By Julia Einstein
Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning
On Friday, October 12, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Portland artist Rob Sullivan will create a special PMA experience inspired by the paintings of Winslow Homer. Rob, a teacher at Maine College of Art
and a landscape painter, will share with visitors a crucial element in painting—that wonderful magic that happens when an artist experiences a sense of place, connecting to the landscape before a painting is complete. Rob will display his own quick sketches, pencil studies, notes, and invite you to join him at his easel!
After an inspiring trip to Winslow Homer’s Studio in Prouts Neck and the Winslow Homer Gallery at Prouts Neck in the museum, Rob and I spoke about painting, teaching, Maine, and Homer.
Talk about yourself as an artist and a teacher of landscape painting.
When asked, “How do you teach it?” I answer, “Don’t be so literal.” Start with a lesson in designing the landscape. Then, focus on the dynamic application of paint. When I bring my students into the PMA, I ask them to imagine that you could take the painting outside of the museum and to wonder where the artist painted it.
What kind of landscapes are you attracted to?
The sublime, the romantic—big nature. A place that can only be captured in a painting, that’s the closest thing to expressing the experience of being there.
I look for a level of atmosphere. I like Maine’s gray flat days and the mystery of fog. It limits your painting palette so that when you add a color, it is more vibrant in this context.
Where is “your” place?
The cliffs at Two Lights Park, the spot where the rocks flatten out. Also, on the Eastern Prom with the vista onto the bay.
You visited “Homer’s rocks” at the Homer studio and…
I felt “comforted.” That might sound odd at first—perhaps inspired, awe-struck, or even humbled, are more expected responses. But I say “comforted,” because as an artist whose work is very much inspired by Homer and the classic traditions of on-site landscape painting, I was already familiar with the sublime experience of being in a setting that inspires one to paint. It was standing there, in Homer’s “place” that I felt a contemplative serenity and I know Homer felt it, too. I look at his work and I know it for a fact.
Is it more of an understanding about his inspiration, the subject, the man—the artist, or the history?
It is a rich history. This feeling, this intimate visual communion through physical study— observing, drawing, painting. I thought about how the tide, the weather, the seasons, all come into play. I began to understand how Homer saw clearly the infinite variations that would indeed last him a lifetime. What’s more, is that he made this his home.
(In the Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck gallery) What is it about looking at Winslow Homer’s easel or the watercolor palette and paintbox?
The tools of the painter are so very familiar to us all—visually synonymous with the word “artist.” As a painter, I feel the inherent nature of the instruments even more so when they have been wielded by another artist. And, of course, Homer is not just any artist—he was an expert painter.
What are you looking for—what do you notice?
His very hands wore the handles of the brush down. The easel stands as the place where genius may have struck, or battles were fought. And the watercolor palette—his deep knowledge of color theory is seen in his handwriting labeling the spaces for the little squares of watercolor.
Join us on Friday, October 12 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for Artist Intervention–Rob Sullivan: Being There. Free admission! Free Fridays, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., is made possible through the generous support of L.L.Bean and Patricia and Cyrus Hagge.