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Harriett Moore Ballard lives in three places: Stonington, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Cleveland, Ohio. Although the three diverse landscapes influence the painter's work very differently, altered space is the point of departure for all of Ballard's work, freeing her from boundaries to see things in fresh and unusual ways.
An exhibit of the artist's paintings, titled "Novel Expression: Past and Present," is on view at Old Lyme's diane birdsall gallery. Most of the large oils in the show were painted within the last year and several go back to 2009.
A career artist for the past 40 years, Ballard studied with Marion Kratochwil in London, Julian Stannczak at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and in Lacoste, France, where she set up her easel in a roadside orchard.
The following is an interview with Ballard at the gallery, surrounded by her work.
Q. At one time you lived on three continents. What brought you to our little piece of the world here on the Connecticut shoreline?
A. A man. I met a man who lives in Stonington while in San Miguel de Allende and it turns out our families know each other. He said, 'Why don't you come up to Stonington and I'll get you a studio?' And I loved it, the fishing village - so that was four years ago. I was born in Cleveland, where my family lives…and I built a house in San Miguel, and now I'm in Stonington. I have studios in all three places.
Q. Is the Stonington landscape/seascape having an effect on your work?
A. I think so. I love the water. And just the idea of the fisherman. We're one block away from Portuguese fishing boats, huge boats that go out on the water. It's a wonderful, exciting, inspirational thing to be right where the core of fishing is.
Q. On your website you say inspiration comes from domestic home life and nature, which are blended and can't be separated. Can you elaborate?
A. Also experiences - home life and experiences. That is the way I see it. Domestic objects, a fishing boat, are certainly within the realm of experience, putting it together, accessing the imagery, and then putting it into a plot would be the next step. And so, imagery is just the pathway to creating a picture…there's something about flowers and receptacles, patterning, which I like, and then putting things into sections and making them overlap in some way, or playing tricks with them.
Stonington is easy to put in water and land (on the canvas) because it's just all around you in your imagery. I went to the end of Wall Street (in the borough) and painted a picture and realized when I finished it, it looks like the Dow Jones Average.
Q. So, you don't paint on location?
A. I don't go outside and paint per se, I don't want context. I want to imagine it and go beyond what I already know rather than a sort of (literal translation), but I do like to float these flat objects on top of different spaces.
Q. Can you talk about your vision of altered space and ignoring deep space with idea of "pinning parts of the world against an invisible wall?"
A. Ambiguous space, beyond the third dimension. Painting a scene of boats and docks or looking at boats from the water, everything would be in deep space and I would make a big effort to use techniques to make it into deep space. I would prefer other kinds of space when you deny deep space and draw across forms because then you're much more free to do what you want. It's not space that sits on a table or space that's beyond the table but space that's drawn through all of those levels. And that's what Matisse did.
Q. Have you always worked in an abstract way? Do you see common threads, an evolution in your work, more envelope-pushing now?
A. I see it more as an evolution toward freedom because I started out concretely as a traditional painter. And then I departed traditional paint, but in a more craft way, it allowed me freedom to expand to create spaces that were different than a landscape and now I just sit down at a canvas and invent something.
Sometimes I have an idea of a big swath of color and then maybe a pathway going through it. And then maybe some other color and that will get me started off. But beyond that I have absolutely no clue what will happen. I can start out with A and end up with C - like you've been through a safari or something, but I think that's the exciting part of painting.
It's an experiment, too. But then experimentation is what it's all about. Why would anyone want to bother to be a painter at all if you couldn't explore and experiment and get involved in the process? You might as well sell shoes.
What: “Novel Expression,” paintings by Harriet Moore Ballard
Where: diane birdsall gallery, 16 Lyme St., Old Lyme
When: Through Aug. 18
Info: www.dianbirdsallgallery.com or call (860) 434-3209