Contributed by Sharon Butler / Tamalin Baumgarten’s haunting paintings are inspired by the landscape, history, and people of Cuttyhunk, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. As a child, Baumgarten spent summers there with her family, and for the past few years she has been running the Cuttyhunk Island Artists’ Residency out of the family home. “For me, Cuttyhunk is a setting where I can explore the relationship between the natural world and our human impulse to build upon it—to create meaning for ourselves in the context of the larger world that holds us. On Cuttyhunk, a small community living on a small island is a microcosm of human life on earth. The puritan plainness in the buildings doesn’t compete with the grandness of nature.
“My paintings focus on this distinction—pristine, humble geometry nestled in a fluid, organic envelope. The environment presides over the people. Walking around Cuttyhunk, pausing to sit on a hillside or stand at the water’s edge, I get at the essence of what it is to be in this world. The vastness of the land and sea contrasts with the smallness of the people. The structures we build stand still against the movement of weather and light, sea and sky.”
Taking about her process, Baumgarten says she uses specific painting techniques to convey her ideas about the relationship between the man-made and natural environments. “Starting on a luminous, transparent ground, I vary the application of paint from areas of transparent layering to passages of thicker, more opaque paint. In some places, I put down layers of paint, then scrape back into the wet paint to reveal what’s underneath. Subtracting and scraping act as brush strokes that reveal the luminosity of the ground and create a feeling of airy impermanence.” She uses slightly thicker, directly applied paint to depict the man-made objects.
“The formal elements of painting—composition, light and shadow, color palette, and the nuances of transparent and opaque paint—all play pivotal roles. They are my tools for describing what is natural and what isn’t, reminding me that no matter how small I am in comparison to nature, what I build makes a mark.”
About the artist: Born in Spokane, WA (1986), Tamalin Baumgarten received her BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in 2010 and her MFA from New York Academy of Art in 2015. She has been the recipient of several awards, including two Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant Awards, the Portrait Scholarship Award from the New York Academy of Art, the Dahesh Museum of Art Award, and the Vermont Studio Center grant award. \
“Tamalin Baumgarten: Paintings and Prints,” The Granary Gallery, West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Summer 2019.