Capers Opens With Gregg Wapner Exhibit
Foremost a fisherman and a hiker, as well as an intrepid painter, Gregg Wapner will walk many miles to capture a favorite place on canvas, or fish until the light is just right for a plein-air sketch of his favorite fishing hole. Listening to his painting stories reminds me of the old New England adage, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute." Waiting for the right angle of light--the blush of sun over a body of water--makes all the difference in the pleasure of synchronizing brush and paint with nature's moments of glory.
Currently showing at Capers, a new restaurant and art venue in Brattleboro, Gregg Wapner's new collection of small art you can fit in a briefcase showcases his newfound passion for oil painting, having recently worked primarily in pastels and watercolor. The restaurant's bright yellow rooms with wide-windowed light are a compelling and light-filled setting for art. Upon entering the restaurant, there is a dividing wall with an unusual inner window that provides a gallery area somewhat separate from, but integrated into, the dining area. The ambience is a combination of a Paris bistro and an upscale American fine dining establishment in a college town.
In this new Gallery Walk venue, Wapner's paintings are intensified in their depth of realism through his use of both a warm and cool palette of lustrous oils, his multiple layers of glaze and the emotive quality of his sense of place. He notes that these paintings are actually quite large considering his earlier preoccupation with making postage-stamp size paintings, which were popular among friends. Blowing up one of these mini-mini paintings to 8-by-10, he shows his style of capturing a feeling for a place, the nuances of colored fragments of sunset or the many fonts of leafy canopy in a forest. These works display an unusual craftsmanship that seems to ride tandem with the variety of his explorations of painting.
This energetic artist acknowledges that he is no longer painting from his boat but still is multi-tasking. "I'm getting my land-legs back," says Wapner. "Any water scenes, I'm doing on shore. I'm still fishing--fishing and painting at the same time--I have a bad time fishing because I want to be painting." For instance, in his painting of Lake Harriman, one of his favorite spots from which to both fish and paint, he relates how a loss can lead to a golden treasure: "I lost the fish, went back that night to try to catch it, and caught another painting in a different light."
About his painting "Blizzard of 2005," Wapner describes more of what he will go through to get that special painting: "The day of that snowstorm, I hiked 6 miles. I tried to capture the snowstorm." The trees along the painting's horizon merely give the snowscape the structure for the viewer to experience the grand snow of that day. The trees are as the hook to the fish. He explains his artistic intent: "I need a focal point. I'm trying to get the viewer's eye to go right through the painting." And he does this through expanding the foreground and raising the horizon line.
"Grafton Barn" captures the first snow of winter when Wapner was driving through another favorite haunt on Rt. 35 in Grafton. He recalls the magic of the moment: "I got inspired, turned around to go back." He snapped a photograph of the barn, then worked on the painting. It evokes the whole of winter in an instant, with all the crystal flakes swirling in midair. The barn is an afterthought. He says, "I try to convey . . . more atmospheric. I didn't try for a painting of a barn. I tried to capture more the snow, the sky."
Through the strength and roil of oil paints, Wapner is able to work more spontaneously, thereby satisfying his appetite for capturing quaking moments of weather and the shift of colors quivering between darkness and light. His palette is earthy and as restless as the weather--his compositions simple and direct. There is no distraction as the eye is coaxed through fields to barns or trees, and called across bodies of water to tempestuous skies. His landscapes are classic portraits of the subtle moods of nature. Scraping down a canvas or building a landscape with layers of paint, he draws from the well of masters such as Andrew Wyeth, George Inness, Edward Hopper and Richard Schmid. He credits Richard Schmid for getting him back to oils: "I was invited to paint with him and the Putney Painters--I certainly have been inspired by them. I have [Schmid's] books. I can just look at some of his paintings and get motivated."
In Wapner's incandescent paintings, there is the recognition of places we have all had the pleasure of discovering and remembering. "It's what one can relate to every day: Yeah, I've been by there. I remember sunsets like this--knowing my great uncle's barn." The artist gives our collective memories back to us in recognizable slices of time and place. His work shimmers with the diffuse light of winter storms and the aura of autumn farm fields. For instance, one painting of "Hewes Barn" mysteriously evokes Wyeth's well-known painting "Christina's World." It startles the viewer in that the familiar slope of golden field dominates the foreground without a Christina, then leads to a barn crowning the horizon. In another version of the barn, "Hewes Barn in Fall," the painting is "about the snow leading up to the barn." It is as if the elements of Nature can be seen only in reference to the human elements of buildings and roads. It is the simplicity of form and structure of barns and trees which allows the painter to capture the intangibles of light, air and atmosphere.
Gregg Wapner's paintings have a breathless awareness of environmental nuances--snow squalls, river vapor, afterglow of sun setting in one caress of hovering warmth or coolness--depending on the season he wishes to conjure. To view his pure New England landscapes is to take home memories of seamless days hiking through farm fields and old logging roads, inhaling the ice-chill of winter storms, and lingering along the twilight shores of embellished night--where, waiting a moment, the weather shifts, the light angles just so, and the wind calls your name.
Gregg Wapner's paintings can be seen at Capers, 51 Main St., Brattleboro, from Wednesday through Sunday; telephone: (802) 251-0151.
Copyright 2005, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont