At The Octagon: Georgette Sinclair

review by David Stone

Artists and writers always get the same advice. They hear it from the moment they announce their plans: Carry a notebook to keep track of your ideas.

Reflecting on her new solo exhibit of 32 pastels at the Octagon Gallery, Georgette Sinclair explains, “I always carry a sketchbook. I got into the habit of doing a quick watercolor sketch or a values study using non chroma ink pens to help with the composition, and also to establish what is the darkest dark, the lightest light, and the mid values in the composition.”

She opens a bound book filled from cover to cover with color sketches that will later become fully-realized pastel compositions, fitted for mats and framed. “The idea of having a show of small paintings began when I started to accumulate too many little paintings from my traveling.”

Each painting has a story that makes it more meaningful for her.

“One morning, I had an early appointment. At 7:00 a.m., I rushed to the Tram via the east side of the Island. When I turned my head, I witnessed an amazing sunrise light that reflected off the smoke stacks of [TransCanada Ravenswood] on the East River and created an unforgettable view. This is how Sunrise Over East River was born.” It’s a haunting vision that captures the uncertain moment when physical structures start to take form as first light forces them out of the darkness. Fiery red spreading behind still-black buildings with a hint of blue in the river below is almost too beautiful to be real – at least in the relatively harsh confines of New York City.

“In Tuscany, Italy, at the end of October,” Sinclair says, gesturing at Apples of Tuscany, another painting in her show, “the changing colors over the vineyards in the morning light were breathtaking. Somebody just asked me, about [the painting], ‘What makes [those apples] different from our apples?’” Mood and light, it turns out. “I found them one morning near the vineyards, on the ground in a spectacular light. I try to capture the mood of the moment and want to freeze it forever, as a sublime experience that nature reveals to us. I call them ‘ephemeral moments’ that touch my soul and mind.”

Apples of Tuscany has a quality that recalls classic still life paintings from centuries ago. The difference is that Sinclair’s predecessors set their pictures up like lab experiments, everything in place before starting to paint with oils. She instead uses pure pigments, pastels, applied while still inspired by a discovered image. The immediacy and vibrancy of inspiration in the ephemera of conception come together on the finished surface.

Not stopping there, Sinclair went on to produce a second painting in the same location, of grapes left behind from the harvest. Forgotten On the Vine, Tuscany, is a wistful reminder of a passing season, vivid in pastels.

An under-appreciated factor in the work of great artists in every field is the craftsmanship that allows them to make their ideas real to others. “The beauty about pastels,” Sinclair explains, “is that you can apply them in layers over layers and still keep the transparency. In some places, you can still see some of the underpainting that is in harmony with the rest of the local colors, creating a special effect and setting the mood of the painting.”

Here, she is talking about The Pond, VT, an exceptionally complex picture that surprises with how much she managed to get inside a single small frame – a fallen tree, sunlight slanting from waterside into a green-tinted pond, foreground grasses being lost in receding light. “I had to deal with a lot of shades of green. I used the complementary color, red, in three values – dark, mid, and light – to establish my foundation for the painting. On top of that I added a few touches of local color, and that was enough information for me to be able to work later to finish the painting.” Painting an ephemeral moment means appreciating, but also thinking through the artistry on the fly.

Summing up the cumulative influences of life and art, Sinclair quotes one of her mentors, Elizabeth Mowry. “What many artists and poets have in common is an excruciating sensitivity to their surroundings.” Art lovers should be happy that Georgette Sinclair has distilled that “excruciating sensitivity” and shares her passion in unforgettable pastels.

Ephemeral Moments will remain on exhibit at the Octagon Gallery, in the lobby at 888 Main Street, through August 29. The gallery is open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. You’ll find it well worth a stroll (or a free Red Bus ride) on one of our remaining summer days.


Tags: Art Reviews David Stone

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