Fan Ogilvie’s paintings draw power from where she has left the canvas blank in her recent show, “Pockets of Air.” The poet and painter held a reading at the Chilmark library on Wednesday, June 28, where she discussed the thoughts behind her paintings, and read poetry published in her 2016 book “Easiness Found,” as well as some new pieces from this past winter.
Her poetry has a characteristic wit, with lines that gave pause such as “death is the greatest thing we live for.” The reading included pieces that transported the listener around the world, from Namibia to Kyoto.
Spending the winter indoors with a hip ailment, however, gave Ms. Ogilvie the chance to notice the little things. “I just ended up writing right where I was and about what was right around me,” she said. She celebrated these small things, like spiders, giving rise to a series of shorter, more structured poems.
Ms. Ogilvie doesn’t adhere to structure when painting. She wants the painting to speak to her and tell her what it needs, rather than following traditional guidelines. “If somebody taught me how to do it, then it wouldn’t work; it would be theirs,” she said.
The paintings on display ranged in subject matter as widely as Ms. Ogilvie’s poetry did. There was a portrait of Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos neighboring an abstract rendering of a field, and a tribute to Matisse a couple of paintings down the line.
The paintings of the field outside the Chilmark library and of Ms. Ogilvie’s driveway highlighted her focus on blank space in the center of her work. “I’ve been painting since 2003, and I’ve gone through everything. I’ve done pastels, charcoal, drawing, and oils, so these really took a leap for me. I love these, because I love the field that we’re on, and I kept on thinking about how to paint a field in a contemporary way. On the outside there are trees and the center is just this incredible space where you feel a lot of things,” she said, “It was fun for me to let the painting tell me what it needed, and it didn’t need any paint in the center. It was a special space.”
The tribute to Matisse included dots stamped by bubble wrap. She said, “When I was in my problem time with my sore hip, I couldn’t paint the way I used to. I paint on the ground; I’m sitting on my knees and painting. These came because I was sending a package and using a lot of bubble wrap. I thought I could make a painting using the bubble wrap and not have to be on my knees quite so much.” It’s an unusual technique, but created an interesting effect on the canvas, and the painted-over bubble wrap was almost as pretty as the painting itself.
Ms. Ogilvie seemed invigorated by the possibility of trying new things and not confining herself to a particular technique. “It’s fun not to be too boxed in,” she said.