‘And What a Time it’s Been’ — Painting during the Pandemic
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PORTSMOUTH – “And What a Time it’s Been,” an exhibition created by New Hampshire Art Association painters JoAnn Portalupi and Shawn Pelech, will be shown at the association’s Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery during the month of September.
“This show was scheduled before the pandemic, but painted during it,” Portalupi said.
“What surprises us as we look at the work is how we’re piecing together fragments to create something new and whole. Just as we were piecing together a new understanding of how to live in the pandemic, our process as painters took a similar path.”
The exhibition is a compilation of new works created by each of them during the past 18 months of pandemic living. The show has three distinct pieces: two small bodies of work (one from each of artist), and a single large work that was created collaboratively.
Portalupi and Pelech are observational painters who work predominately in oils. For the past 20 years they’ve painted together in the tradition of “en plein air” in and around the seacoast area, Down East, Maine, and during painting trips to France and Ireland.
As lifelong learners, there is nothing they like better than a good workshop now and then. Over the years they’ve studied with Adeline Goldminc Tronzo, Stuart Shills, Colin Page, Chris Liberti and Lois Dodd. They learn from critiquing one another’s work, from visiting museums and talking and reading about art.
When the pandemic hit, Pelech was working in her studio abstracting still life. As Spring came, she and Portalupi spent a lot mornings under the General Sullivan Bridge in Dover painting multiple images of the bridge.
It simply felt good to be out and about together during those early days of uncertainty. In October they ventured to Downeast, Maine and painted into the windows of an historic building in North Lubec.
As winter approached, they found themselves back in the studios. The pandemic had slowed things down and given each of them ample time in their respective studios, time which they took as an invitation to try something new.
Pelech set out to push her work in three ways. She continued to work on abstractions of the still life along with the plein air paintings she began in Lubec, Maine. In April she came across a portrait class through the Art Students League. Working with Thomas Torak on Zoom she dedicated herself to painting portraits.
In a desire to depart from the representational work she is known for, Portalupi set up a large still life of wooden boxes and stones and began to paint small fragments with the intention of constructing larger paintings out of the excerpted images she had painted.
When she looks at these now, she sees in the abstractions the kind of topsy-turvy reality the pandemic forced us all to live within.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 4.5 ft. by 16.5 ft. collaborate work titled “2020.”
“This piece was conceived as the craziness of the 2020 election built to a crescendo on January 6th, 2021,” Pelech said. “We had been shocked by a lot during the previous year, and images from the pandemic piled up in our collective consciousness. The day the Capitol was breached was a tipping point. Suddenly it felt imperative to record these images as a make-shift history of what we had lived through.”
The piece consists of 50 panels depicting images and emotions the artists experienced during the early stages of the pandemic. The exhibit invites viewers to add their own images through words or pictures to serve as a communal history of a time everyone shared despite being cut off from one another.
NHAA is following the city of Portsmouth's guidelines that masks are not required for those who have been vaccinated, however if visitors are more comfortable setting up a time to view the exhibit by appointment outside of gallery hours, they can call (603) 431-4230 to set up a time.
Go & Do
“And What a Time it’s Been” by JoAnn Portalupi and Shawn Pelech, exhibit and sale
Where: Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery,136 State Street, Portsmouth NH, and online at www.nhartassociation.org
When: Sept.1 to Sept. 26. Opening reception at the Levy Gallery, Friday, Sept. 3, from 5 to 8 p.m. A Conversation with the Artists will be held on Sept. 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Levy Gallery.
Gallery hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m.
CAPTIONS: TOP “The Old Town Center, West Lubec, Maine,” an oil painting by JoAnn Portalupi, in an exhibit about painting during the pandemic, to be in a show, "And What a Time it's Been," during September at the Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery.
BOTTOM: An excerpt from “2020,” a collaborative work by Shawn Pelech and JoAnn Portalupi, in an exhibit about painting during the pandemic, to be in a show, "And What a Time it's Been," during September at the Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery.