A Family holiday to North America in the autumn of 2017 became much more than just a chance to catch up with extended family and friends, and became the inspiration for a series of paintings of New Jersey, and Vermont.
The trip was planned so we could start by visiting friends in NYC, moving on to family in south New Jersey, to see the foliage colour of Vermont New England, and back to NY, via Connecticut. October is a fantastic time of year to see these places, the crisp air, unbelievable colour as the trees turn vivid reds, oranges and yellows, and of course the excitement of impending Halloween celebrations!.
Having previously visited NYC on a couple of occasions, once during the worst terrorist attack the world has seen in September 2001, we were looking forward to seeing it in ‘the fall’. It didn’t disappoint! Staying in a brownstone apartment near central park gave us the opportunity to take walks around the neighbourhood, soak up the atmosphere and just marvel at the size of this green space within a city.
Staten Island, where we stayed with friends is a fascinating place with plenty of inspiration for artists.
Staten Island, the least populated borough in NYC with the most green spaces, has sometimes been called "the forgotten borough" by residents, who feel they have been sidelined by local government. I think part of the reason for this is that the island is so close to New Jersey, and also feels disconnected from Manhattan in a way.
I gathered inspiration for paintings as we left a local restaurant one evening, capturing the warm sodium lights at dusk contrasting with the blues of the sky as the sun sets, with similarities to my 'Northern Lights' series.
Moving on to see family in New Jersey , we made our way to Island heights, a small town between Cape May and Atlantic City, reminiscent of Amity Island in the film Jaws. The town community dated back to 1927, with colonial style houses, one of which we were staying in. A stunningly restored Camp Meeting house dating back to 1887.
Surprisingly, I found the transition into painting these scenes fairly straightforward. The reason for this could be because we stayed in air B & B properties in neighbourhoods which were not on the tourist trail as such. I personally don’t attempt to paint something unless I have a connection to it, or have experienced it first hand. As a tourist visiting a new place it is tempting to focus on the popular views and places of interest, but I prefer to capture what appears to be the mundane or the overlooked. One of the main narratives running through my work is the idea of home and familiarity, and i feel the paintings express this well due to the somehow familiar subject matter.
Suburban America is a theme which fascinates me , and as the sun set, and the lights came on in the houses, the town took on a slightly eerie feel, influenced by classic films such as Halloween, Amityville horror, and other 70’s and 80’s horror films. The town lent itself to atmospheric paintings of typical American architecture, white wood houses with wrap around porch, at this time of year heavily adorned with Halloween decorations.
Check out this link to one of Edward Hoppers paintings of Weehawken, New Jersey which is a great example of this. https://www.edwardhopper.net/east-wind-over-weehawken.jspLeaving behind family in New Jersey, we headed off in a hire car to Vermont, New England, to witness the fall colours in all their glory. South of the Canadian border, Burlington is hometown of politician Bernie Sanders, with a large student population, thanks to the University of Vermont at the heart of this compact lakeside city. The neighbourhood we stayed in was within walking distance of the main street of art galleries, shops and restaurants. You can see the house we stayed in below, the blue house on the left. https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/
The intense colour and light of the October season combined with the bright colour of the houses and sense of space gave the neighbourhood a very hopper-esque feel, which was amazing to paint. I found the combination of village life within a big city very interesting.
Houses were typical American style, with many painted in bright colours, purples, yellows, and oranges. A very artistic and inclusive place, every street corner was adorned with art. I went off to explore the area, with my camera and felt as thought this was the kind of place I could live. It had everything going for it, an artistic community, amazing leisure facilities, a great university campus, bike trails, skiing in winter, watersports on the lake in summer, amazing bars and restaurants, and art galleries of course.
Vermont state as a whole has many similar characteristics to places I have visited in Austria. In the early 1940s, the Von Trapp family toured the United States as the Trapp Family Singers before eventually settling in Stowe, Vermont on an enchanted farm with sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria. The Von Trapps fell in love with Stowe, and its sense of space and fresh air, which they didn’t have in Philadelphia, their previous home.
An interesting article about the Von Trapp Family and their luxury mountain lodge https://www.trappfamily.com/von-trapp-story.htm
Stowe is a quintessential rural New England town, placed firmly on the tourist trail of maple syrup tours, and cider festivals. https://www.gostowe.com/
Although very pretty, and great for family trips, this didn’t inspire me to want to paint it. It didn’t have the same qualities which inspired me to paint Burlington, with its combination of students and artists, and its more urban feel.
The trip certainly helped me to realise what truly inspires me as an artist, and how I can use this inspiration to develop my future painting style, and learn new skills. I didn’t set out to produce a whole body of work, but I naturally gravitated towards this subject matter on my return to the UK. One of the reasons for this was no doubt the pennine weather with its lack of shadow and light , which i really missed on my return.
As a younger artist, i might have been tempted to paint the yellow cabs of New York, or the empire state building, but the obvious is not what excites me about making art. I consider the artist Fairfield Porter a massive inspiration when producing my paintings. His simplicity of composition, use of colour and light embodies everything i admire about original art.
Check out his work here https://www.theartstory.org/artist-porter-fairfield.htm
I thoroughly enjoyed painting this body of work, and I am looking forward to visiting this amazing region of North America again in the near future.
Hope you enjoyed the blog, thanks for reading !
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