‘Large shapes in soft focus’ at Louisa Gould Gallery


The paintings of Christie Scheele, currently the focus of a solo show at the Louisa Gould Gallery, are clearly landscapes. Yet Scheele considers her work more in line with the color field artists, like Mark Rothko, than with traditional landscape painters.

“I came to it from a very contemporary point of view,” Scheele says of her evolution as a painter. “I work in this very open way because I’ve always connected to color field painters, much more than landscape painters. I love large, open spaces. I paint large shapes in soft focus with no details. The soft focus helps imbed all of those shapes into a whole matrix. All of these elements — soft focus, large shapes — move the eye diagonally around the piece. Perspectives all of those things work together. I really appreciate that they give people the sense of breathing room.”

Breathing room is one way of describing the effect that her paintings have on the viewer. With their subtle coloring, soft edges, and focus on form over detail, Scheele’s paintings provide a feeling of calm serenity — the emotion that one might experience while immersed in these quiet scenes in real life.

Says Gould, who has been representing the artist for 13 years: “People are really responding to the softer seascapes and landscapes, this year in particular. Each painting provides a horizon line, for a soft landing, but allows plenty of space on the canvas to just be, to breathe. I can feel my shoulders relax when I view her work.”

The scenes that Scheele has chosen to capture are familiar Vineyard locations — Sengekontacket, Lambert’s Cove Beach, Chappaquiddick, Vineyard Sound. However, the artist presents these scenes from a unique viewpoint, one that provides an emotional experience and invites the viewer into a meditative space.

In her artist’s statement, Scheele writes, “The single most distinctive aspect to what I do as a landscape painter lies in my ability to reduce a scene to its essentials. This gives the viewer what is important, without the distraction, or visual clutter, of too much detail.”

Scheele notes that the paintings on view this year represent a wider range of subjects than in previous shows. “There’s a lot of variety — from a ferry-crossing image to one of Chappy. There’s also a lot of variety in the palette.”

The variety in palette that Scheele refers to is in evidence in the selection that ranges from a study in soft grays found in a seascape on an overcast day to a view of a wave crashing on the beach featuring a soft blue sky, separated from the pinky-beige shoreline by a deep green line of ocean. This painting is perhaps the best example of Scheele’s description of her work’s kinship to the color field artists.

Scheele first started painting on the Vineyard 25 years ago when she was invited to show at the former Carol Craven Gallery. She knew Craven from New York City, where she lived at that time. Since then, Scheele has been returning year after year to paint scenes around the Island.

“I love the variety of the imagery on the Vineyard,” says the artist. “There’s a lot of variety in a contained space.”

And then there’s the light, which has attracted artists to the Island for decades. “There is a tranquil intensity to Vineyard light and views,” says Scheele.

One of the artist’s favorite subjects is the area around Sengekontacket Pond — a salt marsh located across from State Beach in Oak Bluffs.

“I adore salt marshes,” she says. “Sengekontacket has so many views. There are these great sweeps of tidal pools. There’s a lot of variety in color, depending on time of day or time of year. There are all sorts of shapes of tidal pools and tidal creeks.”

And it’s not just the visuals that attract Scheele: “I know the ecology of salt marshes. How they’re a buffer from storms, and add to the shore by trapping sediment.”

Environmental issues, climate change in particular, have long engaged the artist. She tends to study the places she returns to year after year, noting the changes in the landscape. “The shifting nature of the shore and weather really intrigues me,” she says. “Now it’s been decades that I’ve been going to the Vineyard and watching those shifts happen. I’m looking at the shore on a micro level as well. I’m very interested in wildlife. I can tell you when a beach has a certain kind of shell. A lot of times, knowing about these things provides a matrix for the types of things I like to paint — shapes. But I don’t think I have to point out every single thing.”

Scheele has enjoyed a long and very successful career as an artist. Her work has been collected nationally and internationally by hundreds of private and public collectors, has appeared in Architectural Digest, and been written about and reviewed extensively in the Hudson Valley (her permanent home) and beyond.

“I love collaborating with Christie and sharing ideas for locations to paint,” says Gould, who notes that she has more than 30 works by the artist on view in all sizes. Gould adds that she can provide home viewings and free installations on the Vineyard.

Christie Scheele’s solo show will hang at the Louisa Gould Gallery, Main Street, Vineyard Haven, through Sept. 30. Concurrently on view is a show titled “Summer by the Sea,” which features work by 10 of the artists represented by the gallery.