Back again, after his bold-colored fantasy painting “Snack Time” for the May 1 Dan’s Papers cover, Keith Mantell celebrates East End wine country with “Eastern Vines,” a 12” x 16” oil on canvas. With its soft hues, kind of variations on a theme in green, it comes across in the cropped cover version as more angled than in the full painting. In the full version, a light pink-streaked blue sky imitates in form the triangular mass of vines that zigzag back toward a triangular mass of trees and the horizon line. On the cover, however, the concentrated vines assume more importance, and the more dominant greens ironically suggest a not-unwelcome spring scene. Because “Eastern Vines” was done early in Mantell’s restarted artistic career in 2007, and seems so different in style, subject matter, technique and mood from “Snack Time,” it prompted a question about what telltale signs might nonetheless be detected in the earlier work. The answer was “vintage” (pun intended) Mantell: “In this case, the only sign would be the signature…hopefully, I’ve developed like a fine wine.”
Your plein air work seems to get more impressionistic with time, showing separate brushstrokes that define leaves and shadows. You also seem to like green, and use various hues to create sunny, upbeat scenes. Not to suggest that dim or gloomy is the way to go, but have you ever, as they say, depicted the world as through a glass darkly?
I did a lot of vineyard scenes when I started because I saw that they sold—people like them. I still do vineyards but also minimalist abstracts. I do have a dark side, but I’m not putting it out there. Yes, I have been getting more impressionistic with the landscapes, but I love every area of art.
Do you use Photoshop to capture first images?
I tend not to, and certainly not in “Eastern Vines,” which is totally en plein air. I spend a whole day with a scene, and at the end of the day, it is what it is, no manipulation, which, for me, would screw up the essence of the work, the spontaneity. “Eastern Vines” is kind of foggy because that’s what I saw. I get into my groove around 2 p.m. and will often start switching brushes from one hand to the other, finding my way. Much of that discovery is feel when I find myself putting paint down with more force. Although I know where I went to do “Eastern Vines,” the exact location doesn’t matter. What I see, I lay in first, initial strokes that set the value or tone of the painting to come. As for greens, I love viridian green, it has good body, and sap green, which is more translucent, deeper, darker, and guides me to lay down the darks.
In 2013 you were invited to join Plein Air Peconic. What contributions to art and artists do you think such a group makes?
Plein Air Peconic, now in its 10th year, is affiliated with the Peconic Land Trust, an organization devoted to conservation. The mission of the trust expresses the same regard for land and nature that attracted the abstract expressionists who came out here in the middle of the last century. Regardless of artistic style, all artists share this vision of conserving and preserving the land. I’m pleased to be representing the North Fork as a member of Plein Air Peconic. The organization holds special exhibitions, which ensure that members can get their artwork seen by the public and, of course, we hope, bought. A percentage of proceeds from sales goes to the trust.
Martell is a regular exhibitor at the Fitzgerald Gallery in Westhampton and at the South Street Gallery in Greenport. In June he will have several 5” x 7” pieces in a group show at The Water Mill Museum. Visit keithmantell.com for more images and info.