This week’s cover artist, Dinah Maxwell Smith, uses common motifs of everyday life as vehicles for expression. Her painting, “Spectators,” is no exception, its two seated lovers capturing in their moment in time our very own memories. We caught up with Maxwell Smith recently to discuss art, light and Long Island.
Could you begin by talking about your inspiration for this piece?
I work primarily from old black-and-white snapshots. This was a fairly small one, but had a big crowd of people standing around. I like taking a few pertinent figures out of a mass of people and focusing on them. I had once done a larger painting of the whole group in this snapshot. It was terribly busy. Very populated, a lot of movement. But I like honing in on a small, select group. I find a lot of animation even in a very tight close-up, like “Spectators.”
Why are light and shadows important?
Light and shadow can either define form or destroy it. I have been a black-and-white photographer my whole life, and have always been drawn to blinding light and deep dark shadows. Both create an ambiguity—bright light tends to blanch out details, and deep shadows swallow up the details. Both create a visual mystery.
Is there a particular place on the East End that has great light?
I’m essentially a studio painter, not a plein air painter. I have painted en plein air in Bridgehampton, near Cook’s Lane, but it was the landscape I was interested in, not the light. The amazing light we get here is not present all of the time. It often happens after the rain. It has to do with the moisture in the air. But I’m always thrilled when the luminescence happens.
You use a lot of green in your work. What’s your favorite color?
There’s probably a lot of green in my work because I paint a lot of grass and people, or dogs on lawns. I like green and blue to paint, but I love red to wear. And I always like to have some Cadmium Red Light in a painting. My signature is always in Cadmium Red Light.
What color do you wish you could use more?
There are no colors that I “wish” I could use more of because I can use any color I want. My colors used to be far more subdued than they’ve become over the years. I find color exuberant, cheerful, alive. Once in awhile I wish I could do a painting in a very subdued, muted, monochromatic or earth tones-like palette—but it never happens. I can’t suppress the color. Even just adding a little spot of red creates a little fillip, a coda, a surprise.
What Long Island painters do you admire, and think our readers should know?
One of my most favorite painters who painted on Long Island was William Merritt Chase. And, of course, our very own Fairfield Porter, Sheridan Lord, Larry Rivers. But, of more recent vintage, I like Eric Fischl, April Gornik and Billy Sullivan.
Where can we see more of your work?
I expect to be showing in the East End Collected3 show at the Southampton Arts Center in April and May. Other than that, visit my studio or my website, dinahmaxwellsmith.com.