Northern light


Who is sitting on this tree branch surrounded by floating lights like blue and yellow Chinese lanterns?

Andrea Mortson of New Brunswick paints a sunlit clearing seen from above, through leaves with the glint of a fall maple. In the clearing, a man and woman curl on a blue blanket. Who is watching them, swinging bare toes between floating lights?

‘You Are Loved' appears in at Mass MoCA in "Oh, Canada" -- this summer's survey of artists from Atlantic to Pacific. In the exhibit's newly released book, Mortson compares her painting to Manet's "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe," the luncheon on the grass. Manet's deliberately provocative scene shows a naked woman shareing a picnic blanket with two fully suited and waistcoated men, while a second naked woman kneels in the brook behind them.

But Mortson's people are casually summer-clothed and intent on each other. Like Rockwell Kent's naked figure stretching on a mountaintop, they are unconscious of anyone watching. They lie between light and shade, feeling the earth and the wind in the grass.

Kent painted his "Autumn," part of a retrospective at the Bennington Museum, while he lived and worked at a mountaintop farm in Arlington, Vt. Unlike Manet's, Kent's naked figure walks on the land with the vigor of Walt Whitman, who influenced him.

Do many artists who work where the light waxes and wanes around the solstices feel this welling of life in light and shadow?

Preston Singletary draws on Tlingit design, glass blowing and the teaching of master Venetian glass artists in his work in ‘Rethink' at the Berkshire Museum -- and Maggie Mailer's paintings at the Ferrin Gallery are awash with leaves -- full, as Whitman sang in "Leaves of Grass," "of life, immense in passion, pulse and power, / cheerful, for freest action formed."


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