A Little Light

Formally schooled landscape painter to be showcased in miniatures show

Patricia Sweet was taught to see the rainbow in everything.
Portrait by Amos Moses

With the art-world pendulum swinging back toward naturalism after the AbEx swoons of the last century, landscape painting is emerging once again from the dusty attic of nineteenth-century genre painting. And Hendersonville artist Patricia Sweet is deep inside the revival, hiking up mountains, kayaking along lonely backwaters, and investigating secluded valleys in the grand tradition of painting “en plein air” (French for “outdoors”), portable easel and paintbox in hand.

“The one thing you can count on when painting a landscape is that it will change, no matter the location,” Sweet says. “This is what makes plein air painting such a challenge, but also exciting.”

Miniatures such as this landscape are the subject of an Art MoB show this month.

Working in oil and acrylic, Sweet bathes her views in softy blurred light and shade, and accomplishes the not inconsiderable task of creating three-dimensional space on a flat canvas. The painter often exhibits her paintings next to photographs of the actual location with her easel and canvas in the foreground, an instructive way for the viewer to appreciate the peculiar challenge presented for the plein air painter. 

“Things further away will contain more sky color and be subdued,” Sweet explains. “And as our eye takes steps forward in the landscape, the intensity of values increases, as well as the color saturation with each step. It’s taken many years for me to acquire the knowledge and the eye to produce dimension in a landscape, constantly adjusting my palette to create each step into the distance.” Maintaining that depth was a particular challenge for works Sweet has prepared for Art MoB’s juried miniatures show this month, in which no work can be larger than 8”x8”.

Her education started with a paintbox, brushes, and canvas presented by her grandmother when Sweet was five years old. Armed with her new tools, Sweet remembers watching icon Bob Ross, the painter of “happy little trees” fame, on PBS. 

Sailing Keyser Lake

It became favorite viewing, especially when a difficult childhood illness kept her at home and out of school for a prolonged spell. By the time she was nine, Sweet was exhibiting her work at the neighborhood library near Clearwater, Florida, where she grew up.

Later, she began painting her way up the East Coast, eventually arriving in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where she joined an arts cooperative built around the teachings of Frank DuMond (1845-1951), one of mid-twentieth-century America’s most influential teachers and painters. The group traveled all over New England to paint outside following DuMond’s methods, especially his “Prismatic Palette,” a way of mixing paint colors to mimic the shadings and gradations of natural light. “Silently glowing over this whole landscape is a rainbow,” DuMond would tell his students. “You must learn to see it.” Among DuMond’s hundreds of students were Georgia O’Keeffe and Norman Rockwell, who may have gone in entirely different directions in their later careers, but who were always known for their masterful handling of color.

Olana Lit Tree

Sweet became a fourth-generation student of DuMond’s method during her 17 years in New England, mentored by a third-generation teacher named Gil Perry who encapsulated DuMond’s approach by telling his students to “sacrifice everything for the light effect.” It can be seen in Sweet’s careful use of shadow, dramatically exaggerated in some places, moderated and subtle in others, that lend her work the depth and dimension of natural light. “Sometimes I quickly sketch on the canvas before applying the paint, if it’s more complex subject matter, but most of the time I just mix and apply the paint as quickly as I can before the scene changes,” she describes. More detailed work follows once the main work is captured, or she may sometimes apply finishing touches back in the studio, under more controlled conditions.

Her years painting with artist friends in New England were formative, a manifestation of her long-held attraction for an earlier age’s approach to a blank canvas. “I’ve always admired the work of the Hudson River School painters from the mid-19th century, such as Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, who often painted together,” Sweet says. Like those two formidable painters, she favors long-distance views that incorporate the textured geology of mountains and valleys, over which hovers a luminous sky. 

Sunday Afternoon @ The Fells

It’s the on-the-spot analysis of light and the intuitive palette and brushstrokes that are the chief pleasure of working outdoors. “I prefer to work en plein air so that I can experience the beauty of my subject firsthand,” Sweet says. “My greatest days are when I can pack a lunch, take a hike, paddle my kayak, find a place to be still, and paint.”

Patricia Sweet, along with many other artists represented by Art MoB Studios and Marketplace (124 4th Ave. East in Hendersonville), will be showcased this month in the gallery’s Burst of Summer Miniature Show, works 8×8 or smaller, opening Saturday, June 8, and running through June 29. On opening night, 5-7pm, guests can meet the artists behind the miniature masterpieces and vote in the People’s Choice award. Visit artmobstudios.com or call 828-693-4545 for more information. To find out more about the artist, see patriciasweet.com.

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