A SKETCH HERE A SKETCH THERE

Posted by Jack on December 14th, 2011 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

Ann is never far from her sketchbook.  At a concert or a community meeting, on an airplane or a ferry boat, in a restaurant or a dentist’s office, you are likely to see her with a pen or even a miniature water color set capturing the moment of people and place of light and color.

The shelves and drawers of her studio are chock-a-block with sketchbooks that chronicle and illuminate many years of travel and observation.  There are small thumbnails of gee-gaws, drawings of faces and costumes of a kaleidoscope of humanity across America and Europe.

Andrew Wyeth once stated, “I don’t really have studios.  I wander around – around people’s attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me”.  The sketches that result are the artist’s journal, a record of visual impressions that preserve a moment, a place, an event.  Ann’s sketchbooks are filled with such diverse images as views from the window of trains in Norway, of cattle grazing in her son’s ranch, of a pretty girl dining alone in a Paris bistro, street scenes in San francisco or  sailboats in the Salish Sea.  Not long ago she was commissioned to paint a landscape with sheep.  Her sketchbooks had a number of drawings of black-face Suffolk sheep an she found the right subject in the right poses which she turned into a charming pastorale.


The Last Chapter

Posted by Jack on September 17th, 2011 filed in About Ann
4 Comments »

And now, our dear Annie is gone.  She died quietly at home on August 23, as she wished, without pain or serious discomfort.  It was a fine summer day, about the middle of the morning.  You may not know that sometimes she liked being called Annie.

Early in July Ann learned that she had a really nasty, certainly fatal problem.  The seriously competent gynecological oncologist in Seattle told her that ovarian cancer had spread throughout her abdomen.  He said that he could treat this with intensive and painful combinations of medication and surgery, that this would extend her life “a number of months” as she wasted away, though the pain might be mitigated.  Ann considered this a poor bargain.  She politely declined the good doctor’s ministrations, electing to have a more comfortable exit with as much dignity as possible.  Then she set about organizing the final weeks of her life.

Ann welcomed visits from her close kin and from her best friends, some traveling far and with difficulty for short stays.  She judiciously and thoughtfully dispensed artworks, jewelry, mementos and treasures.  She made arrangements for a commemorative showing of her work and made certain that the exhibit would be braced with generous amounts of champagne and canapes.  While she had not touched spiritous cocktails for many years, she decided it would now be very nice to have martinis on the open terrace at the pleasant Bluff restaurant overlooking the harbor.  She relished foods she had eschewed for years: bacon, waffles, milkshakes, foie gras.  She feasted on ice cream and pastries.  She was delighted to learn that she was eligible to have a prescription for medicinal cannabis and she consumed it enthusiastically, giggling with wicked pleasure.   Called it the best medicine she had been given.  Most of all, she did not want her death to be a sad, burdensome or tearful occasion.

Ann was proud of her eighty one years. She touched many lives and helped lots of folks. She died leaving multitudes whose lives she enriched,  people who loved her,  people who cherish her memory.  Her works of art, the central focus of her life, enliven many walls throughout the country and she left us knowing that these paintings are her secure legacy, that they will continue to give pleasure over unimaginable years ahead.  She had unambiguous certainty that some of her paintings are truly great, very fine art.  She knew she did good work.  This gave her peace and comfort.  She wanted the rest of us to enjoy her art as much as she did.

Though she was comforted by the rituals, prayers and observances of her Episcopal church, she asked that there be no religious service.  No eulogies, no spoken remembrances.  The Island Museum of Art here in Friday Harbor will hold a retrospective/memorial  showing of her paintings beginning October 15.   People who have bought her paintings are lending them to the museum for the memorial and all the paintings that are not ever to be sold will also be on display.  Come see the show and enjoy it.  Ann always liked to know that people saw and admired her work.  We will never see these works together again.  This is our last chance to revel in the admirable craft of Ann Walbert.

Ann has gone.  Goodnight sweet princess, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


CAN’T HELP IT

Posted by Jack on September 21st, 2010 filed in About Ann
1 Comment »

“The only reason one paints is that one must.”  This aphorism is tacked to the wall near the rear door of Ann’s studio.  It was culled from the vast store of literature created by Somerset Maugham, a prolific British auathor who earned high regard as a writer of fiction and essays in the early decades of the twentieth century.  Now, however, his stories and novels are viewed as quaint romantic curiosities by the post-modernists, though the wisdom and cleverness of some of his bons mots live on.  He was also an enthusiastic and modestly talented amateur painter who obviously understood something of the compulsive behavior that seems inevitably involved in the process of creating art.

