By Tara Mae
Abstract art invites an audience to use its imagination and interpret meaning.
Gallery North’s newest exhibit, Laminar Rituals, celebrates the creation and explores the impact of mark making and non-objective art through the works of artists Sue Contessa of St. James and Anne Raymond of East Hampton. The show opens today, April 8.
Featuring Contessa’s acrylic paintings and Raymond’s monotypes and oil paintings, the title of the exhibit refers to their artistic styles, which incorporate transparent or translucent layers of paint that laminate, protect, and enhance their marks and brushstrokes.
“Both artists really work in a very intuitive manner … Sue’s work is really about the experience the viewer has in front of the [art]. Anne is much more interested in transient qualities we find around ourselves — things like change in weather patterns, changes in light over the course of the day … trying to capture those fleeting moments around us,” said Gallery North Executive Director Ned Puchner. “I think when put together, this exhibit is really presenting records of our experience out in the world.”
Rather than seeking inspiration from outside sources, Contessa finds meaning in the methodology of crafting her art. She uses acrylic paint and occasionally graphite pencil to build marks on the canvas. This technique creates a perceived visual depth to her paintings.
“The work is about repetition … The paintings are more about formal art issues, and the repetition allows for that form of meditation that I always hope will happen. I just have to trust my process. I tend to work rather thinly and transparently, so you are always seeing something from underneath, which impacts each layer,” said Contessa.
For Raymond, the development of her palette is an essential part of her creative process. “I work from a palette based on what I feel like at the time. If I don’t like it, I completely change it,” she said. “I float back and forth between doing monotypes and painting. I think this helps me stay fresh.”
Raymond uses plexiglass plates for her monotypes, making unique single prints with oil-based, pigment-rich, lithography inks. Unlike oil paint, the inks dry fairly quickly so Raymond is able to produce a few in a single session.
The process of working in these mediums is different, but its influences are largely the same. Her art, although abstract, is impacted by the natural world.
“Almost all of my work has reference to landscape, seascape, or sky. I feel really lucky. The beauty of Long Island is my muse,” Raymond said.
Classically trained, Contessa and Raymond each studied art in college and then attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. They worked in traditional, realistic mediums like figure drawing and still life before becoming abstract artists.
After taking classes at the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills, Contessa was asked to teach figure and basic drawing classes there.
“I have a background in realistic painting, but it wasn’t satisfying for me. It wasn’t what I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint something that didn’t exist before,” Contessa said. “When you create an [abstract] painting, it is something that you created. The reason for doing it in the first place is that I don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Raymond worked as an illustrator, for a newspaper, and in the travel industry before fully transitioning to a career as an abstract artist. “When I was studying, I did a lot of live drawing … I appreciate the skill, but it was not exciting in the way that working abstractly is. While working as an illustrator, I was already doing abstracts … I think it is creatively engaging to invite surprise into your process,” she said.
Their complementary mindsets about composing abstract art is part of what initially inspired Puchner to pair their art for an exhibit. “I saw common features with both of them,” he said.
It is the first show that Contessa or Raymond have done since the pandemic began. The exhibit is part of Puchner and Gallery North’s ongoing effort to introduce patrons to the work of local artists and provide the local artists with additional exhibition possibilities.
“I’m really trying to present more artists and give more artists more opportunities to show. I have fun trying to create these pairings and expose our audience to more local artists,” Puchner added.
Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket presents Laminar Rituals through May 16. The exhibit will be open to the public during the gallery’s normal hours, Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. All onsite events are socially distanced and masks are mandatory for entry.
In conjunction with the exhibit, Raymond will lead a monotype workshop for a class of up to six people at the Studio at Gallery North on April 10 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Contessa and Raymond will participate in a Virtual ArTalk on April 24, from 6 to 8 p.m.
For more information, to register for these programs, or to learn more about Laminar Rituals and other upcoming exhibits, visit www.gallerynorth.org or call 631-751-2676.