigg acquired her unusual first name from her mother's friend. With a father in the Air Force, the family moved around a lot, eventually settling in central Illinois where she grew up in what she calls "the Sputnik years." She spoke of the great affinity for science in that era and lamented that scientists were once as famous as sports figures are now. She studied chemistry at the University of Illinois where she met her future husband Tom, concocting something "very smelly." Soon after, she turned her study to psychology. The two both went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago, where she received a master's degree in psychology, concentrating on animal behavior and ethology.
The Brownriggs came to Carlisle 36 years ago. She found raising their one-year-old son absorbing. After he grew up, she had more time for personal interests. About 20 years ago, she discovered a real love for birding. She and Tom, a former member of the Conservation Commission, both love nature. With her expertise in animal behavior, Brownrigg quickly built up a vast store of birding knowledge. Today she teaches part of a course at Drumlin Farm. Many townspeople know her as a birder, not as a painter.
About 15 years ago, Brownrigg became interested in art. Her neighbor, painter Connie Wright of Peter Hans Road, challenged her to try a floor-cloth project. Although both families still live in Carlisle, the Brownriggs have since moved to Acton Street. Brownrigg described a floor-cloth as an acrylic painting on canvas that was "important in Colonial times when people couldn't afford carpet." She completed the floor-cloth in about a year, and began exploring her new interest in painting. She took classes at the DeCordova Museum and at Lexington Arts and Crafts.
Brownrigg began by using acrylic paints, but found it brought out the "obsessive-compulsive" in her. "Because I can paint forever, I do," says Brownrigg. She quotes another Carlisle painter, Phyllis Hughes, as saying Brownrigg would complete eight paintings on a single canvas, "'one on top of another.'"
Brownrigg then tried painting in watercolors and found her preferred medium. She was prevented from over-painting when the canvas would become too wet. Also, she found she loved the shades created by mixing water with paint. She likes that it's not "as messy" and that you don't need to lug a lot of stuff around to paint. She believes water-colors sell better than acrylics, although she admits her top-selling item of all time was a floor-cloth which went for $1,000. The scientific side of her finds floor-cloth painting as inefficient as acrylic painting, however. She calculates the labor cost: "It ends up being about $.50 an hour."
Today art takes up a great deal of Brownrigg's time and social interaction. She teaches a class at Lexington Arts and Crafts on Wednesdays and takes a class there on Thursdays as well as painting there with other artists. On Fridays, she hosts an open studio for artists in Lexington. In the warmer months, she can be found running the working session outdoors at many Carlisle locations.
Bringing a birder's eye to art
The word "birds" may figure in the title of the art show, but you will only find a few of them in the show. It's more of an honorary acknowledgement. Most of her still life paintings have descriptive titles: "Stalks," "Vines," "Daffodil Days," "Porch Flowers," and "Fern's Flowers." There's a wriggling "Bookworm," very suited to the library environment. Due to her study of animal behavior, the few bird paintings at the show include a touch of social commentary. For example, a watercolor view of seagulls carries the title "The Old Boy Network;" there's "Dove Love," and a birdhouse picture has the title "Affordable Housing."
Although the paintings aren't organized by subject, Brownrigg has put thought into their placement. In the children's section on the second floor of the library she carefully chose things that a young audience might like. There's a picture of two puppets called "Friends." She thought kids would recognize "Shower Bug," an insect that seems to have found its way into every Carlisle bathroom and that they would relate to a painting of baby birds crying, "Can You Hear Me?"
Brownrigg enjoys painting still-life objects that she can view directly. She usually paints birds from photographs taken with her digital camera. Birds are too fast to capture quickly, and there is a lot of detail to depict them accurately. "The problem with painting birds is that they have to look more or less right," says Brownrigg. "Flowers are like people; they are not usually all alike. Birds, I know, are not all alike, but I can usually tell one chickadee from another."
Although there are few bird paintings in this exhibit, Brownrigg says birding continues to inspire her as a hobby and in her art. "There are many types of birders," she says. "Some people like to pull together lists of birds they see, and others specialize in one type of bird, such as hawks. I'm interested in observing their lifestyles," says Brownrigg of her own birding habits. "I enjoy a good look at a common bird doing something different." It's these differences that make animal behavior interesting to Brownrigg, the scientist. As an artist, she stretches to depict that subtle edge that makes a seemingly simple image in nature interesting to others.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito