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Student Perspective: Madeleine Matsson (MFA 2019) on “Arbor Vitae” & “Room with a View” Painting Marathons

Madeleine Matsson, MFA 2019 shares her experience in the Arbor Vitae Landscape Painting Marathon both in person in Summer 2019 and VIRTUALLY in Summer 2020.

After graduating from the New York Studio School in 2019, I attended Arbor Vitae Landscape Painting Marathon, with Graham Nickson and Fran O’Neill. That marathon opened up my eyes to the complexity of working en plein air and its endless possibilities. The color palettes we were assigned demonstrated the slight and major differences between various shades of black when mixed with different shades of white, for example. Having the structure of limited palettes allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for how color works, moves forward and backward, along with understanding what makes a color warm or cool depending on how it is used.

This Marathon had such a strong effect on me that I continued to paint the rest of the summer en plein air at the Four Pillars Residency in Mt. Gretna, PA. I have since been painting around my neighborhood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and now, during quarantine, views from my windows of the deserted streets. Many Studio School teachers including Clintel Steed and Fran O’Neill speak about how nothing we can imagine is as interesting as the shapes we find in nature. Working from life, specifically outside, has forced me to paint with more vigor and intensity as I race to capture an image before the scene completely changes with the sun.

When speaking about her practice, Fran explains how “abstraction and landscape go hand in hand” and how painting in the studio entails “chasing the memory of the experience”. When I heard that this Summer, Arbor Vitae would be taught virtually, I knew “Room with a View” was what I needed to give myself an extra push and the structure I needed having been out of school for one year. Teaching crazy hours from her home in Australia, Fran was sharp and demanding as always. Via WhatsApp phone calls, Zoom video meetings, and the image gallery platform, Padlet, the class communicated with one another from different states and countries to receive instruction and feedback.

Having come to the Studio School as a non-representational painter, I am still searching for that line between abstraction and reality. At the moment, I have found this in the trees. The shapes that branches make against the sky are like complex puzzle pieces that I could spend hours staring at. I search for the abstraction in the shapes and I thank the Studio School for helping improve how I see the world; forcing me to look out instead of solely in.

Snapshots From NYSS

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