Road trip paintings from 50 states

To look for America

By Dagney C. Ernest | Oct 10, 2012
“Kentucky, On the Way to Meet Millie” is part of Midcoast native Greta Van Campen’s Painting America series.

Rockland — After some two years on the road, artist Greta Ault Van Campen has brought the results of her “Painting America” project back to Midcoast Maine. An exhibit of her contemporary American landscapes opened during Rockland’s October First Friday art walk at the downtown Dowling Walsh Gallery.

It is the second time the gallery has hung Van Campen’s travelogue images; last fall, she had a work-in-progress show that enabled her to complete her project of visiting and painting every state in the union. She ended the project in June in Alaska; the current show contains at least one work from every state.

“Alaska was the end of my travels, and I visited there over the summer solstice. I was able to get a residency at the Wrangell Mountains Center in McCarthy. It was a great way to end the American tour,” she said just prior to the show’s opening.

As many a creative endeavor does these days, Van Campen’s project began with a Kicktstarter campaign. It reached its goal and then some, which enabled her to buy that road-trip requisite, a solid car; more than half of the money raised went into the 1999 Saab that she would spend the next two years in, for the most part.

“The rest went toward materials, gas, lodging and one month's rent outside Santa Fe. After that, I was basically on my own to sell work on the road and keep the trip going,” she said.

A friend in San Francisco offered an empty building for a show, which helped bring in some funds.

“I also did some trading along the way for things like car maintenance and places to stay,” she said.

Van Campen, a Georges Valley High School grad and daughter of professional artists, has a graphic style that lends itself to landscapes, man-made as well as natural. It is a style that not only documents her travels; it was informed by them.

“The journey did change how I paint. This style of work really developed along the way, and I'm looking forward to developing it further,” she said.

The logistics of creating work on the road were part of this artistic evolution. Van Campen said she had to learn to work in a variety of less-than-ideal circumstances.

“I had to be pretty creative about work space. Sometimes I was painting on a train, sometimes a hotel room, outside or on a friend's kitchen floor,” she said.

Now that she is settled back in Maine — Van Campen lives in the Woolwich area — she is still using sketches and photographs from the trip to create paintings. She said she has a lot more work she wants to do and there are places, especially Alaska, she would like to revisit.

“I'm looking forward to doing more focused series as opposed to an overall view of my travel in the U.S. I want to apply to more residencies and spend more time in specific places as opposed to doing another whirlwind tour,” she said.

That whirlwind pace taught an important lesson, however. Sometimes it is best to leave the paints packed and just snap a photo or two.

“I had to learn when to just enjoy a place,” she said.

“Greta Van Campen: Painting America” may be enjoyed through Nov. 12 at Dowling Walsh Gallery, 357 Main St., across from the Farnsworth Art Museum. For more information about the artist and to see more of her work, visit dowlingwalsh.com/represented-artists/greta-ault-van-campen and gretavancampen.blogspot.com.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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