Focus Artist: Nina Jerome

Our current exhibit at the gallery, Let Nature Sustain, features Maine artist Nina Jerome. Nina is a graduate of Mt. Holyoke College and Rhode Island School of Design and, up until recently taught painting and drawing at the University of Maine at Orono. Her work has been shown throughout Maine and she has also been shown in many regional and national juried shows. We feel so honored to be showing her work at the gallery.

We recently connected with Nina to ask her some more in-depth questions about her work and her life. I am happy to be able to share more about this very talented artist with you today....

You recently retired from teaching. What is like to have more time and freedom to dedicate to your painting?

I taught at the University of Maine for 27 years. During that time I had days free to paint at the studio, but that time was compartmentalized, and my head was also filled with teaching activities – assignments, curriculum, student interaction, etc. Although I enjoyed those years and learned a lot about my own work through teaching, having open-ended time for my work allows me to think about it in a more continuous way, so that even when I leave the studio, I remain fully focused on painting ideas. I now have more time for drawing, and experimenting with new approaches.

During the last year I spent two months as a fellow at two different residencies – (September with three other artists on Great Cranberry Island with the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, and April in Virginia at the Virginia Center for Creative with about 25 writers, visual artists, and musicians). My teaching schedule would not have allowed these opportunities of continuous uninterrupted work time.

Your paintings showcase a lot of light and atmosphere (fog, mist etc.). Can you speak to how you manage to convey this feeling in your paintings?

I don’t have a system for conveying light or atmosphere. I often put a color on the canvas so that I begin with a warm or a cool tone that keeps the color interaction surprising as I work. I am very conscious of playing warm colors against cool areas to create light. My goal when I paint is to focus on seeing, to make marks that suggest forms that I see, and to respond to the image that develops on my canvas, gradually balancing lights and darks, warm and cool, saturated and unsaturated color. Lately I have been more aware that I am drawing with paint – drawing in layers of closely related or contrasting colors that gradually build the image. One of the most important ideas for me to remember while I’m working is to stop at intervals to consider the progress of the painting – to leave it as soon as I have expressed the essentials, without overworking.

The Back Shore Improvisation is a departure from your usual style and seems more impressionistic with your brush strokes. Can you tell us more about this painting including the “upside down” vision in the water?

While I was at Great Cranberry Island I had long uninterrupted days to work and took more time than usual to draw before starting paintings. The drawings became an important body of my work while I was there, and during the last week, while allowing paintings to dry, I did a series of drawings, returning daily to the backshore. I really liked the way the drawings expressed essential form and movement and left out details and extraneous forms. When I returned to my Bangor studio I worked from the drawings, making five or six mixed media studies on paper, the first of which, “Back Shore, Painting from Drawing 1”, is in the show. I enjoyed the freedom that translation of drawing to painting allowed. I experimented with superimposing some of these drawn images over previous paintings, turning the painting upside down so that I would be more likely to improvise, and allowing the previous image to be revealed in limited places. I was playing with the idea of chaos and balance – and had many failed images, but this one on which I painted over an Addison landscape took on a new energy as the rhythms of the two paintings combined.

You can see a lot of movement in the Beach at Long Point. How hard is it to capture this movement? What is your approach?

Before I did these paintings, I walked around Long Point experiencing its rocks and shoreline. I often select spaces where I feel that I can enter into the place and it helps for me to understand what if feels like to move through it. I like to put my viewers in the space so that they can experience it as I do. I was drawn to this spot because of the long causeway that led to the point, with its variety of rocks and wild growth ending in the concentrated dark mass of trees surrounded by water. I worked on site, selectively choosing the most important marks to capture the essentials of the space.

Do you ever paint en plein air?

Most of the paintings in the show were painted en plein air, or from observation from my studio window. I also did drawings of many of my observations including a series of graphite on yupo on the Back Shore beaches. When I returned to Bangor, I did some paintings from my drawings and a few from photographs. I think that work with the previous plein air process helped to keep the studio paintings fresh.

Can you tell us a bit about your retreat on Great Cranberry Island? We would love to hear more about it.

Even though I have lived in Bangor for over forty years, I had never been to Great Cranberry Island. There is something about having a whole new territory with a finite amount of time to explore, that pushed me to get out and observe, draw, and paint constantly, to absorb all that I could. I had a studio on the water, so that I could work from observation from my windows or nearby shore in a variety of conditions. Even if I had no idea about where to begin, when I got to the studio, there was always an exciting landscape to observe through the window. The studio could have provided me with a month’s work, except that I was curious about other places on the island. I had not ridden a bicycle in many years, but by the end of the month I had used it to investigate all of the roads. The freedom, variety and wealth of light and structure on the island were overwhelming and fueled my daily process. Living with two other artists in a shared house increased this inspiration. We made meals and ate together while discussing our process, frustrations, successes, and tips on discovered spots – conversations that normally do not occur on a daily basis. There is something about being selected for a residency that creates an inner expectation, a good kind of pressure.

It was a pleasure to learn more about Nina Jerome's art and life and we hope you enjoyed an insiders look at her process. You can visit our website for information about available paintings HERE. You can also visit Nina Jerome's website HERE.

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