Joanna Logue’s landscapes take up every inch of the surface, from edge to edge, corner to corner—and depth-wise, too, as she layers the pigment on linen or birch board. From a foot or so away, Water Meadow 1 is a dynamic accumulation of marks, scrapes, and scars, some made with a trowel. As one steps back, the surface coalesces into a vibrant mosaic of birches and foliage reflected in water. “I want the painting to draw the viewers in, I want them to be involved with, and seduced by, the painted surface,” Logue explains.
This painting and many other recent works are the result of visits to Acadia National Park. Since moving to Mount Desert Island from her home in Australia four years ago, Logue has immersed herself in this northern landscape, walking the carriage roads, hiking mountains, and exploring remote ponds and marshes.
After painting for thirty years in the land down under, Logue had to learn a new language in her Maine home. For one thing, she moved from a tertiary palette to a more colorful spectrum. The island landscape also had greater contrast and was more complex, requiring extra drawing. Adding a bleached wax to her medium allowed Logue to push the paint around so as to capture the energy of the scene.
The painter is especially drawn to watery places where the foliage is abundant, and reflections abound. Among her favorite spots are Witch Hole Pond, Pretty Marsh, and Sieur de Monts Springs. She lingers in these woodland sanctuaries and absorbs them.
When Logue finds a motif that speaks to her, she will make a small plein-air gouache study, take it back to her studio in Somesville, and develop it into one of her all-over oils. While maintaining the freshness and energy of what is essentially an emotional response to the natural world, she constructs a new vision, intellectually considered and visually compelling.
If the on-site studies capture the immediate setting, the paintings that follow distill the view to its essential shapes. In Bulrushes, stalky green reeds fan out across the view, lending color to the marshy milieu. Yellow accents in the foreground might be water lilies. Cloud Trees—Witch Hole features the ghostly presence of snags, their gray limbs floating beyond patches of green. In a similar manner, trees are spectral pentimenti in Pretty Marsh II.
At times, Logue might be channeling the Abstract Expressionists. The diptych Granite Pool displays all the gusto of a Jackson Pollock, with only the title keeping us from reading it as a complete abstraction.
Logue feels she must have a foundation from which to make her forays into the non-representational. “As a landscape painter I have always been caught between representation and abstraction, and although I have arrived somewhere in the middle, I would like to push further towards pure abstraction,” she states.
As a means to that end, Logue recently attended “Finding Abstraction through Landscape,” a drawing marathon offered by the New York Studio School. The five-day workshop involved intense observation by which, Logue explains, “shapes, textures and geometry in the landscape take on deeper relevance and these elements are in turn used to find pathways toward abstraction.”
Logue’s last solo exhibition took place in Sydney, Australia, at the end of 2019 as the horrific fires were moving across her home country. “The city was full of smoke and there was an intense feeling of impending doom,” she recalls. She is currently preparing an exhibition for Melbourne, opening in May, featuring Acadia paintings. She will ship her work but won’t be able to attend the opening.
When the pandemic hit, Logue experienced a heightened sense of anxiety about the future. As an artist she has always sheltered in place, living in relative isolation and responding to her immediate environment, but during the lockdown she found herself asking big questions about what it means to be an artist and the relevance of her practice. “Some days it felt like a futile exercise and other days it seemed supremely important,” she says.
In the end, Logue looks to painting as a challenge to free herself of constraint, to unmanage, as it were, the complexities of her chosen subjects. At the same time, she vows to never stay with what is safe: “I need the painting to teach me a new way of looking at the world.” In turn, this fearless painter teaches us how to look at the landscape, be it Australia or Acadia, with fresh eyes.
[This piece draws on an email exchange with the artist in November and on the author’s essay “Joanna Logue: Landscape Revelations” written for the exhibition Joanna Logue: Floating World at the King Street Gallery, Sydney, Australia, November–December 2019.]
Image at top: Joanna Logue, Water Meadow I, oil on linen, 40 x 50 in., 2019.