Carole Bolsey is known for her large-scale canvases. So, when VisionArt was looking for an artist to take up their monumental 8’ x 27’ task of creating a piece of art large enough to serve as a “window” to the outdoors, Christina Godfrey (director of contemporary and corporate art at Sunne Savage Gallery) knew just the artist for the job.
Bolsey’s “Hudson River Backwater” is a piece commissioned for Hudson Yards Grill, an all-American family restaurant opening to the public March 15 in the new Hudson Yards development, the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center. The restaurant has no windows, so the painting will be the patron’s view to the outside.
The inspiration for the piece was a painting done by Bolsey back in 2015, titled “Lilies and White Canoe.” The piece is a mere 6’ 1” x 5’ 1” compared to the 7’ 6” x 26’ 10” canvas she just completed. The composition is fairly simple: a canoe surrounded by dark water and lily pads. Her task then was to create a (comparatively) small maquette — 1’ 6” x 5’ 4” — to make a new composition relative to the new dimensions she had to work with. What she ended up with was a river scene composed mostly of complementary yellows and blues: water lilies in the foreground, some floating back to the middle ground to converse with the three canoes against a backdrop of trees and a sunset peeking through the break in trees from a tributary entering the river, creating a large streak of yellow bleeding all the way from the left center of the canvas down to the outer right edge.
A painting of this scale does not come without its many challenges. The piece is actually four separate canvases placed together. “Texas is the only place in the country that makes canvases that big,” Bolsey said, just before she explained how she had to cut a trap door in the floor of her studio to move them in and out. Transferring her vision from the maquette to the large canvases proved to be difficult as well. Her perfect grid system proved ineffective, and the big streaks of yellow did not translate well to the large scale. Bolsey thought the piece became about the yellow and decided to completely paint it out. When speaking about her process, she mentioned how important layers were to her and how she likes to create a sense of “rising” in her paintings. She also explained that she likes to leave the corners of a canvas empty or unfinished because “a canvas needs to breathe.”
Bolsey’s finished piece mostly followed her maquette. However, without the yellow streak bleeding through the majority of the composition, the final is quite a bit darker than the imagined piece. Something an image cannot fully express is the scale and detail in this painting; one has to be inches away from the canvas to see all the layers peeking through the lily pads and the texture of the covered-up layers just scratching the surface.
A painting of water lilies is bound to bring Monet to mind to anyone who sees it. However, in her artist statement, Bolsey expressed how very different hers are: “My water lilies inhabit an invented backwater somewhere on the upper Hudson River, where they punctuate and animate the glassy surface. Here, the light is North American, the colors are sharp and dramatic, and the air is clear and crisper than in Monet’s gentle Giverny.”
If you did not get a chance to see Bolsey’s “Hudson River Backwater” in her studio preview in Kingston, MA on Saturday, January 19, be sure to head down to New York City’s Hudson Yards Grill on or after March 15 for all-American food and modern art.
(Check out sunnesavage.com/carol-bolsey or carolebolsey.com to see more of Carole Bolsey’s work. Hudson Yards Grill opens to the public on March 15, located on the fourth floor of the Hudson Yards mall and will be open 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Click here to read more about the restaurant.)