Neal Hughes and Crista Pisano: Interpreting Landscapes – Two Points of View

“May Marsh,” by Crista Pisano.

 Sylvan Gallery offers a special exhibit featuring the oil paintings of Neal Hughes and Crista Pisano, two renowned artists represented by the gallery whose camaraderie grew after participating in many shared plein air competitions up and down the east coast.

The exhibit opens on July 29, from 5 to 8 p.m., coinciding with the evening of the Wiscasset Art Walk. The exhibition continues through Aug. 22.

In addition to being juried into many of the most prestigious plein air art competitions in the country, Hughes and Pisano share a deep admiration for one another’s work and a lifetime of dedication to the craft of painting. Each has their own distinctive style and ability to capture the light and moods of nature which have earned them many accolades over their painting careers, and each has a different perspective in choosing the subject of their painting. Hughes’ preference is to compose a painting where the main subject matter lies close-up to the viewer or in the middle-distance, and Pisano enjoys focusing on the distant or long view of a scene and scaling it down to a much smaller canvas size.

“Dreamboat Nocturne,” by Neal Hughes.

Hughes is former illustrator and has been painting professionally for more than 30 years. He is at home painting a wide variety of subject matter: historic New England architecture and gardens, windjammers, boatyards, meadows, woodland streams and even the dry climate of the Texas landscape. His many awards are indicative of his love and ability to connect with the environment and translate it to canvas. He has a special affinity for the water and many of his paintings focus on coastal subject matter.

The subject of his most highly awarded painting in the exhibition was discovered when he was in Gloucester, Massachusetts, looking for subjects to paint as the sun was going down. When he came across a classic wooden boat on the working dock, he quickly realized it would make a great nocturne painting. “Dreamboat Nocturne” is a beautiful example of his ability to combine his remarkable drawing skills with a painterly approach to arrive at an almost dream-like feel to the painting. The boat is illuminated by an unseen light source and the surrounding docks and buildings have an almost inner glow contrasted against the darkness of the water and sky. The painting won “Best Associate Award of Excellence” at the Oil Painters of America National Exhibition and a “First Place” and “Artists Choice Awards” at the Cape Ann Plein Air Festival.

 Another Hughes painting in the exhibition, “Farmhouse Evening,” depicts the beautiful color harmonies and light of an autumn day. Hughes is masterful at intermingling the warmness of the late October sun as it glances across the white clapboards of the old rural farmhouse, with the silvery blue and violet tones of shadows cast from an old maple tree. The layers of paint are very textural, combining both brush and palette knife work. Rich impressionistic dashes of gold suggest lingering fall leaves. Dappled sunlight rakes across the green and russet tones of the yard. There is a fine balance of lights and darks and a feeling of poetry to this painting as Hughes captures the intrinsic quality of the scene.

Additional paintings by Neal Hughes include a view of the iconic Kuerner’s farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, made famous by Andrew Wyeth, Port Clyde and Monhegan Island subject matter and seasonal views of woodland streams.

Pisano’s education in oil painting started at the age of 14 when she began studying with John Phillip Osbourne at the Ridgewood Art Institute in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She went on to continue her studies in painting at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, graduating with a Bachelors Degree of Fine Arts in 2000, and in 2003, received a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts Painting from the New York Academy Graduate School of Figurative Art.

Pisano learned early on how vital it was to study outdoors in order to fully understand how to interpret nature. Experiencing and understanding atmospheric changes firsthand has been crucial to her development as a landscape painter.

Pisano prefers to work on a small scale and has become much recognized for her almost miniature-in-size paintings at the plein air competitions, this year winning the “Petite Plein Air, Artists Choice Award” at Olmstead Plein Air Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia. She usually prefers to focus on distant views, and many gallery visitors have made the observation that there is as much going on in her small painting as what one usually sees in a much larger-sized work. Pisano usually strikes a quiet and peaceful chord in her paintings. She is extremely observant and will capture an odd turn to a tree branch or carefully render the specific outline of a rocky outcrop silhouetted against water.

In “May Marsh,” individually studied trees are in proportion to the distant horizon. Softly modeled clouds reflect the orange glow from the sun and create a beautiful pattern in the cyan sky. The marsh grasses have neutralized tones of these same colors creating a beautiful harmony to the whole painting.

“Grass Patterns” is another painting where distance is informed by the scale of the delicately handled trees. Dots and dashes of a deepened red at the horizon provide a beautiful contrast to the green pastures. There is a very subtle transition of light and color moving across the sky and land. It is a beautifully composed painting with fine detail that doesn’t take away from the scene’s essence but adds even more interest.

Pisano’s “Winter Midnight Magic,” is a vertical painting with beautiful earth tone colors. The subject is a close-up view of pine trees. Subtle textures are created not by blending but by weaving brushstrokes in and out of trees so that the winter atmosphere is interwoven into the branches of the pines. Subtle scraping and palette knife work adds additional texture. The layering of paint has an almost stained glass effect. It’s a work that one will want to observe close-up as more nuances of color and brushwork become revealed. Her other paintings in the exhibit include river view nocturnes, three paintings from a plein air event in Castine, and a painting titled “Dog Beach” that won an Honorable Mention at the Long Beach Island Foundation Plein Air 2020 Exhibition.

Both Hughes and Pisano were juried into Plein Air Easton 2021, arguably the largest and most prestigious outdoor painting competition in the United States. They will return to Maine during the week leading up to the Wiscasset Art Walk on July 29. From 5 to 8 p.m. visitors will find the artists in the gallery or painting nearby and there may be fresh new work just off the easel. A selection of work by the gallery’s other contemporary artists will also be on display.

For more information, call Ann Scanlan at 882-8290 or go to www.sylvangallery.com. Also, find Sylvan Gallery on Instagram and Facebook. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at 49 Water St., Wiscasset, on the corner of Main and Water streets.

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