We are so excited to be hosting Frances Gaffney this summer as our first Artist-in-Residence! She’ll be working at the AIC May through August, frequenting the trails to create beautiful pieces inspired by the local landscape. She will not only be here to work on her art, she’ll also be here for you! Throughout the summer, Frances will be available to speak and interact with the public. Every Sunday, guests will discover Frances working out along the trails. Feel free to stop by to observe, chat and share techniques and tips with Frances. She will also be leading drawing and watercoloring workshops on the last Saturday of every month. In these workshops, participants will discover their own artistic style while further developing their skills. Don’t miss out on these unique opportunities to connect with this fantastic local artist!
Check out the Q & A below to learn more about Frances, her interests and her art:
AIC: It seems as though a lot of artists develop interest in art at an early age. Was this the case for you?
France Gaffney: It was discovered very early that I had an ability to draw but the parochial school I attended didn’t have an art program. My parents enrolled me in a correspondence course while I was in elementary school. It exposed me to various media and gave me an introduction to art history. Growing up near New York City I had many opportunities to visit museums and galleries with my grandparents who lived in Manhattan.
AIC: With your hometown in New Jersey, how did you find your way to the Adirondacks?
Gaffney: My older brother, Dan, attended Paul Smiths College in the late ‘70s. In those days, the bus from NYC arrived in Saranac Lake at one o’clock in the morning. I would jump off the bus and savor my first breath of delicious mountain air. I believed that there was magic in the Adirondacks and I loved every rock and leaf. I still believe this. The Ancient Adirondacks, as they are called, impart wisdom that we can tap into to improve our health and over-all well being. Over the years I have brought my children here and they, too, have grown to appreciate the wilderness.
AIC: Do you enjoy working and living in the Adirondacks?
Gaffney: My goal is to never leave the Blue Line. I don’t need to be entertained so I don’t care if I can’t access cable T.V. or that there is no shopping mall nearby.
AIC: With everything from mountains to museums inside the Blue Line, do you have a favorite thing to do in the Adirondacks?
Gaffney: There is nothing better than to sit near a waterfall and listen to the water splashing over rocks. Add some birds and dragonflies and the scene is complete and I am at peace.
AIC: What and who inspires you as an artist?
Gaffney: Richard Gilkey was a West Coast painter that I admire for his unique interpretation of how to paint the landscape in oils. He used a lot of black, which I never do, and it gave his paintings a strong presence. John Singer Sargent is everyone’s favorite. His plein air watercolors are very fluid, gestural and express an immediate impression. Rembrandt has the most beautifully elegant drawings. He used an economy of line to produce emotional responses. His work was very intuitive.
AIC: What do you like most about being an artist? What do you like the least?
Gaffney: I love art history and the search for finding my place in that continuum. Working through visual problems and searching for symbols to express new ideas is a challenge I enjoy. Of course, I love color in all its complexities and nuances and I love meeting other artists and learning from them. What do I like least about being an artist? It would be nice if stereotypes didn’t exist and words like flakey, wacky or lazy were no longer applied when describing artists. We are very hard working people and what we value more than financial security is time. In fact, giving an artist the time and space to work is the most valuable gift. This is what I appreciate most about being able to work this summer as artist-in-residence at the AIC.
AIC: Looking at your work, you work with a variety of media – pencil, watercolor, oils, etc. Do you have a favorite?
Gaffney: I especially love to draw with graphite pencils. Sometimes drawings are undervalued and that is a shame because it is in the drawing, in the immediate response to the subject, that we find the most expressive lines. This brings me back to those incredibly simple, yet sophisticated drawings by Rembrandt.
AIC: We heard a little bit about your favorite artists and why you appreciate their work. Is there a piece of yours that is your favorite?
Gaffney: My favorite painting is Rainbow Falls. Two years ago I researched the Waterfall Trail that leads into the interior from The Ausable Club in Keene. It is a ten-mile round trip hike. I was determined to make this hike alone and after studying the map and carefully estimating how long the hike would take, how much food and water I could carry along with art supplies, compass and extra socks, I headed out. I’d hiked alone before but somehow this trip seemed intimidating to me. It only took a couple of hours to reach the Rainbow Falls and when I arrived there were a dozen kids, all about eight years old, climbing all over the rocks, barefoot and happy. It made me realize I had to lighten up. I am reminded of that every time I look at the drawing.
AIC: Are there any overarching themes in your work?
Gaffney: I am especially interested in the science of consciousness and our new understanding of how the brain evolves. If it is true that what you believe you perceive then there are enormous implications for positive change both individually and globally. There is a growing movement of spiritual ecology and I would like to experiment with the field of intention. I am looking for proof that we truly create with our thoughts and feelings.
AIC: You plan to continue to work on your art series “Feeling is the Prayer” this summer at the AIC. Can you tell us some more about the series?
Gaffney: I believe we are evolving in our very own lifetimes into intuitive people. We can use this intuition to change the world. I want to believe it’s true and in my search for proof I plan to create a series of paintings that are a combination meditative exercises and illustrations of ideas. For example, in a new piece titled Evolution I will be painting a large Chrysanthemum that is floating high above Blue Mountain Lake. We now know that evolution is not linear but more like the opening of a flower, with petals reaching out in many directions at once. This is also a metaphor for expansion. Expansion is an idea that one can focus on during meditation to open one’s self to new ideas and understanding. My goal is to produce fifteen paintings in this series over the summer. I will be looking to nature for symbols to express more ideas such as balance, connection and manifestation.
AIC: Often, art has this sort of stigma around it that causes us to be self-conscious about our artistic abilities and shy away from art because of it. Any advice to wary artists out there?
Gaffney: We are fortunate to live at a time when anything goes in art. There are no set rules for how representational an image has to be – no rigid standards against mixing media. There is no wrong way to draw or paint. Never underestimate the stick figure.
AIC: This summer at the AIC, you’ll be leading art workshops for the public. From your perspective and experience, why is art education important?
Gaffney: One can have success using artists materials by attending a workshop. It’s a condensed way to learn how to use brushes and paints or pencil and paper and to get on a fast track to express oneself. Self expression makes people happy and the more happy people there are in the world the better!
AIC: And finally, the most important question – As a kid, did you color in or outside of the lines?
Gaffney: Every Christmas I got those paint-by-number sets. I would ignore the numbers and just go for it, painting color where I thought it belonged, adding figures and houses and anything else I thought was needed. As a kid, I took everything apart and sometimes I regretted it. I’m still that way. Recently I experimented with a new watercolor canvas. I stretched the finished paintings in embroidery hoops and embroidered the paintings with colored floss and silk ribbon. Some were appalled to see me stab away at the canvas but I found it very satisfying.
Many thanks to Frances for her involvement not only in this interview but also her summer long commitment at the AIC! Be sure to check out more of her work on her website and keep up to date on her work as Artist-in-Residence on AIC’s website and Facebook page!