Art : Dawn Greeley At Shaw Cramer Gallery
When her first solo show was conceived in the bluster and chill of January, she was in the early stages of treatment for cancer, and directed herself with fierce enthusiasm to painting. She looked forward to the warmth of May, and to being present at her show's opening reception. This weekend, at the opening of "Finding My Way" at the Shaw Cramer Gallery, artist Dawn Greeley, who died at her Chilmark home two weeks ago at the age of 59, will, in a significant way, be present.
For artists more than for most others, process becomes visually definable; layers of applied color vibrate to create intensity, diagonal strokes translate to drama, a wet canvass blends and blurs rough edges. As friends and family ("Team Greeley," they've dubbed themselves) and Islanders gather at the Vineyard Haven gallery, both the artistic process and the process of a life well and generously lived will be celebrated.
The show includes more than a dozen pieces of new work in waxed watercolors, executed, as are all her paintings, with the deliberate finesse and rampant exuberance that typified her. Known for lush impressionist landscapes -rolling horizontal shapes of layered colors that shimmer with depth and richness - Ms. Greeley turned her attention to exploration and discovery.
In the show's artist statement, Ms. Greeley wrote: "I feel that I can create anything I can imagine in my art and in my life," and admitted she "relies on intuition and trusts in the organization that emerges."
It is as if she envisioned her art in the mirror she held up to reflect her life: a meticulously conceived and executed image, the interlocking of varied patterns, a generosity of expression, and catalyst for inspiration.
She remained undaunted by reasonable risks and outlandish discoveries; she incorporated life lessons into art and translated them with mastery and assurance.
A native of New Britain, Connecticut, who graduated in 1970 from Simmons College where she studied economics and political science, Ms. Greeley evolved from a corporate executive to an artist, and after 22 years in Sudbury, moved with her husband, Roger, and their son, Alex, to the Vineyard in the 1990s.
Art teacher Skip Lawrence, whose classes Ms. Greeley attended annually in Greenville, N.Y., wrote: "I know full well I am a better person for having known Dawn. Her lessons to all of us are as clear as the shapes she created in her paintings."
Photo courtesy of Shaw Cramer Gallery
Ms. Greeley's solo show features her waxed watercolors, a new process for the artist. A translucent compound of waxes and resins are hand-rubbed on to the dried surface of the painting, an acid-free mould-made paper adhered to gatorfoam board with acrylic polymers. The sealed surface becomes archival, permanently sealed, and does not require glass as a shield when it is framed.
As Ms. Greeley took the helm of her artistic journey - a friend referred to her as "a force that kept everything else in place; that kept the rest of us together in her orbit" - she also became proactive about the eventuality that she faced as cancer overcame her. The show's poster, an extraordinary collection of Ms. Greeley's new work, includes images from the Vineyard and Palm Springs, California, where she painted in the winter. With titles such as "Lean on Me," "Dessert Shapes," "Sunset Shadows," "Healing Heart," and "Exuberance," it captures the vision of the artist. All the profits from the sale of the $50 poster are committed to a garden to be created on the grounds of Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs.
An avid and generous gardener, Ms. Greeley even designated which stones, grasses, and flowers were to be replanted from her garden in Chilmark to the newly planned one at Featherstone. It will include seating, a water element, and selected contributions from the gardens of friends.
The garden seems to loom as Ms. Greeley's final painting: a real-life arrangement of changing patterns and brilliant color, a testament to nature and its cycles, a sanctuary. A place to be present.
Donations can be sent to Featherstone Center for The Arts, in care of the Dawn Greeley Memorial Garden, at P.O. 1145, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
"Finding My Way," a show of Dawn Greeley's art at the Shaw Cramer Gallery, opens May 23, and runs through June 16. A reception will be held Friday, May 23, 6-8 pm.