Light comes into the artist’s mind as one thing, and appears on the canvas as another. How it gets to the canvas makes the difference. Carol Pelletier’s “The Turning of the Light” turns layers of oil and pigment, alternating with cold beeswax, into a story of light in changing times, seasons and locations.
“Carol Pelletier: The Turning of Light” is on view now at the Spencer Presentation Gallery in the Manninen Center for the Arts at Endicott College. Pelletier chairs the fine arts department there, and this work results from sabbatical research done in 2017.
Pelletier paints the three dozen images in “The Turning of Light” with oil, pigment and a mixture of beeswax and linseed oil. The materials are applied separately, in layers. The process has unintended consequences—Pelletier calls it allowing “the history of the previous layer to be revealed.” The bands of color blur one into the next, sometimes leaving a rust-like texture trail, like an acid burn on the matte surface. Subtle shapes emerge.
She paints on birch panels, which adds a gentle background. The panels are stoutly but sparely mounted. The final color mix appears wafer thin—like air—but rich in variation and detail.
The surface seems to be at once translucent and opaque—if that were possible.
The impressionistic effect is mesmerizing. Even though every panel has nearly the same composition—horizontal bands of of light, in subtle gradations like the sky merging into the ocean—no two are even remotely alike. Fluctuation in light is central to each composition—no objects, just their permutations of color.
Pelletier’s titles add secondary narratives. Some are simply landmarks, like “Cape Hedge,” “Lamoille,” or “Valley.” Most evoke the hour of the day, but others are more fanciful: “Tomorrow”; “Overheard”; “Interfering.” The twilight hour is a frequent subject—“Twilight holds in it a feeling of two worlds—a beginning and an end”—she writes in an exhibition label.
The study of color can become extraordinarily esoteric—Pelletier herself says that she returns to Josef Albers’ “Interaction of Color” for insights. Rote execution of color gradations is crucial training for artists, like scales for musicians. But in transferring the shifting light of real life on a canvas, “interference” happens. Pelletier’s interference has created a gentle and elegant study of light in the world, and in the imagination.
“Carol Pelletier: The Turning of Light,” runs through May 21 in the Spencer Presentation Gallery in the Manninen Center for the Arts at Endicott College. Admission is free. For information visit www.endicott.edu/centerforthearts or call 978-232-2655.