Gaffney seeks subtlety in Adirondack landscapes

SARANAC LAKE – There’s always something beneath the surface of Georgeanne Gaffney’s paintings.

The images have a timeless, classic look and sometimes appear worn or cracked. The colors are complex but not bright.

The paintings fall under the general category of landscapes, but they aren’t of the soaring-vista variety. Instead, Gaffney prefers taking an intimate look at the natural world.

Sometimes that includes people interacting with the environment.

“We live here because we love living here,” Gaffney said. “So many people I know love the outdoors. I never have to tell the models what to do.”

Gaffney photographed one model as she walked through a meadow, casually checking out the flowers that crossed her path. That became the subject of a painting, but then something unexpected happened.

Just as she was sitting down among the tall vegetation, the sun peeked out from behind the gray clouds that had been muting it all day. A warm, spotlight beam found the model, and Gaffney quickly captured the scene in a photograph.

That image also became a painting.

Gaffney always works with photographs that she’s taken, and what she captures is more than a view – it’s a moment.

Starting with a bright color, Gaffney begins by “blocking-in” the canvas, meaning she paints across the entire surface. Her palette usually only includes about eight colors, and she never uses black.

Gaffney paints over the first layer with a darker color, sands that down, and then moves on to the next darkest color.

As Gaffney paints and sands, the general shapes of her subjects begin to emerge, and finer details become evident with each new layer.

Things like treetops, rocks or riverbanks can shift as the painting progresses, but hints of the previous layers always remain.

The result is a painting that’s rich in subtlety, an image whose nuances are revealed the more they are explored.

“I kind of feel like I’m telling a story, in a way, and each time I’m doing a layer, I’m kind of working through different frustrations or different moods,” Gaffney said. “I don’t see my paintings as trying to capture what it looks like here. The end result is more about the feeling of the area and the time.”

Gaffney’s paintings often become a part of a series of paintings, something that happens as she takes photos in different locations. She recently started doing color paintings of old black-and-white photos.