A cursory check of the psychiatry dispensed on the internet tells us that this expression of compulsion is not the sort of mental disorder that get the doctors upset.  It is a gentle, though incurable malady, possibly contageous.  Still, it is a compelling quotidian drive in the life of an artist.  Ann commutes the hundred yards to her studio after a spartan breakfast and often spends the daylight hours at her easel sometimes even having lunch out of her mini-refigerator and microwave oven.  Not always seven days a week, but not unusually so.   Ann enjoys fine food as much as anyone in town, but she has been known to pass up an invitation to lunch at a white tablecloth restaurant so she can keep on working on a painting in which she is absorbed.  She has done this all her life.  Perhaps another manifestation of this syndrome is her determined rejection of any of her works that does not meet her standards.  She simply lays a new coat of solid-color paint on the canvas and begins again.

Ann started drawing and painting as a child.  She majored in art at Milliken University and has never worked in any field except art or art education.  The biographies of great painters show the same dedication, drive, compulsion.  Though his family pushed Paul Cezanne into an early career in banking, he was a failure at this and became a painter.  After a time he learned the craft and, well, you know what happened.  He had to paint just as Ann needs to paint.

Malcolm Gladwell in his delightful book, The Outliers, demonstrates that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become truly proficient at such tasks as playing a guitar or  mastering computer software.  Note that it takes the usual worker with a full time job seven years to accumulate ten thousand hours of dedicated work.  Can we doubt that Gladwell’s rule applies to art as well?  If this is so, then it is the inescapable  compulsion to paint that eventually turns the sketch pad doodler into a fine painter.  That keen edge of madness that keeps the artist so closely linked to his canvas and brushes for the required ten thousand hours may be the source of great art, not some genetically-induced skill.  A thoughtful culture should find a special way of rewarding those afflicted by the art craze.  After all, the artists can’t help it.  They must paint.


GARDEN ART

Posted by Jack on January 19th, 2010 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

The clever commentator on a very pleasant music program recently made a wise comment about the practice of bloggery.  She remarked that blogs are like diets, easy to start but oh so hard to stay with.  It has been far too long since About Ann has had a proper update, though there is much to comment on.  This seems a good time to speak of the expression of Ann’s art as revealed in her garden.

Most artists, and especially plein air painters, seem to have a natural affinity to the visual delight of trees, flowers and natural landscape.  They work, after all, by expressing and interpreting in their paintings and drawings the world in all its shapes, shades and colors, rocks and rills.  An understanding of how plants grow and of the nuances of shape and hue are essential to the creative process.  In the garden the images and colors are endless.  Claude Monet, a painter who taught the world a thing or two about landscapes, is quoted as having said that there are no conflicting, disharmonius colors in nature.   The famed gardens he cultivated at Giverny are indeed proof that the gardner’s palate can be psychedelic in mix and position of colors, bold or subdued, always producing a visually pleasing effect.

Ann’s gardens tend to be more subtle.  She is quite as well known in some circles for her gardening skills and designs as for her painting.  A long-time member of the prestigious Garden Club of America, she has on her walls certificates of award and citation from that organization for special achievement and contribution. Her inspired flower arrangements win prizes.  The gardens surrounding her home in Carmel were the lauded subject of a feature article in Better Homes and Gardens magazine.   Those gardens were designed and planted with careful regard for color match and harmony.  They were constantly groomed and tended, with never a sprout of weed nor a yellowing leaf or tired flower in sight.

Here in Friday Harbor, Ann’s gardening is simpler and more bucolic, reflecting the country location of her property.  Where the deer and the racoons roam, many plantings must be inside a tall fence.  Most of the property is open, rural land with the grass cut short to keep down fire hazard, but with a large peripheral area left natural and uncut to provide cover and nesting areas for for the small birds and animals.  Plants such as rhododendron and lavender that deer don’t consider food provide color accents in beds and borders.  Inside the deer fence, flowering plants compete for space with an assortment of the edibles that thrive in the long growing days of the northern latitudes.  Roses grow alongside asparagus; foxglove and rhubarb do well in the same bed.  Flowers from the garden provide fine displays for still life arrangements through the spring, summer and fall.

Now, in January, there is little to do in the garden.  The roses are pruned, old growth has been cut back, raked and composted.  The garlic has been planted.  Happily, kale, chard and parsley from last summer continue to grow and prosper through a frosty winter so there is still a contribution to the table from the garden.  Only the seed catalogues are getting much attention this month.  Serious gardening doesn’t get underway until the soil temperature is consistently up to about sixty degrees.  Though we are having a mild, relatively  warm winter, the serious work is still about ninety days away.  A new year has come and each day is a little longer than the last.  Can spring be far behind?


PAL JOEY, ART CRITIC

Posted by Jack on May 12th, 2009 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

Drawing LessonIn the summer of 2006, when Ann had newly arrived on San Juan Island and was beginning to explore some of the island’s many pleasures and places, she decided on an afternoon stroll at the amazing sculpture park near Roche Harbor.  This park is a wonderland in a natural amphitheater surrounded by towering fir and cedar trees.  A nicely-tended trail meanders through nineteen acres of rustic meadows with natural shrubs, ponds, wildflowers and grasses, leading to thoughtfully placed works of three-dimensional art that are cleverly incorporated into this natural landscape.  Over 100 statues are on display.  If you like the idea of fine art placed in woodsy countryside with abundant birdsong, this is your bon-bon.

On that sunny June day when Ann went exploring the sculpture park, she took her pal Joey with her.  As you will note from the photographs, Joey is a handsome tricolor Pembroke Welsh Corgi.  He was then four years old, an age of reasonable maturity for a working breed.  Those who are familiar with the character of corgis understand they tend to have strong, fixed and non-negotiable opinions about matters of even minor consequence.  They expect you will understand that they have been given the right to make all the decisions.  These are doggie neocons.   Joey has an unfortunate way of explaining all this to newly-acquainted dogs with barks, snarls and baring of teeth until he has established his rank as top dog, as it were.  He attempted once to explain these simple facts of life to a Rottweiler at the Monterey waterfront.  This was not a successful effort on his part, certainly not a demonstration of good judgment.

The great pleasures of Joey’s existence are (1) bits of foodstuff accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor, (2) a rousing ball-game and (3) a walk through meadows and woods.  His stroll through the sculpture park on that day in June fit into these preferences very well, thank you.  Until, that is, the path took a winding turn up a hill to the left and revealed a tall, imperial sculpture of light gray granite, a creation clearly intended to make a dominant statement  and to make the viewer reflect upon the vanities of life.  This is not a piece to bring cerebral peace and comfort as one meditates in a quiet garden by a dappled pond, but a profound work to be placed boldly upon a high craig, a rocky bluff, a windswept tor, or perhaps nestled into a veiled and misty moor.  Joey had casually viewed all the other art pieces he had passed that day with polite attention much as the lord of the manor might inspect a showing of still life paintings from the ladies’ watercolor club at the local parish hall. This gray granite piece was a different matter.  At his very first first glance, Joey gave voice to a deep growl.  As he approached for a closer inspection, his growl turned to a steady bark. Not the  exuberant “Hey, there’s a fox!” bark, nor the happy bark to announce someone at the front door.  This was a serious, deep-throated voice of contempt, clearly directed at the statue upon which his eyes stayed locked.  It was the bay of critical pronouncement, exclaiming emphatic disapproval.  It continued until the offending member was out of sight.  Just to be sure, Ann circled around by way of another path and approached the offending work from the east.  Again Joey made his critique evident.  While the statue was in sight, he howled and roared; once out of sight, he was back to his usual diligent exploration of the scent of mouse/rabbit/fox/deer.  Clearly, it was the statue that offended his senses.

Joey, of course, lives with fine art.  He goes to her studio with Ann each morning where he watches her paint, guards the door or naps in the sun.  He regularly attends the weekly workshops in Ann’s studio though in these salons he politely avoids any vocal outbursts about the quality of the painting. While he may not always approve of the drawings or color choices, he keeps his yap shut.  Perhaps he recognizes that these efforts are learning exercises, not final expressions of the artists’ capabilities.  Or, perhaps, he remembers that when lunch is served, there is always the chance of that scrap of cheddar, sardine or cookie that may drop to the floor of the studio, immediately to become Joey food.  Not to imply that his critical valuations can be bought, but a cookie is a cookie.  Beauty, after all,  is in the eye, or pethaps the nose, of the beholder.

