It’s pure pleasure to see the work of a skilled artist who loves her subject matter and loves the process of making art. Unpretentiously tucked away in a quiet hallway at Heron Point of Chestertown is the work of just such an artist, Joanne Scott.
With a clear eye and a sure hand, Scott paints and draws the landscape, revealing her special love of trees and stones, not to mention garden flowers, the moon, and the ubiquitous grain silos that dot the Eastern Shore. There’s even a tiny etching of a watchful cow in this exhibit on view through December 31. Although it includes only 22 works in a variety of painting and printmaking mediums, the show spans more than 40 years of work by one of the area’s finest artists.
With exquisite draftsmanship, Scott brings every line and shadow alive. In a small lithograph from the 1980s, “Winter on Mill Creek,” she effortlessly captured the sweeping curve of a creek by leaving the white of the paper to denote its snow-covered ice while deftly sketching the rhythmic growth of trees along its banks. This is an artist who knows just what to show and what to leave out.
Scott has a true understanding of how the eye moves as it gathers a sweeping impression of a scene while focusing in on the important details. In “Tracery,” a large watercolor of Maine spruce trees from the 1990s, her mastery of intricate details and broad simplification is key. Fascinated by the silvery branches of spruces stripped of their bark by blight, she painted a bewilderingly detailed web of twigs, a feat made more amazing by the fact that she used no resist to preserve the white of the paper, but defined the branches by painting the space between them. There’s an illusion of great depth as you peer inside this tangle to the twigs of trees behind trees, while an infinite variety of greens, purples, blues and browns mingle to create the fragrant shadows of the spruce forest.
Some of the works date back to the late 1960s, but though now in her 80s, Scott is still at it. Spending the summer at her studio on Monhegan Island, as she has for the past 30 years, the two full moons of this past August inspired her to paint a series of moonlit landscapes. In “Escaping Moon,” she captured the night mist on the forested hills of the island in simple swaths of blue, purple and gold. Small touches of pigment suggest the treetops silhouetted against the light of a huge full moon.
Scott studied at Rhode Island School of Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art, two of the country’s finest art schools. A firm believer in the importance of creative work, she has published several books of poetry and art, helped found Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, and has taught art in Maine and New Jersey, as well as in Maryland.
When she moved to Heron Point two years ago from her home just two blocks away, she joined with other resident artists in requesting a studio where they could work and hold classes. Heron Point complied by converting an apartment into a bright and airy studio where Scott now teaches drawing and watercolor.
Like all true artists, Scott sees the world with a special clarity and curiosity. In two masterfully simple monotypes, she turns grain silos into monuments to agriculture. Her large watercolor of red roses, far from being pretty or sentimental, presents the blossoms as stately and serene, and in another watercolor entitled “Guardians,” the mammoth rocks lining Monhegan’s shore stand like ancient sentinels.
When I spoke with her just after the show was installed, we talked about her fascination with capturing the spirit of stones, trees and flowers.
“I look to paint the mystery,” she explained. “I’m always looking for that mystery underneath everything.”
In “Evening,” a quick, spare watercolor sketch, aureoles of subtle color bloom around murky shapes suggesting trees and a pale moon over water. Here, Scott’s talent for honing in on mystery is paramount. Few artists could evoke this magical stillness and radiance, and even fewer could capture it with such simple and playful means.
Cover: “Escaping Moon,” watercolor