Artist Martha LaMarche enjoys painting sheep in men’s clothing. Pigs, too. Her small show is currently hanging in the First Selectman’s office and is a sampling of styles that range from the serious to the ridiculous, from the abstract to the sublime.
Painting was always something LaMarche wanted to do, but it took a bout with cancer before she picked up a brush and gave painting her full attention. “I had a cancer diagnosis 12 years ago, and once I got through that, once I made those adjustments, I thought about what I wanted to do.”
An earlier career in the arts may have been stymied by an art teacher whose criticism nearly snuffed out her creativity. “I had a stalemate with a teacher in high school and I refused to change a painting. I got a poor mark and I quit the class.”
LaMarche finally returned to painting via Alexander Shundi, who she described as “an amazing teacher.”
In an email, LaMarche wrote that Shundi's "wide experience and knowledge is shared through lectures on art movements, artists, their role and responsibility, politics, history, evolution, communication; reinforcing the tenet that “art reflects the human condition.”
The “deeper place” is clearly seen in an abstract composition that details a moment when LaMarche was leaving a DeKooning exhibit. Just as she hailed a cab, she noted a woman, dressed in grey, standing on the corner. As LaMarche entered the cab, the woman was hit by a bus.
While LaMarche did not see the accident happen, that event was the muse for a powerful series of paintings, each a different perspective of the woman on the ground, assisted by a tiny samaritan. LaMarche said, "The piece is a study in time, a multi-sensory experience of that moment."
The subject matter of the paintings takes a sudden and strange leap from the serious to the ridiculous. The pastel, light-filled, scenes of near death move quickly along to the whimsy of animals dressed in the get-ups of the earliest colonial Americans.
Is there a statement to be made about a sheep wearing, uh, mutton chops? Describing how the primitives came about, LaMarche said, “I painted for New Pond Farm in Redding. They had an invitational art show and the scene had to be farm related. I had always been drawn to primitives, so I took the animals and did the portraits based on actual primitive paintings.”
“I had so much fun painting those,” LaMarche said, adding that for her, painting is really about sharing.
“I think that with art, the communication is the most important part. When you make a painting, a composition, you paint it and then release it. You may share it, or sell it, but even if you keep it for yourself, eventually it is going to be shared.”
The concept may not be completely clear, but perhaps LaMarche is trying to explain the intimacy that occurs when one person experiences the painting of another. “When you look at a Monet, you have a personal moment with Monet. I look at the stokes, and I feel like I am knowing the hands that did that.”
LaMarche’s exhibit will be hanging in the First Selectman’s office in the Municipal Center, at the Fairfield Hills Campus, until mid-June. While she is not keen on selling all of her own originals, she does create giclee prints which includes brush strokes, and which, she said, looks like art. They are also less expensive.
The photos in the gallery are not seen in the exhibit.