MIDDLETOWN—The Middletown Art Group 2016 Members Spring Exhibition commemorates 70 years of local artists who paint, sculpt, and use other media.
The exhibit at the Orange Hall Gallery at Suny Orange showcases over 100 works in oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, encaustic, charcoal, pencil, photography, collage, mixed media, recycled objects, and sculpture. The works show the wide variety of styles and techniques of the more than 75 members.
Jill Constantino, MAG’s current president, and Anne Kelly, who co-chaired the event, discussed their art.
Constantino, a 26–year veteran of Middletown High School’s art department, works mostly in watercolor. “I love the luminescent quality of it.” She likes a richness to her watercolors and wants the work to glow. “I would not say opaque. I like to have it so it’s rich in color.”
Her painting “Dinner’s On” explodes with the rich reds of cooked crabs. “When some people think of watercolors they think of wimpy-looking watercolors. If you look at my crab painting, it’s rich with color.” She worked with a photograph taken by a friend. She “loved the color and composition of it, the lights and darks, and the contrasts.”
Constantino generally works from photographs. She spends months on a painting to focus on details in her realistic paintings. “I will spend forever working on my drawing. Then I’ll spend forever just trying to get in my colors.”
She prefers a heavy 300 lb. cold press paper with texture because the paper does not buckle when adding water.
Kelly works in pastel. “It gives you freedom. I think it’s the immediacy of pastel. You just put down a stroke and say ‘oh! That’s all I need to do.'”
She works on Canson paper, French-made fine art paper suited for pastel work and printmaking. She also uses a paper with a rough surface with something like marble dust that accepts the pastel. “It goes on thicker and faster. It shines a little bit more.”
Kelly does pastel portraits. “I enjoy seeing the results when I ‘get’ somebody. I’ll always look at details in faces. I remember faces, the likeness. I get excited when I’ve gotten it. It’s more than just the likeness. It’s more about the person within.”
“Caroline,” the pastel of her granddaughter in the show, portrays a child that Kelly recalls as “very bubbly and vibrant. I look at it and it makes me think of her when she was that age. She was so funny and so cute.”
Inspiration and Mentors
Kelley found her inspiration in the children and mothers depicted by artist Mary Cassatt. “I love to go to museums where I see the real thing.” She especially likes Cassatt’s “Little Girl with the Straw Hat.” She says she learned how to simplify her compositions from local artist Joan Slocum.
Her love of pastels began at 14 while babysitting. “The mother of the children’s aunt came over and did portraits of the children. “That was one of the reasons that I wanted to do what I do now,” Kelley said. “She did such a beautiful job.”
Constantino learned from several watercolor masters, among them Andrew Wyeth, Mary Cassatt, and Paul Jackson. She attended several workshops of Robert O’Brien and appreciates the technique of watercolorist Peggi Habets.
Kelly says doing art helps her to relax. “I feel really great when I’m painting. I forget other things.” She gets into a zone when painting and time flies by. “You don’t think about other problems or day to day things.”
Constantino sets high standards for her art and can stress out when her work is not as perfect as she would like. “I am a perfectionist. I visually have an idea of how it has to look. I’m looking at craftsmanship.”
She says she is more understanding of her students. “I’m a teacher, too, so you have to be understanding there. But for my own work, I’m not understanding at all. I set high bars.”
She intends to be at the standard that she can enter international competitions. Constantino has already participated in three international shows of the Northeast Watercolor Society.
What to Paint
She is now working on a watercolor of her daughter in a yoga pose. She plans a painting of her fiancé Matt as he plays classical guitar.
Kelly is often asked to do pastel portraits. “Lots of times it’s friends who want their grandchildren done or their children done.” She has reached a level where her portraits are gifts. “When I first started, I was like ‘Are they going to like it?’ I was unsure of myself. Now I pretty much know what I can do. They turn out pretty well.”
Kelly and others in the group are aiming for the National Pastel Society in New York City. “These are all incentives to make you work.”
This year’s show judge was Gene Bové, who is known for his oil painting en plein air. Bové founded the Wallkill River School and Gallery and is a signature member of the New York Plein Air Painters. Barbara Bonham’s sculpture “Angst” won Best of Show.
The reception on May 15 had mini-demonstrations by oil painter Bob Scully, collage artist Catherine DeMaio, mixed media artist Starr Novak.
A special section features the works of past members in memoriam. One work in that section is a photo of a painting, “View of James Street,” by charter member Eleanor Towner completed in 1968. The work is now displayed at the First Federal Savings and Loan on James Street.
MAG meets on the third Sunday of every month at the Mulberry Senior Center. Co-chair of the event Anne Kelly said the group brings local artists together. She likes the demonstrations given at the monthly meetings. “That’s one of my favorite things about the group.”
MAG organized in 1946 to exchange “ideas among artists, craftsmen, art teachers, and students.” The group continues to sponsor demonstrations, lectures, and exhibits that promote the study of the arts.
To contact this reporter, email [email protected]