Artists open the ‘Doors of Perception’

'In the Room (Presence)'; oil on panel by Hollis Dunlap
"In the Room (Presence)"; oil on panel by Hollis Dunlap

“Doors of Perception" at Six Summit Gallery in Ivoryton leads viewers into the colorful worlds of three well established regional painters: Hollis Dunlap of New London, Nathan Lewis of Seymour, and Susan Stephenson of Hopkinton, R.I.

Beyond their common alma mater of Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, "All three share a deep-rooted investment in looking closely and an inherent dedication to painting," says gallery owner Leo Feroleto.

In the following interview, the three artists gave their perceptions of not only their own work, but also their work in relation to those of their fellow artists in the show.

Q. How is the way you investigate light, form, color and content distinct from the other two artists?

Lewis: There is a narrative component to my work that is somewhat distinct from the work of Susan and Hollis. I am deliberately suggesting stories or plots in the work, and compositionally, my work is related to film in addition to art history. Also, I think I am more interested in photography and its use.

Stephenson: We may use many of the same tools or methods, yet we arrive at distinctly different places, and I relish that - it's one of the things I enjoy most about this exhibition. Regardless of subject matter, I work almost exclusively from direct observation; it's a process I enjoy and it characterizes all of my work as a result. Also, my paintings use curvilinear perspective continually … but my work is probably most distinctive in its use of color.

Dunlap: My work has elements of abstraction and conceptual work, but reflects more of the traditional work that I love. There is a simplicity and sense of truth in academic work that is inspiring to me, and I enjoy emphasizing sculptural form with paint application. Capturing specific lighting is essential as a way to describe less tangible things like mood and feeling, so that a work is not about the details, although they are there if you look for them.

Q. What do you see as similar in all of your work?

Lewis: I think the common ground is that we all think about light, form, structure and a strong degree of naturalism. We all come from a background of painting from life. We all have a respect for each other's work and minds.

Stephenson: All three of us have similar sensibilities in that we work representationally and use value contrast as a strong anchor in our paintings. I respond to the dynamic energy of Nathan's paintings and the stillness of Hollis', but most of all, it's deeply satisfying to recognize a kindred spirit in artists I admire so greatly.

Dunlap: Each of us is interested in abstraction in terms of attention to shape and paint application, and we all share a love of close observation and giving things around us more than a cursory glance.

Q. How do you define perceptual painting and do you see yourself as a perceptual painter?

Lewis: I see perceptual painting as being rooted in the observation of light and the poetry of looking. I don't see myself as a strict perceptual painter in that there are different modes through which an artist can communicate, including the use of symbols, appropriation, and through the use of language and narration. I am interested in and use those modes regularly. It is more the fascination of form and light and the nuances of color that make me feel akin to perceptual practices.

Stephenson: Using the term perceptual painting is simply my way of saying that the work is based on an artist's visual perception, or what the artist sees. I must stress, however, that while it may have its origins in observation, my work is not merely an imitation of what is in front of me, but is an interpretation, a translation, of what I see. The visual is a springboard for the painting, which eventually becomes a combination of my observations and those paint relationships that I must explore.

Dunlap: I enjoy exploring the mysteries of painting, and the way that form and content can affect one's mood; however, I don't necessarily see myself as a perceptual painter. I am a painter who is interested in the senses if that makes any sense. I enjoy the physical qualities of oil paint, and the transparency and intensity of color, and I think that realism communicates those qualities well.

Q. Did you create the pieces in this show specifically for this show? Did you choose them because they fit the title "Doors of Perception?"

Lewis: "Doors of Perception," was a title I felt related well to the work of all three artists. The doors are the three artists' distinct view of reality (perception). It was also the name of a famous essay by Aldous Huxley. All of my work in this show was created in the last five years, so they are recent. There are a few pieces that are being exhibited for the first time.

Stephenson: All of my paintings are recent. Several works are entirely new, and others are works I developed during the past couple years. I am also including work begun years ago but only recently revisited and completed.

Dunlap: Most of the work is new with the exception of two or three older pieces that I thought fit the show. I carefully chose what pieces would be in the show, although not specifically for the title, which Nathan thought of, and which describes elements common to all of our work.


What: “Doors of Perception” exhibit

Where: Six Summit Gallery, 6 Summit St., Ivoryton

When: Opening reception events will be held today from 6:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday, May 10, from 5 to 9 p.m. and Sunday, May 11, from noon to 4 p.m. The exhibition continues through June 22.

Info: Call (860) 581-8332 or visit


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