In 2019, Ann Lofquist returned to her beloved New England after 12 years in Southern California. She had lived in Maine for 20 years and her atmospheric paintings of fields, farms, and streams were uniquely recognizable. The landscape had changed while she was away, however. “I often revisit my favorite vistas and upon returning to New England, I was struck by how much they had changed during my 12-year absence,” she explains. “For the most part, the changes were (from my point of view) for the worse. Favorite trees had been felled, creeks were now choked by invasive knotweed and old dairy farms had been abandoned and the pastures were overgrown.”
Friends invited her to their central Shenandoah Valley cabin to do some plein air painting. “I fell in love with the landscape,” she says. “It is far more open than that in New England, and the sycamore trees with their luminous, white bark dominate the pastures. I returned several times during the fall and winter of 2020-21. During the winter I do my plein air painting from my car (the panel is balanced on the steering wheel and my palette is to my right on the passenger seat.) In order to paint the streams I loved, I had to find unobstructed views from bridges where I could park without disrupting traffic."
Her plein air painting Swover III is one of many she painted of the creek from the front seat of her car. “Plein air painting is a necessity for me as a landscape painter,” she explains, “as I need a firsthand observational experience with my subject. While almost all of my large paintings aredrawn from specific studies, I find that as I reinvent them in another format, I become more of an architect imposing my will on the landscape, and the paintings often go through many trial and error changes and often end up as composites of several experiences. So, for me, the plein air process is intuitive and receptive; the studio process is empirical and constructive. Both of these qualities are part of my nature as an artist.”
Her large studio painting Cold Morning Swover Creek is typical of her carefully observed and carefully constructed canvases. Sun sparkles on the ripples in the creek while the “luminous white bark” of the sycamores begins to blend into the mist of evaporating snow.
She comments, “I am an active person and enjoy hiking, running and gardening and being outside in general. But there is something about the acute observation of plein air landscape painting which is special. Because the light is constantly changing minute to minute, a painter experiences a frenetic urgency to ‘get it all down’ before the subject changes. There have been moments when I feel that I lose my sense of self-awareness and in a state of extreme focus and concentration, have had an almost ecstatic experience of becoming a part of my subject, of merging with something greater than myself.”
Her plein air and studio paintings from Virginia and New England will be shown at Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia from October 6 through 30.