MICA at the Center Club, Baltimore, MD

Naturally Inspired
Paintings by Christine Neill and Peter W. Brooke
April 9-October 29, 2008
Tracy Lambros, Artist and Art Consultant, Curator for the Commerce and Culture Series

Christine Neill and Peter W. Brooke, accomplished, award winning artists, are also avid naturalists, drawing inspiration from their indigenous surroundings. They care deeply about human beings’ relationship to nature, and, although the artists’ creative processes are distinct and different, the resulting works remind us that we are strongly connected to nature. The art touches us on a purely visceral level, but it also has the more tangible result of inspiring us to experience the natural world in a physical and deeply personal way.

Neill’s interest in and approach to making art from natural elements is rooted in her studies of science (she was a student of biology at Skidmore College before turning to a focus on art; she completed an MFA in MICA’s Hoffberger School of Painting and has been on MICA’s faculty since 1980). Neill works from studios in Baltimore and New Hampshire, choosing elements from nature that she finds interesting--plants, leaves, flowers, seed pods, roots--and isolating them from their surroundings by taking them into her studio. With unabashed curiosity, she examines, researches, and dissects the objects (which she sometimes refers to as specimens). She learns about their history, geographical origin, life cycle, and even the mythology that is associated with specific natural objects. At some point in this process, the biologist puts down her magnifying glass and the artist picks up the brush. Creative intuition takes over.

She works in watercolor, a fast drying medium which requires immediate decision making, an extremely skilled hand, and an experienced eye for composition and palette choices. Once the paint is on the paper, there is no turning back--the painting is either right or wrong--and in Neill’s studio when it is wrong it is discarded. She also combines her work in watercolor with digital printmaking: “My watercolors have always been expressive, emotional, irrational, intuitive. Scanning the images digitally allows me to take a more analytical approach, infusing reality into and combining it with the other expressive images.” For a viewer, the combination simply makes Neill’s paintings even more interesting and beautiful. Her scientific curiosity, combined with her intuitive artist’s imagination, is infectious.

Brooke first met Neill when he was pursuing his MFA in MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art. In fact, he was her teaching assistant, and they have kept in touch since he graduated in 1986. From his studio in Vermont, Brooke paints landscapes that are believable as actual places, but are not literal depictions of them. Rather they are interpretations of the memories that resonate from places he has known. Combining memory, invention, geography, geology, and knowledge of an area’s history, Brooke’s landscapes radiate a stillness that is almost hypnotic. They are at once places where one has been and destinations where one could imagine escaping. For Brooke, the “work represents a strong reverence for the natural world: a sort of wonderment in the eye of the observer, a chance to slow down and contemplate.”

That “chance to slow down and contemplate” is increasingly rare in so many lives today. These paintings offer a visual respite from the urban and suburban landscapes that frame our daily lives. Our landscapes, often viewed from the insides of our cars as we go about our busy lives, include sprawling residential and industrial developments, cookie cutter retail chains, and intruding advertisements. Our connection with the natural world in its purest form is often limited, sometimes lost. For many of us, curiosity can take a back seat to the demands of daily life. Brooke’s landscapes remind us to seek out this connection in order to enrich our inner, emotional lives. Spending time with Neill’s paintings inspires us to indulge our curiosity, and engage in study of the natural world, so that we, too, might one day identify a Eucalypt Medusa while on a walk in the woods, and gain a deeper insight into the natural world.