Joey


SAN JUAN SALON

Posted by Jack on February 14th, 2009 filed in About Ann
1 Comment »

Ann's StudioEach Monday, except when she is traveling, Ann hosts an afternoon of painting and conversation in her studio.  This exercise of talent and mind began a couple of years ago at the suggestion of an artist who is a part-time resident of San Juan Island with a day job as an architect in California.  He knew that life drawing and painting of a nude model was a standard classical means of tutoring and fine-tuning control of line, shape and color for artists, not just a chance to feast one’s eyes on a well-formed female body, or at least not entirely so.   As is common with such groups, this congregation has had drop-outs, drop-ins, additions and alterations of focus, creating a constant state of healthy metamorphosis.  

For many months, the group had a wonderful model, a statuesque dancer and teacher of dance whose fine figure was capped with flowing red hair.  Then, as a diversification, from time to time a local notable with a particularly distinguished or at least distinctive face has been asked to sit for studies in portraiture.  While these brief sessions do not allow for creation of anything approaching finished portraits nor of frame-ready life studies, the resulting drawings and paintings are often nicely-rendered, fresh and very agreeable works of art that show imaginative images and color.  

At each session’s end, the artists show their works to one another.  Some of these are simply quick sketches, others the beginnings of what may become fine paintings.  These end-of-day displays are not to critique or teach, but to examine and comment on technique and result. It is a wonderfully heterogeneous group, these artists in the Monday salons.  They work side by side: a retired professor from an Ivy-League university paints along-side a professional cartoonist, an artist whose income comes from sheet-rocking construction jobs flanks a Fulbright scholar who writes and illustrates books.  There may be an artist who is also a professor of marine biology, one who was a surgeon in earlier life, another who owns an antique store.   This diversity enriches and enlivens the artistic and intellectual broth.  As in any such symposium, the learning experience is mutual and is, finally, a product of the contrasting and complementary skills and ideas of the whole.  Indeed, the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts.  One remarked that doing these drawings, sketches and paintings is for an artist like playing the scales is for a musician. Little doubt there is much value in the skill enhancement from these sessions, but another bit of glue that keeps the group intact is the mid-session break for lunch.  

You will be pleased to know that practicing professional artists do occasionally accept a glass of wine or two to wash down the tuna salad or fruit and cheese.  It is at this point that they keep the spirit of “salon” alive by selecting as the topic of the day a particular noted artist, past or contemporary, for serious review and commentary.   Others have remarked on the intellectual and artistic skill and diversity of San Juan Island, this small, rural fragment isolated in cold water on the outer edge of our nation.  Not many island activities demonstrate this intensity of skill and breadth of diversity quite as well as these little Monday salons at Ann’s studio.

 

Portrait Exercise

Portrait Exercise


JUST IMAGINE

Posted by Jack on October 22nd, 2008 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

In an otherwise clever and thoughtful book, the late, great Richard Feynman, acclaimed as a physicist of note (Nobel Prize: quantum electrodynamics), made what Ann considers a sadly uncharacteristic declaration, saying: “It is surprising that people do not believe that there is imagination in science.  It is a very interesting kind of imagination, unlike that of an artist.”  Yes, he really put that in print.  Now, there are at least two ways to interpret what he may have meant.  Was he trying to say that the imagination exercised by a scientist is a different and more interesting species, not to be confused with the dull, inferior imagination used in creation of works of literature, fantasy or art?  Or was he declaring that the mental processes that result in creation of art are themselves hopelessly uninteresting? Unfortunately in this book (The Meaning of it All – Perseus Publishing, 1998) Professor Feyneman never made it at all clear just what he may have meant by this comment. For an inellectual polymath who usually writes with great clarity and insight, he leaves us in this instance with a bold statement that begs disambiguation.   

One could argue that assigning a superior – “very interesting” – value of imagination for what he himself exercises while inferring a downmarket rank – if not uninteresting, at least non-intellectual – to that of a mere poet or artist is a grading that calls for amazing hubris.  Is there rank or hierarchical differentiation in the many expressions of imagination, in the many ways folks use this strange and compelling mental process?   Are processes of imagination of the scientist substantially different from, even superior to, those of a poet?  Those of an astronomer from those of a novelist?  Those of a chemist from those of a sculptor?  Surely you were joking, Mr. Feynman!  

By way of contrast, Paola Antonelli, the cerebral and stylish director of Design and Architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is presently curating an exhibit she calls “Design and the Elastic Mind”. This provocative show is a cleverly bold and innovative effort to celebrate the congruence of imagination in technology and art.  Far from seeing imagination of scientists and technologists as a thing apart from imagination of artists and designers, this exhibit peeks into dim corners where designers are working with scientists to come up with gizmos and gimmicks only a highly elastic mind could conjure.  

MoMA’s website says, “The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science and history – changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior – and translate them into things that people can actually understand and use.”  The show wanders into realms of genetic engineering, nanotechnology, collaborative design, metaphysical space and quantum mechanics. This interesting stuff is online and worth visiting.  You have to use your imagination!

Ann’s paintings depend mightily on exercise of imagination.  Her paintings are usually crafted and schemed in serious detail and there is an organized and disciplined line of development that has been wrought from days, even weeks of imagining.  Occasionally, though, a painting will develop from a beginning that is little more than an inspired theme and a color scheme.  Just as often a painting will take an acute departure from its origins and in mid-process will become a newly-imagined theme. It may be worthwhile some day to probe where chaos process enters into artistic imagination.  Ann has her guiding aphorism firmly fixed at the top of her largest easel. It is a quotation from Mark Twain:  “You cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus”.    

 


HEALTH BENEFITS

Posted by Jack on October 4th, 2008 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

A week or so ago while on a boating trip to the ever-pleasant nearby city of Victoria in British Columbia, Ann was reading the local newspaper over her breakfast latte and croissant.  She spotted an interesting headline, to wit: “Looking at a Beautiful Painting Distracts from Pain, Study Reveals”.  Like most reasonable people, Ann has learned to be acutely skeptical of studies that purport to declare that either consuming or abstaining from some food or drink or another will perhaps deliver rejuvenating health benefits or likely lead one to an early and painful death.  “Study shows: Drinking avocado oil prevents post-nasal drip!”   “Study proves: Eating anchovies increases risk of bunions!”

We know, don’t we, that these pronouncements are almost certain to be followed in weeks or months with new items in the health and science pages of the same newspaper reporting on a study statistically proving exactly the opposite.  Skepticism is warranted, advised, actually essential, except (and this is most important) for those cases wherein the study recommends health benefits accruing from conspicuous and enthusiastic consumption of red wine, chocolate and/or wild salmon.  In these enlightened instances, acceptance, support and even evangelical spreading of the word are recommended.

This article (in the Vancouver Sun, September 19) recommending the anesthetic benefits of viewing beautiful paintings clearly stands resolutely on the red wine-chocolate-salmon side of the equation.  This is something that we can readily accept since it seems so obvious that you wonder why there may have been any question about the matter, what doubt would have required a study.  At any event, the news article deserved close attention.

The story, with a London dateline and attribution to the Daily Telegraph, begins with a nice idea: “Looking at a beautiful piece of art has long been said to have the power to heal emotional wounds but research also claims that it offers a distraction from physical pain.”  It tells us that the research was conducted at the Neurophysiopathology Pain Unit of the University of Bari in Italy.  That, my friends, is nine-syllable science!  The study protocol involved asking the subjects to pick the 20 paintings they considered most ugly and most beautiful from a selection of 200 images.   They were then asked to contemplate alternately the beautiful, the ugly and a blank canvas while the techies in white lab coats zapped their hands with a short laser pulse, simulating a pin-prick.  This bit of scientific research delivered to the accumulated body of human knowledge the wisdom that pain is one third less intense while viewing fine and beautiful paintings.

So long ibuprofin.  Bye-bye Bayer.  Stop worrying about those little arthritic pings now affecting boomers.  Hang upon every wall in your house Boticellis, Vermers, Turners, Monets.  Even an Ann Walbert or two.   This study will certainly give hospital Boards who have spent hard-earned dollars on decor, art and flora a scientifically-proven justification for their largesse.  Perhaps viewing art does ease pain.  Perhaps not.  Either way, it is an essential part of a well-realized life.  It really is okay to view and contemplate fine and beautiful paintings even though you might not be in immediate pain.

Certainly we always knew that.  Still, it is comforting to have science on our side.  Worth all the bother of a cruise to Victoria.

skylark-visits-the-empress2


REQUIEM AND REBIRTH

Posted by Jack on August 26th, 2008 filed in About Ann
Comment now »

That unappreciated landscape discussed in our posting of late June as “A Near Death Experience” turned out not to have much second wind.  Ann tolerated it for a few weeks as a disruptive influence in her studio, perhaps in the belief that she might learn to live with it if only as an item of pity.  Then one day in late July she gleefully coated the painting with an intensely opaque coat of ochre, providing herself with a new (though now well-coated) expanse of linen for something quite different.

