Longtime Old Sculpin Gallery painter Gail Rodney completes her exhibition of 20 works on Thursday, August 29, and Friday, August 30. This artist works in four different media — watercolor, pastel, oil, and collage — and examples of each appear in her show. In addition, she has produced books that combine poems with her art.
Rodney divides her time between Chappaquiddick and New York, and much of her work consists of Chappy landscapes. “I married Chappy in 1975,” Rodney said in an interview last week. Her husband Brad’s family had been coming to Chappaquiddick for many years, and his extended family provided help once she and her husband started a family.
In the pastel “Wasque Pines I,” Rodney has filled the canvas with a shaded copse of trees and their dark green foliage. Midground are brightly lit strips of sunlight spreading below the tree trunks and snatches of color higher up, while behind the trunks are bright strips of foliage and water. The effect is to animate the trees, almost as if they are lifted up.
The On Time ferry slip provides the subject for the oil “Sunset, Chappy Ferry.” In it a broad swatch of dark gray blacktop angles toward the dock entrance, with two white parking strips pointing the way like arrows past the ferry shed, a flagpole, and a light pole. Topping the painting is sky of a lighter lavender gray that opens up to a salmon-colored horizon and rich wedge of similarly colored water. This tightly executed painting evokes the somber mood of day’s end. In yet another Chappy painting, “Sailing Class at Cape Pogue,” the artist happened upon the boats and photographed them. “Why not just leave it as a photograph,” she thought, but preferred to paint the scene. “I’m not a photographer. I’m a painter,” she said.
“Luminosity (intrinsic brightness) is what I’m interested in,” Rodney says. “I love the luminosity that watercolor offers. I can get some of that with pastel, depending on how it’s handled.” She suggests that the more pastel is smoothed, the more luminosity is lost. She finds oil is different, and she’s still learning how to achieve the luminosity she wants there. “Still Morning, Katama” illustrates her success. The two boats in this oil painting seem to float between blue sky and water, which are divided by a vibrant glow emanating from each side of the horizon line.
Rodney majored in English at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, and at the time says she didn’t feel empowered to be an artist. She started painting on Chappaquiddick at age 30, and once she did, she studied at the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York. She began working with watercolor, then moved to pastel, which gave her the freedom to both draw and paint. Next came oil and collage. In her collage work, she pastes together torn pieces of paper, sometimes from magazines or other sources, and sometimes from paper she’s painted on. “Carp Lotus Blossom” provides an example of a collage where a fish hovers behind bars with a torn paper backing. In another, “Homage to Van Gogh,” a self-portrait of the great artist peers from a woven paper background.
Rodney’s books include one of collages matched with a Wallace Stevens’s poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Others include one with Gerald Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty,” and two with Shakespeare songs. She finds the books combining her art with poems produce a way to provide a context. “I wanted to do something more with abstraction,” she says about a “Homage to Emily Dickinson,” a diptych rather than a book, which incorporates an Emily Dickinson poem.
“I’m having a good time,” Rodney says. “I never seem to get to the beach.” She is sharing space at the Old Sculpin Gallery, where she served as president for several years, with Laura Jemison, Stephanie Reiter, and Nancy Beams.