Rice at PWA: Walpole oil painter Susan Bartlett Rice’s current show, “Blooms and Loons,” at the Pemaquid Watershed Association office in Damariscotta, is a special treat. Not only does the exhibit, which runs through Friday, June 8, feature a collection of Rice’s striking outdoor-focused paintings in more than the usual two rooms of the PWA’s office-gallery, it also boasts an 8-by-10-foot mural on the outside of the building.
What’s even better is that the mural — of loons, alewives, a bird, and a turtle in a colorful Rice-styled Maine habitat – is a permanent fixture at PWA and is visible as one drives past on Main Street.
Rice’s current show – as is the case with all of her work – acknowledges and celebrates the vibrant, changing, and sometimes challenging nature of life in Maine. From her starkly beautiful “Ice Orchard,” a piece focused on a group of bare winter trees casting long shadows on snow, to “Harbor Forsythia,” with its cheery, popping yellow flowers, Rice covers a range of seasonal moods – always finding and conveying the beauty in what is before her eyes.
“Thaw Study,” a small painting hanging in the PWA conference room, is zeroed in on empty furrows on a farm with areas of dirt peeking out from beneath melting snow. Rice has managed to create a portrait of sorts of what a less observant (and less skilled) painter might pass over as too mundane. Significantly, she devotes about four-fifths of the piece to the furrows, with the upper fifth being the land on the distant horizon. Rice manages to convey to the viewer the quiet loveliness of dirt – a feat not everyone can pull off.
Similarly, Rice’s “Blue Ford,” a square painting of a tractor in a field, quietly honors the beauty and usefulness of the vehicle. Her mosaic-y use of color to represent the woods in the background of the piece adds a nicely surrealistic element to this piece.
Below “Blue Ford” hangs “Below Zero Blues,” depicting a harbor scene in frozen winter. Rice manages to make the viewer focus more on the shades of blue in the piece than the proverbial Maine-winter blues, due to her ability to see and translate what is attractive about the local landscape at every time of year.
“Maize,” which hangs in the back office at PWA, is a glorious close-up of tall corn in a field. Like “Thaw Study,” the subject of the piece – in this case, corn stalks – takes up most of the canvas, with a bit of playful blue sky relegated to the top portion of the piece. Rice’s reverence for farm life is evident in her work and she conveys that wonderfully to her viewer.
Other farm crops get the refreshing Rice treatment. “Red Onion” and “Radishes,” featuring bright pink and red, respectively, light up a corner in the middle room of the office-gallery. While hot pink is likely not the color that comes to mind when one thinks of onions, Rice brings out the beauty of the onion with her addition of this color.
“Island Dandies,” a large painting hanging in the conference room, offers a colorful, uplifting scene of a sunny harbor with bright-yellow dandelions and a white picket fence in the foreground.
“I paint the long, quiet winters and the bright, busy summers, as well as the autumns and springs in between,” says Rice in her accompanying artist statement. “I paint from the life I am leading here, where I am seldom venturing far from home and never running out of inspiration.”
Immerse yourself in Rice’s emotionally rewarding vision of the world around us.
The PWA office-gallery is located at 584 Main St., Damariscotta, and is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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