Thursday, September 16, 2010

Susan Gainen's Nanoscapes

Nanoscape? That's different. Yet another word to join landscape, cityscape, seascape, and skyscape. Nano. Something very tiny. One billionth of a second. So I guess a nanoscape is a view of something very tiny.

Susan Gainen is the artist behind nanoscapes. She creates, envisions, and paints nanoscapes. Gainen is exhibiting three of her nanoscapes in Still Point Art Gallery's recent show, True Artist. [He is the true artist whose life is his material. --Henry David Thoreau] These pieces are called Fractured Glass 1, 2, and 3. Amazing work...tiny bits of bright color...small geometric shapes...shapes creating more shapes...pulsating color...all starting with tiny, tiny pieces, some like specks, of color. So in what way are nanoscapes related to Gainen being a True Artist? I asked her, and the answer was as fascinating as her work.
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Susan Gainen: The three Fractured Glass paintings are quintessential nanoscapes because they celebrate intense color and tiny details, generate their own motion and energy, and because they are prime examples of my creative process, Painstaking Exuberance. I can’t recall not loving all of the bright colors, but I know with certainty when I became entranced by detail.

Fractured Glass #1     [Larger Image]

I was in sixth grade when it became clear that I couldn’t read the blackboard. Between the time I saw the eye doctor and the time I picked up the glasses, my Girl Scout troop had a Saturday morning bird watching trip during which I saw nothing...neither red birds nor blue birds. I was memorably cranky. When I got the glasses and suddenly could see every leaf on every tree and every blade of grass, I knew that there was magic in detail, and I never looked back. 
Fractured Glass #2     [Larger Image]
How I enjoyed working with detail! I painted tiny designs on Plaster of Paris eggs (1970s), created seed mosaics (1970s), crocheted with tiny threads (1970s & 80s), painted two 4x8-foot acrylic “mosaics” on closet doors with ½” brushes (1993), and stitched blue-ribbon-winning needlepoint oriental rugs on 22-mesh-to-the-inch canvas (1990s).

Eventually I moved on to painting. I had heard that James Boyd-Brent is an excellent teacher, so in 2006 and 2007 I took “3 Days of Outdoor Watercolor” through the Split Rock Arts Program. In time, the "outdoor" aspect of the class got the better of me. On the last day of the second class, a 3-inch Katydid spent four hours in the small of my back. Combined with mosquitoes in my paints and ants on my paintings, I marked that day as my very last session of outdoor painting. Fortunately, I had taken a class with Russ Dittmar, who never met a color he didn’t want to enhance, and I knew that I would be happy painting indoors and creating my own visions of the world.

That is exactly what happened...I created nanoscapes. Nanoscapes began as paintings on postcards. Some were landscapes, but the most interesting ones to me were just shapes...all kinds of shapes...and shapes that generated motion. At the urging of a friend (“I love your work but I can’t put a postcard behind my sofa.”), nanoscapes eventually grew into full-size paintings.

Fractured Glass #3     [Larger Image]
So, back to my creative process, which I call Painstaking Exuberance. My vision and purpose as an artist are tied into the process and the result. Whether large or small, each nanoscape begins with a creative question, and the Fractured Glass question was “What happens when triangles go wild?” Answering the question with "painstaking exuberance" works like this: (1) make a pencil drawing; (2) paint a Davy’s Gray (light gray watercolor) outline of each shape; (3) paint inside the lines with multiple layers of color; (4) paint an outline of each shape in a contrasting watercolor; and (5) paint an outline for the entire piece.

Adding the first color to begin Step 3 requires the most courage. Even though the painted shapes are waiting, putting on the first bit of color makes me take a deep breath and sit up very straight. I feel, at that moment, as if I am about to walk off a cliff. I always begin with a red, and once I’ve started, I don’t want to stop. How will it turn out? How will the colors and shapes connect with one another? Will they create their own motion and energy? What dimensional qualities will they have? How will they change in Step 4, when I outline each shape?

The last questions to answer are: Will I smile when I’m finished? Will I like it? I never know until the last bit of paint is on the outline of each painting. 

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Fractured Glass #1 (14 x 10) watercolor, framed, $450
Fractured Glass #2 (14 x 10) watercolor, framed, SOLD
Fractured Glass #3 (33 x 22) watercolor, framed $1000

Return to Still Point Art Gallery

Christine Brooks Cote
Still Point Art Gallery
September 16, 2010

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