The landscape had endured a long, painful gestation with much rearrangement of trees and mountains, of constantly changing color patterns, of resetting the source of light.  Nothing worked to her satisfaction over a period of many weeks.  Though others who saw the painting found substantial merit in the work, Ann took great pride and pleasure in painting it out.  Easily a hundred hours of diligent work not to mention a tidy investment in pigments were happily erased in minutes.

What followed was nothing short of a creative assault, a fury of painting.  As though toiling in righteous  vengeance, Ann was at work in her studio early in the day and still painting well past the time she should be meditating over a glass of zinfandel at the hour of sunset. (Bear in mind these were the long days of a Northwest summer.) She attacked this new composition assertively, determined to show this bit of canvas who was boss.  Many of Ann’s atmospheric abstracts develop thoughtfully over leisurely time through a period of evolving shape, form and color, a continuing metamorphosis.  This new work took shape quickly and the palette was not one that slowly evolved but leapt into form from the first brush strokes.  The painting was finished in a week. Perhaps it is not the best she has ever done, but it is certainly among her real triumphs.  It is bold and visceral with color contrasts she doesn’t often use.  It is very successful, a maturely realized work of art.  She calls it “Sundance”.  When her new camera arrives there may be a worthy image of Sundance in these postings.  

 

 


ATMOSPHERIC ABSTRACTS

Posted by Jack on July 9th, 2008 filed in About Ann
2 Comments »

Some clever person made a wise observations a few years ago in commenting that “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  It could easily be true that writing about art is just as meaningful.  Those thick, beautifully produced museum catalogs and coffee table books depicting works of art also assume the task of giving us endless paragraphs explaining what we are looking at, interpreting the artist’s vision, defining a period, codifying a technique, cataloging a movement.  While many of the terms they use certainly have real meaning to the insiders (and, indeed, there is a large,  rich vocabulary of terms and definitions peculiar to art), much of the language does not easily translate into ordinary American English.  It is reminiscent of the comment the great Lee Knowles (Major Domo of Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley) made about winewriters’ attempts to describe fine wines: The crystal luminescence school of journalism.

Ann has a category of paintings she defines as “atmospheric abstracts”.  Checking this term with Wikipedia one gets the terse reply, “There is no page titled Atmospheric Abstracts”.  Google races through its several million pages and comes up with a few suggestions on meteorological monographs.  Adding the word art to the search brings up with one Welsh photographer and a New York-based painter/poet named Julie Hedrick.  Much diligence leads to several more artists or works of art that are self-defined as atmospheric abstracts.  Unfortunately, there is no effort to define terms nor does there seem to be a body of close, identifiable shared characteristics that would tend to group these works into the unitary realm of common definition.   Google and Yahoo show that a number of  works of art by various artists are described as atmospheric abstracts, but nowhere is there a unifying definition.

Friday Harbor Library has a well-stocked reference section for a town its size.  Still, it was equally unproductive in gaining perspective on atmospheric abstracts.  The impressive 34 volume “Dictionary of Art” (latest edition, 1996) doesn’t touch the subject nor does the 1997 edition of the “Oxford Dictionary of Art”.  In the 1198 pages of “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages” (2001) not a single line of  elucidation graces the text.

Going to the fundamental source seemed the reasonable next step.  the Oxford English Dictionary gives us (as meaning four) the definition of Abstract as: “Withdrawn or separated from matter, from material embodiment, from practice or from particular examples.”  Not bad, huh?  Atmospheric comes down as “Evoking or designed to evoke an atmosphere”, which is: Atmosphere: “Surrounding mental or moral environment…psychological climate…prevailing tone or mood…prevailing or beguiling associations or effects”.  So there we have it.

Ann herself credits an auctioneer, a proper well-schooled Londoner sent by Sotheby’s to preside at an auction of art for a charitable occasion at Pebble Beach some years ago as the person who defined her work that was being sold as a outstanding example of atmospheric abstract painting.  The painting was purchased to a substantial benefit of the sponsoring charity and the auctioneer’s description of Ann’s work was quickly established and accepted in the Carmel art world.  She claims no credit for the term and makes no more attempt to define it than do all our sources.

Have a look at the paintings on her web site under the “Atmospheric Abstracts” tab.  You may agree that the definitions of both atmospheric and abstract work well in description of these works. You may also agree that it is not easy to apply words to art.  It is often, “Yes, I see it.  I like it.  But I can’t quite tell you exactly what there it is about it”.  Dancing about architecture is tricky business.