‘It can be spontaneous and fun, but then all of a sudden you’re inundated with black flies,” says Maxine Shore about the delights and displeasures of painting en plein air — some of which will be found in “Radiance: An Exhibit of Oil paintings by Maxine Shore” on view at Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville from Saturday, July 11, through Sunday, August 2, with an opening reception July 11, from 4 to 7 p.m.
Shore studied plein air painting with Michelle Christman at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. “Painting where Georgia O’Keeffe painted opened a new world for me,” she says. When the outdoor elements make working impossible, Shore will do a sketch or take photos to work from in the studio. She has also studied with Ty Hodanish in Stockton. “He was good at incorporating light and teaching us a more painterly technique, incorporating brush strokes,” she says. “You don’t want to be too precious about anything.”
She also learned that everything can be redone in the studio. “With oil paint you can scrape it off and do it again. You can manipulate it. Oil can be textural — you can sculpt with it, and it becomes an element of the painting, picking up light and adding drama.”
Shore’s studio is attached to her East Windsor home, with a cathedral ceiling and a view to a picture-perfect garden surrounding a brick patio — flowers and colors from her garden appear in her paintings. Canvases begun outdoors are placed on her easel for fine-tuning, then arranged on a display wall where she can study them for further improvements. (On the other side of a wall, the artist’s husband, Ken Shore, a retired school psychologist, meets with clients.)
The Tenafly native started painting as a child, working in watercolor because it was cheap and available and easy to clean up. (Now she describes watercolor as an unforgiving medium.) Her father, Arthur Schlosser, had a commercial art business in New York City, Monogram Art Studios, which was a tremendous inspiration to Maxine. His clients included Columbia Records, Volkswagen, and pharmaceutical firms. “The artists working for him did layouts and photos for ads just like in ‘Mad Men.’ He knew most commercial artists wanted to be fine artists — my father was a Sunday painter — so he displayed their work on one wall.” Shore could smell the art materials from his studio. “It penetrates your soul,” she says.
Schlosser — Shore describes him as “a romantic” — took the family to Europe beginning when Maxine was 12. “We fell in love with everything French.” That love continued through her undergraduate years at Chatham College, where she majored in French, and then inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in French literature at Middlebury College, spending a year at the Sorbonne.
She still remembers what the director of the Middlebury program at the Sorbonne taught: If you have to choose between studying or taking a French lover, choose the lover — you’ll learn the language far better. “The NYU students were reading Proust and the Middlebury students were finding French lovers,” she recounts with a laugh.
In her junior year, Shore lived with a French family, babysitting the children, and while she had learned all the formal words of politeness, she realized she had no vocabulary for when they acted up. So the message of her professor about experience over book learning was true. And while she didn’t have time to paint in France, she made sketches and absorbed the experience. “Paris is a jewel, and the scenes I absorbed have become part of who I am.” Her painting of a cafe at night is unmistakably Parisian, with a sycamore tree in the foreground, overhanging umbrella-covered tables, and patrons dining and discoursing into the wee hours.
Shore’s mother taught social studies in Newark, providing inspiration for becoming an educator. Shore taught French in Edison and West Windsor-Plainsboro in the mid 1970s. Yet she always felt pulled by art. In the late 1970s, at age 29, Shore went to Parsons School of Design to study illustration, then taught art, French, and Spanish at the Roosevelt Public School from 1982 to 1993, where she was also an adviser for the yearbook and newspaper. She taught art at Johnson Park Elementary School in Princeton until her retirement in 2008.
At both schools, Shore put up posters of artwork and asked her students to evaluate them as if they were critics. She observed that students in Roosevelt, a community known for all the famous artists who lived there, tended to choose more abstract paintings than Princeton students, who seemed to prefer more of a Hudson River School style. Shore is grateful to all the parents who volunteered to help in the classroom, from fiber artists to architects, including artist David Robinson, who showed students the things that could be seen in tree limbs, from a plane to a dinosaur.
Along the way, Shore raised two daughters, both of whom now work as writers. Daughter Rebecca lives in Brooklyn, and Shore painted a picture of Rebecca and her husband in the warehouse in Greenpoint where their wedding was held a year ago. “I didn’t paint it on site,” Shore says, joking about getting paint all over her dress. “I painted it from a photo.”
Although she taught art for many years, Shore only began painting seriously, by her own account, 15 years ago. When she retired in 2008, “I really devoted myself to it. You can’t move along to where you want to be when you’re just working on something evenings and weekends.”
Since devoting herself wholly to her art, painting every day and most hours of the day (“even when I’m folding laundry I’m thinking of how I’m going to improve a painting; it’s a constant hum in my mind”), her colors have intensified. A beach scene painted in Truro, Massachusetts, for example, in 1990 has colors more like what we might see in a photograph — what she calls “local color.”
The same scene painted more recently has more drama in the sky, and the colors are more brilliant. “I use nature as a springboard,” she says. “I don’t copy it, I enhance it.”
Shore points out that there is a lot of color in the world that we take for granted. Many people may see a shadow as gray, but she sees the purple in the shadow. She taught her students to look for the color. “Don’t assume, but really observe — that’s what an artist does. Proust said, ‘The voyage of discovery is not in finding new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.’”
Shore says she’s always working toward a goal, and to keep herself on track she keeps a journal of inspirational quotes. From Matisse: “Each picture as I finish it seems like the best thing I have ever done. And yet after a while I am not so sure. It is like taking a train to Marseille. One knows where one wants to go. Each painting completed is like a station — just so much nearer the goal. The time comes when the painter is apt to feel he has at last arrived after all or that Marseille is not where he wanted to go anyway, and he must push further on.”
There have been detours on the train ride for sure. Along the way, Shore has won a handful of awards at Ellarslie, the Mercer County Artists Show, and Artsbridge. Having had solo shows at Thomas Sweet Cafe in Montgomery, Small World Coffee in Princeton, and Bell’s Tavern in Lambertville, and making quite a few sales, Shore joined Artists’ Gallery in December.
“My philosophy is, everyone is an artist,” says Shore. “You have to find your medium, what inspires the imagination fully. Picasso advocated keeping the spirit of the child in you alive.”
Not from her book of quotes, but a quote of her own: “What the artist does on seeing something that inspires is to use skill to build a bridge so the viewer can see what the artist sees.”
Radiance: An Exhibit of Oil Paintings by Maxine Shore, Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville. Ppening with a reception on Saturday, July 11, 4 to 7 p.m., and continuing through Sunday, August 2. www.lambertvillearts.com or 609-397-4588.