Nearly 30 years ago I came to this part of the Catskills with my young family, found a small second home on the edge of the woods, surrounded by glorious nature and just behind main street in Roxbury. A painting major in college and an art teacher by profession, working full time and raising a family, I found small moments for watercolors – still life and sketchbook drawings. Being here inspired me to propose a grant to follow in the footsteps of the Hudson River Painters, and reawakened the painter in me. I received the grant which provided the impetus and motivation to immerse myself in studying the work of the Hudson River painters and painting in the Catskills. Armed with my French easel and new tubes of luscious Old Holland paints, hours of researching the artists and a letter granting me backroom admission to study, with white gloves and new eyes, the sketchbooks and work of Sanford R. Gifford, a Luminist and second generation Hudson River painter, and Frederic Church’s oil sketches on paper at Olana, I had rekindled my passion for painting and particularly for painting in this landscape. In the winter of 1998 I had my first show of paintings at the Roxbury Arts Group Walt Meade Gallery.
Ellen Wong Paintings and Drawings: Greeting From the Catskills is a show of very recent oil paintings and works on paper, along with some earlier landscapes bringing together an experience of my nearly 25 year love affair with the Catskills landscape. This time Nature is truly at the center and I am humbled before her –my muse, my teacher and guide. Her beauty is unrivalled, an infinite palette of hues and values, and it is always being transformed, changing from moment to moment, day to day and season to season, untamable and unpredictable and in a sense, unfathomable, I am challenged to grow, to change with each moment, to give shape to vapor, and form to shifting planes. This series of work began with a small landscape, painted en plein air last summer, of a bubbling stream moving toward a covered bridge, on its way plummeting down a dramatic gorge. To capture the sound, the movement of the water and the energy all around me, I found myself inventing new ways to move paint on the canvas, I had to keep moving, finding a fluidity in the paint and vitality in brush strokes that I had been striving for. I was not happy painting as I had been taught. It seemed too static. Nature is never the same. Corot cautions “clouds that stand still are not clouds” and I too needed to respond with an immediacy that painting outdoors calls for.
As I found myself painting through the seasons – quiet snowy fields, radiant autumn roads, rushing waterfalls cascading with thunderous torrents of spring rain, there was no formula to keep the paintings alive, to catch the quickly changing light, the clouds moving overhead, and so each painting has been a process of discovery and in many cases, I have returned to the same places multiple times to keep on trying to capture something of my experience there. Sound and space have become so critical to what has inspired me for this show. I was struck by the deafening silence high up on Dugan Road, on what seemed like the top of the universe with a view to forever that suggests the untouched land of an earlier America, there was not a sound until I was startled by the chuff of a lone deer, watching me from a distance.
I paint because I have a great need to although it is often not easy to find the time and to pull myself away from a very busy and full life. Painting is a solitary experience for me. I paint alone in Nature and there is something about the experience, that feeds me, feeds my soul and helps me to make a connection to something deep inside. Having this show gives me an opportunity to share these experiences.