The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 27, 2008


Carlisle’s Maris Platais shares a wealth of artistic experience

Artist Maris Platais uses one of his works to illuminate some of the fundamentals of painting. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

“How long does it take?,” queried a spectator of Maris Platais, a popular New England artist and Carlisle resident, who gave a drawing demonstration at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Council on Aging annual meeting earlier this month. In just a few minutes, Platais had sketched a beautiful wooded landscape.

“Seventy-one years,” quipped Platais of Bedford Road where he and his wife, formerly Elizabeth Elliott, have lived for 40 years. The artist combines humor and talent along with a lifetime of experience in drawing the world around him. But he makes it look simple, equipped with only a blank canvas, a stand to hold it and a pen.

Platais has exhibited internationally. In the U.S., he has shown pieces at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Worcester Art Museum, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and the Smithsonian Institute. He has many awards to his credit. For 12 years running (until the competition ended), judges for the Arts for the Park competition in Jackson, Wyoming selected his work as belonging to the 100 artists in the country from a pool of 3,000 applicants. He twice received the top honors award from the Academic Artists Association in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2004 and in 2006. His work is shown locally at the Powers Gallery in Acton, the Guild of Boston, and at Walsingham Gallery in Newburyport.

Creating in three primary areas

Platais produces art in three media: acrylic painting and canvas, pen-and-ink drawings, and etchings. He works both “au plein air” (on location) and in his studio. When working on an acrylic painting, he loads his portable palette with splotches of primary colors – red, yellow, and blue -- as well as a blob of white paint. He makes black by mixing the other colors together. His imagination and skill enable him to produce a painting with a wide range of colors. Nonetheless, he prefers simplicity, and despite using a range of colors, his finished pieces often have a monochromatic look.

“You put the right colors in the right places,” said Platais, “You put the right shapes in the right places. You’ve got a painting!”

Working from memory

He calls his pen-and-ink works “fantasy” pieces. He works from memory and transposes his memory to paper of familiar places in Carlisle, Concord and along the Maine coastline. He describes his unique approach as using black ink to create the shapes, splattering a color to enliven them, and then applying a toothbrush to round out them out. By calling to mind shapes from memory, he enriches them with specific detail using his imagination. He quotes Picasso, who said the artist takes “an idea, but not a very good idea” and then applies his creativity to make it into art.

“So many times we get caught up in results versus the process,” said Platais. “People are too focused in their destination.” With this artist’s approach, all a beginner needs to get started is pen, paper, and memory of a place. Talent is also quite helpful, and Platais can turn out a 3x5 pen-and-ink piece in a mere15 minutes. He shares words from Degas: “Painting is very easy for those who don’t know how, very difficult for those that do.”

Making etchings

Platais described the process of making etchings. He starts in pen-and-ink and creates a mirror-image of a scene as the printing process reverses the plate. He quickly described the color separation process and production. He usually prints up to 100 copies of an etching, although 780 copies of his commercial print of Old North Bridge in Concord exist.

When asked about the length of his typical day, he says he usually works in three-hour blocks now, but finds visits from his four grandchildren a welcome distraction.

Creating from experience

As a child, the artist left Latvia for Germany with his family at the conclusion of World War II. His family left Europe as refugees and crossed the Atlantic in 1949 aboard a U.S. Merchant Marine ship transporting troops. He recalled sketching as a 13-year-old when he received his first critique from a world-renowned graphic artist, Sigismund Vidberg, also making the crossing.

Platais continued drawing through high school, and he studied art in college, enrolling in a combined program run by Tufts University and the Boston Museum School. About halfway through his education, he enlisted in the military for a four-year stint and served in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam just as the war broke out in 1961. A year later he completed his service and returned to the U.S., where he received a bachelor of science degree from Tufts University. He taught for a while and worked at a VA hospital before embarking on a 17-year career “in the corporate world” as a commercial artist at Dennison Manufacturing in Framingham. He recalled how the “nine-to-five” day quickly became an “eight to ten p.m.” one. The office was phased out, and Platais regards his “down-sizing” as a blessing.

“I’m much poorer in terms of dollars, but make much more money in terms of art,” he says.

Platais may find his life enriched, but so is the Carlisle community through his art. ∆

Tip from a master

Many budding artists find they have the time and inclination to try drawing in the summer when they are at the beach. Unfortunately, many struggle with proportion when putting a human figure into a picture. Platais recommends drawing the horizon line first, and sketching in the head of the figure over the line. No matter what the size of the figure, the placement remains the same and in proportion to the rest of the drawing.


© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito