Sylvan Gallery is delighted to welcome back renowned landscape artists, Neal Hughes and Crista Pisano, for an exhibition of their latest paintings. The exhibit opens Thursday, Aug. 3 and continues through Sept. 2. The reception to meet the artists is on Thursday, Aug. 31, from 5 to 8 p.m., coinciding with the evening of the Wiscasset Art Walk. In conjunction, the gallery will also be displaying work from its regular roster of contemporary fine artists.
As highly experienced plein air (on location, outside) artists, this collection of Hughes’ and Pisano’s newest works is a firm expression of their maturity and vision to create paintings that interpret nature, and as the early 20th century artist, Charles Woodbury, believed, to make nature as interesting to others as it is to us. Their friendship formed while both were competing in the most prestigious juried plein air art competitions in the country. Through that competitive environment, they further honed their skills and brought their distinctive styles to whatever subject captured their attention. Although their work is very different in scale and perspective, a deep love and connection to nature, and the ability to capture it’s moods, nuances of colors, light, and atmosphere is always at the heart of each painting, creating a lasting impression in the minds of judges and art collectors throughout the country.
Coastal Maine subjects inspire many of Neal Hughes’ paintings in the exhibition. “Afternoon Haze, Monhegan,” at 24 x 36 inches is viewed from the back of a Monhegan Island cottage looking toward Manana Island. The painting is striking for the wonderful balance of sunlight and shadow and the impressionistic colors and technique that Hughes used to capture the specific qualities of place to create a kind of hazy beauty. The rosy pink atmosphere infuses the violet tones of the shadowed cottage and foreground grasses with light, creating illumination within the shadows. Sunlit bright greens and golds of grasses and foliage provide a perfect contrast and
gives a vibratory energy to the painting. Distant sunlit water is flecked with light tones of turquoise, and Manana Island, seen through the atmospheric haze, takes on the colors of pinks and violets. Hughes creates a painting in which one can smell and feel the sea breeze that he felt while painting there. Hughes was honored this year when the painting won the “Alden Bryan Memorial Landscape Painting Award of Excellence” at the Oil Painters of America 32nd annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils.
In “Changing Weather, Bailey’s Island,” at 11 x 14 inches, the scene includes a weather-beaten cottage tucked into a rocky cove. Stacked lobster traps lean nearby. The painting is beautifully composed and feels more real than a very detailed painting would. Hughes evokes the feeling of being in the landscape to the viewer by capturing a truthfulness to the setting and to the changing weather and light. By his method of modulating the tonal range and color, we can observe the sheen of the wet rocks, feel the wetness from the rainstorm, and know by the distant light effect on the water that clearing skies are ahead. Hughes painted this quickly and
skillfully and every brushstroke has meaning.
As an elected Fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists (ASMA), painting sailing crafts has always been a particular passion of Hughes. “Early Morning Camden Harbor,” at 12 x 16 inches, is a wonderful example of how deftly a skilled artist can paint a subject when they understand it really well. A sailboat is tied up at the dock and Hughes set up his easel from a higher vantage point to also be able to observe the other boats resting in the harbor and include them in the composition. Painted quickly, to capture that special quality of early morning light, the brushwork is lush, gestural, and expressive. All the colors of the early morning sky: yellows,
pinks, greens, blues, and violets are reflected on the water with impressionistic dashes of color.
Neal Hughes is a former illustrator and has been painting professionally for more than 35 years. He has won many awards over his career. In 2023 alone, he has already won the “Award of Merit” at the 2023 National Oil & Acrylic Painters Society Best of America Small Works Exhibition; “Second Place Award” for the Quick Draw Contest at Plein Air Easton, in Easton, Maryland; “Second Place Award” at the Gloucester Arts Festival Plein Air Competition; “Merit Award” at the Paint Grand Traverse Competition and “Honorable Mention” at the Paint Grand Traverse Small Wonders Competition in Traverse City, Michigan; “The Wayne Art Center Award” at the Wayne Plein Air Festival in Wayne, Pennsylvania; “Best Boat Painting” at the Shadows On The Teche Plein Air Competition in New Iberia, Louisiana; “Third Place Award” at the Lighthouse Art Center Plein Air Festival in Tequesta, Florida. Most notably, Hughes was the grand prize winner of the Utrecht 60th Anniversary Art Competition, winning the top prize out of over 12,000 entries.
