Seeing double at watercolor show

 ... Melrose artists open two-person show at Beebe

by Dan MacAlpine, editor, Melrose Free Press

This article first appeared on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2000, in the Melrose Free Press, and is reprinted here with Free Press permission.

Melrose residents Dixie Clark and Luke Volpe open a two-person show of their watercolor paintings Dec. 1, at the Beebe Estate, 235 West Foster St. The opening reception will be Friday, Dec. 1, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Beebe Estate. The show will include about 40 paintings, 20 each from each artist.

Van Gogh sold one painting in his entire lifetime. Gaugin left his day job to paint and live in poverty in the South Seas. So, as Melrose artist Dixie Clark pointed, "You  never know": No one knows where posthumous fame will settle. In fact, Clark and fellow artist Luke Volpe are already one up on their, for now, more famous counterparts. They have sold many paintings while raising families and managing to keep their day jobs.

Clark is marketing director for TASC, an information technology company and Volpe manages research and development and engineering for Dynamics Resource Company. Not exactly the starving-artist type jobs of lore and legend. Yet, the two have made art an important part of their lives and see no disconnect between the paint brush and their careers.

"It must be some kind of left-brain, right-brain thing," said Volpe. "I think we're ambidextrous that way."

Clark said her art background even comes  in handy in her marketing job. "I do get to use my art at work. I design brochures and books. So I use it in that way."

Practical or not, visual creativity has always been something Clark and Volpe possessed, but not always something both pursued.

Clark has been painting and studying art most of her life. "Even when I had small children, I would go through spurts when I would sketch them constantly and then I would stop for a while," said Clark.

"There was a time, from when I graduated high school to when I was about 35 that I didn't paint," said Volpe. "I didn't know if I ever would again. But, my wife wouldn't buy anything to put on the walls. I would ask her and she would say, 'No, I'm waiting for you to paint something.'" Eventually Volpe got the message and began painting again.

Both artists have studied with other artists much of their adult lives and both belong to several local and regional art associations. Clark has more formal art training. Volpe learned as he studied and painted. "If you paint with someone long enough, you have to pick up some of what they do," said Volpe.

Clark recalled one exercise assigned in a class she took with her mother, also an artist. "We were told to do an abstract. My mother had no idea how to go about it and I just sketched one out. That was a turning point. Up until that time, I was always kind of chasing my mother."

Today, neither Volpe nor Clark work abstractly.  Their styles tend to the realistic side of impressionism, putting softer edge on the world or adding or deleting elements from what the eye sees to heighten drama or balance a composition. The fact both work in watercolors further softens their work, although Volpe tends to contrast shadow and light.

In one of Volpe's works a bass player bows his instrument, his stark white shirt highlighted against a deep brown background, the player's head tilted back, dark hair blending to the background, the darkness serving to highlight the player's sun-burned face.

Clark may take a slightly more impressionistic turn in her watercolors with trees and background often suggested by color and shading rather than by actual depictions of branches and leaves. She leaves the main images clear and visible. Water clearly reflects a lighthouse or a moored sailboat.

However the two adopt the medium to match their vision, they both came to watercolors for the same reason: impatience.

Neither had the temperament to layer oils, to put on one layer and wait for the paint to dry, sometimes for days. "I'm an impatient person," said Volpe, a man who would no sooner sit around and watch grass grow that to watch paint dry. "Watercolors are much more spontaneous."

"They are more spontaneous," agreed Clark. "I have a short attention span. I like to sit down and do a painting and complete it."

Spontaneity can be a hard commodity to come by, however. "If I sit down and really think, 'I'm going to paint something really good, that I'm going to paint a masterpiece," said Volpe, "the painting has no life. The figures have no movement." On the other hand, if he sits down and paints, without thinking so seriously about the results, "Lo and behold sometimes something really good happens," said Volpe.

Other times, Volpe and Clark said doing a painting once, as a study, and then repainting the scene improves the work. "The second time, you're not thinking about the composition so much, where you're going to put things. So the study can really help." Clark said.

The sense of composition the study painting brings provides a framework, upon which the artist can improvise, the way a jazz musician uses the outline of a melody to improvise.

Where all this will take Clark and Volpe is anyone's guess. They aren't even too concerned about it. Though Volpe said, "If someone parts with their money to buy one of your paintings, that's about the best compliment you can get." He also noted, "I paint because it's part of who I am. It's a component of my personality."

And, maybe Clark will be famous one day. Maybe not. "I'm going to retire. I hope to paint even more then. Right now, I'm just trying to be the next Dixie Clark. That's all."

December 1, 2000

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