The Two River Times
Volume 14 Number 41
July 16 - 23, 2004

Fair Haven Native Paints “Home” with Heart

By Sheilagh Casey

          “Home” means a lot to most of us. We associate home with comfort, security, and the freedom to be ourselves and pursue out dreams. If we’re fortunate, our home is a beautiful and tranquil place.

         Here in the two river area, our collective home is, indeed, a beautiful place, blessed with rivers and the ocean shore, light-filled skies, lush vegetation and old trees. The Native Americans called part of this area, in and around Sandy Hook, “Nauvoo.” The name simply means “beautiful place.” At Beauregard Fine Art in Rumson, gallery owner Kathy Donnelly is presenting an exhibit of paintings by Anne Rich. The show is titled Home: Beaches and Rivers. The paintings are all about the beautiful place we live in.

         Ann Rich, a native of Fair Haven who now lives and teaches in Baltimore, considers this area her home, and her paintings celebrate it. In the statement that accompanies this exhibition she says, “I am deeply inspired by the beauty of Sandy Hook, Sea Bright and the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers. It is a joy to paint what you know and love.”

         On canvas, Rich’s joy translates into fresh, crisp land-and-seascapes that invite the viewer to contemplate the openness and vibrancy of the scenes that she knows intimately. While most of the 18 canvases in the show were painted in the past year, some date from the 1970s.

         Home is the title of the earliest painting in the show, dated 1974. The small canvas shows a misty, twilit finger of land surrounded by a deep blue-gray sky and sea (or maybe it’s a river). The image is dreamy and indistinct, in contrast to the overall bright colors of Rich’s recent work. She painted it from memory, and fast, using the paint that was left on her palette when she finished another painting. It has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

         The dreamy softness of Home contrasts with the clarity of the recent paintings, which record their scenes with an almost scientific attention to detail. In Sandy Hook: Winter, for instance, the cold blue of a January sky is reflected in the water of Spermaceti Cove, and each clump of the beach grass has its place on Rich’s beach. The cloud in the sky seems to be one you could only see in January over Sandy Hook.

         She deliberately presents the scene as accurately as she can, keeping the details in focus so that the viewer can have the experience of seeing it all. One of her written statements says, “I fuse stylization with naturalistic observation and representation. The paintings have an all over sharp focus. The evenly articulated surface allows the viewer to share relation to the nature that was my model.”

         In order to achieve this level of detail, Rich says, “I use everything I can.” When she cannot paint on the spot, she makes sketches and pastel studies, and even uses a disposable camera to make a texture reference.

         The paintings are then composed in her downtown Baltimore studio. Her choice of scenes is sometimes studied, sometimes serendipitous. Tide Pools, which shows the meandering patterns of water left by the ebbing tide, is a scene she discovered while walking on the beach in Long Branch with her father on Thanksgiving morning.

         Sea Bright is an unusual vertical seascape. Rich says she chose the unusual format because it emphasizes the wedge shapes of sand, water, land, and sky that compose the painting. The convergence of sky and water, earth and light that are found at the seashore inspire her, she says, and she believes the “open vast vistas” found at the shore create a “spiritual, philosophical space, a place where you can feel.”

         A canvas called Peace shows a house on a riverbank, with vibrant green marsh grass in the foreground.

          “We have a very special quality of light here. It doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Rich says. She wonders why painters travel up to Cape Cod when the light on Sandy Hook is so special.

         Sandy Hook is her special love. “It’s a tonic,” she says. “Rejuvenating. I love it down there. Any you have such a combination of imagery… You feel humbled… And it is a fragile environment that I hope will be preserved.”

         Glimpses of the environment will be preserved in her paintings.

         Rich does express some anxiety over the future. “Sandy Hook has been protected by its ordinances,” she says. “It was an army base, then a national park. If you open it up to commercial development, what’s going to happen?”

         Anne Rich’s paintings have been exhibited and collected internationally.

         She has recently been commissioned by at least two local collectors to paint scenes of their choices.

         Kathy Donnelly says her inspiration to invite Rich to mount this show was conservation of the area. Donnelly says, “I wanted to show a real celebration of all the things we’re trying to preserve. This is my contribution to preserving this area though art.”

         While it is apparent from this show that Rich loves to paint waterscapes and skies (she describes the English painter, John Constable, known for his studies of clouds, as a “major heartthrob”), Rich works in several styles and media. She sculpts wood, often finding waveforms in the grain. She paints many subjects. And she teaches with the same enthusiasm she brings to her paintings.

         Rich’s paintings in Home truly capture the spirit of this very special place.

Home, 18 paintings by Anne Rich, can be seen at the Beauregard Fine Arts Gallery, 109 East River Road, Rumson, through July 22. Call (732) 450 - 0994 for further information.