Crista Pisano has achieved national recognition for the ability to completely capture the intrinsic quality of a scene in a small and often panoramic format. Her acute observation of nature is present in every painting. Rather than limiting her vision by using standard-sized panels, she chooses from a multitude of panels of unusual dimensions that she gessoes and cuts herself, freeing her to focus on many of the longer views that she loves.
In “Sky Lights and Marsh,” at 7 x 9 1/2 inches, Crista chose to compose the painting with a low horizon line to develop the expansive view of the sky. She captures the sky in motion - there is a wonderful sweep to the clouds as they catch the golden rays of the rising sun set against the subtle transitions of the turquoise sky. The sun energy lightens and colors the distant marsh and tree line. Foreground reeds are suggested with her favorite Rosemary brand size zero bristle brush, and detail is indicated by subtle scraping from the tip of her brush. This painting is about “the big picture” though, and it is only the essential detail that is added so the initial sensation of the early morning sunrise remains the focus of the painting.
In contrast, “Rocks at Pemaquid,” at 2 x 5 inches, has a very high horizon line, leaving the majority of the painting devoted to the ocean and rocks jutting out into the water. Pemaquid Point has always been a favorite location of Pisano’s, and she captures the rocks there by first massing them, then individualizing them with short gestural stokes. Far and mid-distant waves are conveyed by removing paint with the pointed tip of a brush or palette knife, allowing lines of the grayish green underpainting to come through, and gentle foreground waves are indicated by small touches of color. The remarkable thing, typical of Pisano, is how so much information is conveyed in such a small format without resorting to unnecessary detail. She doesn’t attempt to copy or imitate nature but to interpret it and express her feeling of what it felt like to be there, on that particular day.
“Summer Lights,” at 7 x 9 1/2 inches, is a stunning vertical painting of a nocturne. The view is looking across a body of water to distant land. Lights from the opposite shore sparkle and send flickers of light across the water toward the viewer. The plein air setup is important in painting a nocturne, and Pisano uses orchestra lights or book lights with which to view her palette and panel by. She always uses a warm and cool light source together to make a neutral. Having chosen a scene in advance, she waits until 9:30 p.m. or later to begin. A very limited palette of greens and blues on an already toned panel is all she needs to capture the air and color of the night. Starting with a light wash of darks, wiping it off, reapplying it, and then by using varies objects, from paper towels to rubber tools and even a mascara brush, she is able to create the textures and luminosity that she is striving for. There are no hard contours to the trees on the distant shore, their edges fuse or blend into the tones of the sky, and the water is in a state of motion. The term “nocturne” was associated with the American Tonalist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and those paintings were also characterized by a limited palette and soft edges creating a wonderful harmony to the works and a strong sense of mood. Crista imbues her painting with a dreamy expressive power, and we feel like we are standing there next to her, experiencing the night.
Crista Pisano’s education in oil painting started at the age of 14 when she began studying with John Phillip Osbourne at the Ridgewood Art Institute in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She went on to continue her studies in painting at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, graduating with a Bachelors Degree of Fine Arts in 2000, and in 2003, received a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts Painting from the New York Academy Graduate School of Figurative Art.
Recent awards that she has achieved include: “Best Nocturne Award” at Olmstead Plein Air Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia, 2023; “1st Place Award” at the Paint Annapolis 2023, in Annapolis, MD; “2nd Place Award” for Paint the Bay Event and “Ardis Diaz Memorial Light Award” at the Paint Annapolis 2022, in Annapolis, MD; “Best Nocturne Award, Plein Air Easton 2021” in Easton, MD; “Honorable Mention Award” for Small Work Sunday 6 x 8 Competition at Plein Air Easton 2021; “Petite Plein Air, Artists Choice Award” at Olmstead Plein Air Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia, 2021; “Best in Show” at Tuxedo Art and Music Plein Air, in Tuxedo, New York, 2021; “2nd Place Nocturne Award” at Paint Annapolis 2021, in Annapolis, MD.
A selection of new work by the gallery’s other contemporary fine artists will also be on display, including Peter Layne Arguimbau, Joann Ballinger, Al Barker, Paul Batch, Angelo Franco Jr., Susannah Haney, Heather Gibson-Lusk, Stan Moeller, Robert Noreika, Ann Scanlan, Laura Winslow, and Shirley Cean Youngs. Work from the estate of the late artist Charles Kolnik will also be on view.
For more information, call Ann Scanlan at 207-882-8290 or go to www.sylvangallery.com. Also, find Sylvan Gallery on Instagram and Facebook. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 49 Water St., Wiscasset on the corner of Main Street (Route 1) and Water streets, next to Red’s Eats.