I grew up in Veazie, Maine, a place where extreme weather and a myriad of geological variations are ever-present. My artwork has been influenced by this landscape for more than forty years.
Like many Mainers, my parents shared a daily, and what at times felt hourly, preoccupation with the weather. My father, the first cardiologist for all of northern Maine, was drawn to the state’s mountains, fields, and streams, while my mother had a particular love for the coast. She was an artist who referenced those experiences in her work over the years. From early childhood, we skied, hiked, snowshoed, and skated. We followed animal tracks and watched the skies and tides shift and reverse their flows and patterns. My paintings juxtapose these contrasting environments: a flat dawn light on the water against a maelstrom of snow and sleet or the rigidity and divine geometry of rocks against the chaos of the water or a wild skyline. It is an environment that is always shifting, fiercely beautiful, but filled with awkward and often humorous shapes.
Weather is a metaphor for the human experience. As the Oscar Wilde quote goes, “whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.”
The geological occurrences, “dip-slip faults” and “chatter marks,” resonate in my work. “Dip-slip faults” refer to rocks that have shifted from the earth’s compression. “Chatter marks” are wedge-shaped marks left on rock surfaces from glacial formations. Rocks are laden with unique formations and are embedded with lines with a range of colors that I often reference in my work. I marvel at how each rock is unique. When I pick up a particular stone, I think of how I may be the first person in history to have touched it. I place each rock back into its environment, thinking that, like trees, they may provide a support system integral to the sustainability of the entire landscape.
I am also interested in the way fog swirls and twirls around formations. Whether it is a group of trees, a crevice, or a valley along the coast of Maine, there is something so haunting and mysterious about the path and direction these weather systems take and about the resulting contrast of extreme light and color, ranging from chartreuse green to an oxidized orange.
I begin a painting by loosely laying down a ground of Flashe pigment and charcoal. I then decide which direction to go and build the layers in my paintings, from dark to light or light to dark. Emotional, visual, and muscle memory are often what help me begin a piece, and then once I am “in” the painting, I often allow the painting to take on its own “voice.” It is that period of the unknown, the surprise, and the visual language in each painting that holds my interest and focus.
I am often asked about the art-historical references that influence my paintings. I have always loved the Hudson River School painters because of the way they searched for “the beautiful and the sublime.” In their work, land, water, and sky are depicted in expansive landscapes, expressing a sense of awe, as well as trepidation, as human development moved further westward. I also look at Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Charles Burchfield, as well as Japanese and Chinese landscapes. I give a nod to contemporary artists such as Elizabeth Murray, who passed away in 2007, and who paved the way for so much of the art I see today. Hilma af Klint, who trusted in the spiritual, is a recent interest of mine. The list goes on and on, but I also look outside of art at the sciences. I find myself interested in scientific charts, images, and maps. The wonderful thing about being an artist is that there are lots of disparate pieces floating around, so sometimes it is simply creating an imaginary net and collecting and mixing images and ideas together.
Yesterday, I was looking through my copy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. It was published in 1962, making her a true pioneer who thought exceedingly early about the extreme environmental impacts that we are living through today. My work continues to reflect a sense of foreboding, anticipation, and general curiosity about nature. It also reflects an inner struggle as I try to comprehend our current global climate crisis and the work we have ahead to undo the damage we have caused to this beautiful and miraculous planet.
Image at top: Nancy Manter, Run Over, Flashe paint on panel, 35 x 26 in., 2021.