Summer Inspirations

Summer Inspiration

The Duty of Capturing a Fleeting Smile

by Clara Rose Thornton

Summer: the season of life, the season of a land coming to bear its long-waiting fruit. It is a time when the human spirit seems to open itself more fully to the possibilities that lay beyond closed doors and to an intrinsic exploration of the natural world. Summer represents opportunity. It represents a fleeting enjoyment. It feeds off of our anticipation.

Summer Inspiration

The Duty of Capturing a Fleeting Smile

by Clara Rose Thornton

Summer: the season of life, the season of a land coming to bear its long-waiting fruit. It is a time when the human spirit seems to open itself more fully to the possibilities that lay beyond closed doors and to an intrinsic exploration of the natural world. Summer represents opportunity. It represents a fleeting enjoyment. It feeds off of our anticipation.

The notion of the landscape being open and inviting and showing its lushness to the world during its most vivid phase, has a certain emotional effect. As individuals who pay heightened attention to their surroundings —naturalistic and otherwise—landscape painters must take this energy that occurs from the maturation of plant life and the eagerness inherent in summertime endeavors and infuse their works with this singularity. Or, at least, the worthy ones do. It is no wonder that when speaking with three of Vermont’s premier landscape painters about capturing the season, the subject of communicating emotion as related to life’s ephemeral mysteries reared its head again and again. Elizabeth Torak of Pawlet, Kim Eng Yeo of Townshend and James Urbaska of Newfane offer their thoughts.

“Summer is a time of physicality,” said Torak. “When I am painting outdoors I have no time for reflection: Everything is moving and changing, so I have to grasp the moment and paint it, i.e. live it, quickly. I don’t think in those moments, I react and feel.”

Yeo related, “I connect with (spectators) when they respond to my painting in an emotive way, apart from the craftsmanship of my work, whatever the subject. My watercolors, whether studies, sketches or detailed paintings, are always responses to scenes or objects, personal expressions that I want to share with the viewer. Walk with me so as to speak and see through my eyes.”

And Urbaska, along the same lines, mused, “My emotions and intellect will come into each picture naturally without me having to think about it… A summer landscape motif is simply a starting point for me.”

Torak is represented by Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Manchester, and her muted, dreamlike works with effusive colors that seem to waft from the canvas the longer one stares are the most abstract of the three styles here examined. Her brushstrokes—thick, weighty and resulting in a densely layered effect—reduce a scene to its basic visual essence while extracting the highest of its emotional embodiments. “The Vermont landscape is incredibly lush in the summer; it seems there is every possible variation and shade of green… The way light shifts and changes and plays on the lush greens is very exciting. The landscape is like a rich piece of patterned cloth and as the light plays on it, it glows and shows a huge range of enchanting visual subtleties.” Her work Three Trees successfully experiments with this sort of tonal gradation.

The “patterned cloth” motif is perhaps most vividly displayed in her piece entitled Interior. Deep reds and pinks mingle unexpectedly with a subtle representation of the more typical summer greens. This is part and parcel for Torak: “Rays of summer sun pierce the rising mist, coloring it pink and orange. Water vapor, heat and light come together in a dramatic moment that puts me in touch with the joy of creation… As different color ranges trigger different emotional responses, so do the colors of each season draw out their corresponding feelings, but the change itself, the sense of movement from one climate of feeling to another, is always stimulating to my creativity.”

Yeo’s landscapes (represented locally by Brattleboro’s Vermont Artisan Designs) appear much more technically concerned, and when viewing the detailed scenes, thoughts of meticulously prepared children’s book illustrations come to mind, as opposed to a loaded manifestation of a coveted season’s energy. Yet the dedication to form, in Yeo’s case, does not deter the desire to capture the happy intangibility of summer’s character. “Summers have always been magical for me,” she explains. “I feel that the quality of light during the season is special. I am from a tropical country; I was born and raised in Singapore, then lived in Bangkok, Thailand for many years. The intensity of the light there affects the colors of all the plants and flowers. Temperate climate light in summer is different, and softer.”

“One of my favorite moments,” she continued, “is to see sunshine filtering through the petals of flowers, much like stained glass filters light inside a cathedral. Vermont sunshine filtered through the trees, lazily tracing a path through a garden, has that magic.” Her Watkins Glen water-color evokes this notion of a hallowed space existing for quiet contemplation, ripe for long, unfettered outdoor hours.

The lushness of summer, its beckoning and its near-gaudy show of life: It is a goldmine for painters of naturalistic themes who struggle to capture its quick smile. Perhaps Urbaska, represented by Gallery North Star in Grafton, put it best when he said, “I can take what I need to make a picture and feel like the well will never be empty.” n

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