above: Emilie Stark-Menneg, Summer in Maine, 2016, 70”x70”, acrylic and oil on canvas
Deep underwater, I scramble to find the cave opening. Once inside the narrow passage, I tug myself along, hand over hand, until the rope ends. As I flail for another line, blue light cuts through the water. I surface, just out of breath, inside the Grotto Azzurra in Capri, Italy, a sea cave that glows ultramarine.
I often think about diving into that luminous cavern when I am painting in my studio in Maine. It helps, that in a shared studio, under the afternoon light, my partner John Bisbee’s forged and welded sculptures, seem to undulate like coral or seaweed. His work feels like an ocean adventure. Walking back into my space, I begin to paint, totally onboard with this dangerous and thrilling expedition into the unknown.
The painting, “Add Gulls”, depicting a couple of bathers looking out to sea, is one of many of my paintings that seeks to uphold and subvert the romantic allure of the Maine coast. In the background, the vintage wallpaper depicting a port town, peels away, as if to suggest a fleeting relationship to nostalgia. Thanks to the ephemeral qualities of the airbrush, the two figures hover in an uncanny digital haze, adding a fresh look to the ubiquitous Maine swimmers. I included a trompe-l’oeil sticky note, scrawled with the words, “Add Gulls”, as a way of pointing to a perfect Vacationland picture without ever getting there.
In “American Popsicle” I wanted to create a somewhat traditional snapshot of a group of bathers posing for a summer pic. I discovered the eerie bands of color bisecting the painting by accident; I was laying down background colors, when I realized that the effect was already so surprising that I should stop. Not following through on a plan and responding to the elements as it were, is one of the most exciting aspects of painting, an adrenaline rush, like a wayward voyage on turbulent seas.
My painting, “The Birth of Many” is of course a riff on Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. I thought Venus might have more fun if she was not coasting solo, but rather tailgating aboard her overside clamshell with her posse, some snacks—fresh fish and “All Day IPA”, while adrift in a twinkly Maine cove. This goofy and ineffable group is an ode to my artist friends, particularly those in Fort Andross. Everyday I am inspired by them, knowing that they are each in their glowing caves, diving into strange and glistening waters.