Friday, September 15, 2006
Highland Studio artists open doors and their lives through art
The pieces of both Durell and Hall are interspersed on two floors of the library. However, the distinct style of each artist clearly differentiates the work. The subjects of the pieces are complementary; however, the implementation is unique so that you can easily identify each artist. You can discuss the individual approach and technique of Durell and Hall at a reception at the Gleason Public Library, September 16, from 2 to 4 p.m.
Exploring the details of nature
When viewing the pictures that Durell has created of flowers, insects and shells, you may notice that most are listed "not for sale." She recounts that many of her colleagues at the Highland tell her that she should sell more of her work, as she often gives pieces away to them and other friends. Durell has a personal attachment to the pieces in the show, and she refuses to part with a majority of the originals. As a botanical artist, she has a precise and scientific approach to showing natural objects. The artist's sentimental connection to the pieces on display seems counter-intuitive, but may stem from Durell's active practice, teaching, and promotion of Buddhist meditation since 1976. It certainly helps explain her spiritual attachment to nature and her art.
"They are very personal to me," says Durell about her pictures, "especially the plants, a lot of which I grew myself. They also remind me of certain experiences I have had. For example, this one, the 'Estelle Tulip,' which is a very beautiful tulip, which I gave to my husband this year for his birthday because it was the 'Year of the Fire Dog.' It's also my 60th year. It was just so expressive of fire so I wanted to give it to him." Two other originals on display were painted for her daughter for her birthday. One painting of a fragile leaf — worn and aged —commemorates her own father's passing. She wants these key originals to stay in family hands, and to go on to future generations. Durell, very critical of her own work, has done about 35 pieces that she considers as "final," and of these she owns about 22 originals.
An artist since childhood
Durell, born in San Francisco, grew up in the Bay area where she enjoyed drawing as a child. She knew she was "an artist" early on, and sold her first piece — a horse with flowers — at age 9. Durell took every art class she could through high school. Encouraged by her father to study something more practical in college, she stayed as close as she could to her more creative side and received her B.A. in the History of Art, specializing in medieval art, from the University of California in Berkeley. After graduation, she traveled extensively in Europe and Africa. When her marriage brought her to the east coast, she put her life as a practicing artist on hold and focused on raising her daughter, Amaren, "a family name."
Durell began studying art again in the 1990s, taking courses at the New Art Center in Newton, Ron Rizzi's studio school in Jamaica Plain, and at the DeCordova Museum School. She became a professional artist in the late '90s after her daughter went to college.
"I became very interested in botanical art as a way to start my career," says Durell. "I love flowers and everything about nature. I thought botanical art had a very noble history, and I love the idea of finding new exotic plants — and insects as well."
Today, she lives in Groton and works 15 to 20 hours a week as an investment manager for her family's business, a real-estate firm. As an artist, she visits local botanical gardens to sketch or when working with a very delicate plant. She spends most of her free time in her studio which she shares with Carlisle printmaker Lonnie Harvey.
This show includes pieces that Durell created in 1997 through the present. She has displayed her pieces in group shows in Newton (1994), Carlisle (2003), Concord (2003, 2004, 2005) and Groton (2005). She had a solo show of her botanical art at the Shambhala Center in Boston (2000). When she was approached about showing her work at the Gleason, she suggested including her friend Sally Hall's work.
An artist's journey
Hall began her journey through life as an artist, also in the San Francisco Bay area, in a family of educators and scientists. Her father, a Ph.D. and biologist, specialized in the study of a squirrel that can only be found at the Grand Canyon. While art was appreciated by the family, it wasn't anyone's passion, except for Hall. She was the oddball of the family and loved art, but at first she tried a more scientific course by studying anthropology at Humboldt State University. Her roommate was an art major, and Hall found her homework much more interesting. She took a year off to reconsider, and then went back to college with art as her choice of study.
She earned a BFA from the University of Utah and a MFA from Washington State University. After working in jewelry, she focused on painting architectural landscapes. She had a strong focus on doors, and painting the earth beyond. After graduation, she found herself drawn to New York which she considered a mecca for American artists. In 1981 she landed a "dream job" in the education department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she had a studio. Surrounded by the great art of the world, she loved working with other people who loved art. One summer she vacationed in Colorado where she met her husband, a New Englander, also vacationing.
After marriage, however, she put her artistic life completely on hold. Although she tried to paint, she found herself completely uninspired and unmotivated to paint. The family eventually grew to include two sons, Ethan (17) and Connor (14), and lived in Washington, D.C. and Chicago before finally settling in Stow, Massachusetts. She began working and exhibiting as a Highland Studio artist in the last three years.
Hall finds herself inspired by the landscapes she saw in the past, Western views and American Indian sites, such as those of Hopi natives and culture. Inspired by the American landscape, the work in the Gleason exhibit includes eastern scenes ranging from Plum Island and the Cape to western landscapes including New Mexico and Colorado.
"This east coast world is actually not that different from the western landscapes, specifically New England," says Hall, "The skies are huge with the sand dunes. So much of the canyon country that is familiar to me is sandstone. They were sand dunes. They just happen to be older. They're rocks. They didn't constantly have the ocean beating on them so they are solid. They are solidified sand dunes. So it was much less of a stretch than I ever imagined."
The artist's palette
You can view the similarity between the landscapes by viewing the three pictures on the landing, one from out west and two from Plum Island. The artist shares that she uses the exact same palette for both landscapes; the colors are just deeper and darker in the picture done of the west. She continues: "The wind moves in pretty much the same way, whether it's in the east or west." The effects are just different, whether on sand or stone. The new thing she has had to learn to paint out here is "dune grass."
"I had to learn to paint grass," she confesses. "The type of painting that I do for the west is more wood or shrubs or sage or nothing at all. I've had to introduce green into my paintings out here. I'm still figuring out how to make grass work in my paintings." Hall finds the sky, another one of her favorite subjects, the same as out west, and is thrilled to have found wide, expansive views of the sky here in New England. One of her pictures is of the sky itself.
Hall credits her close friend Durell with her emergence as an artist. The two forged a friendship before both came to work at the Highland. "I don't know how I would have gotten through my divorce without her," says Hall. "She called me every morning, and helped me get back on my feet. It's a very close friendship."
The two friends, while similar in many ways, are very different in others. Their different journeys in life beyond San Francisco, and their similar hiatus during child-raising, have influenced their work in unique ways. Their own views of the natural world differ. For Durell, it is a very precise view; for Hall, it's a much more open view. While their particular characteristics as artists differ, the works of Durell and Hall complement each other very well.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito