Maggie Siner: The Art of Perception
Washington, D.C. by Anne Marchand, July 1, 2015
This summer while on tour at the Venice Biennale, I had the great pleasure of visiting painter Maggie Siner’s studio in her piano nobile apartment. Maggie graduated from American University in 1976 and has lived, painted and taught for extended periods in France and China. She currently has a studio in a centuries old building on one of Venice’s romantic canals where she has been painting since 2008.
I met Maggie at the fruit seller near Campo Santa Maria Formosa and we walked the short distance to her studio apartment. Her place is centrally located on a quiet calle and is filled with white light from floor to ceiling windows. The color of light is an important element in her work.
Maggie was careful to select a studio location that reflects pure white north light onto her subject matter. She offered me tea and cookies while we savored the ambiance of her second floor studio filled with her paintings. Her balcony overlooks the canal below where gondolas glide. I can imagine her watching the watery pace of life in Venice.
Maggie showed me the works hanging on her studio walls that had recently been shown at the Galleria d’arte ARKE this year. Her gallery created a beautiful catalog to accompany her solo exhibition.
Maggie’s studio subject and set-up was arranged in order that she see her still life table from a distance. This current view gives her work the perspective that she seeks. The series focuses on overflowing and undulating material on a lavishly set tabletop with a mysterious dress. Folds and movement become color shapes of a dress on a chair, a Pekinese, plates, glasses and spoons, remnants that hint of an enchanting evening the night before. Maggie works exclusively from life. In her artist statement she says, "Let the forms of an object be what it may - the light, shade and perspective will make it beautiful."
Classically trained, Maggie’s work looks contemporary. She has an ease of composition with shapes, colors and oil paint choreographed to produce poetic passages that allude to time, place, memory and recognition. Her evolving themes with soft drapery from beds, and dining tables recently took on the addition of a figure that occupies the formerly discarded dress. Maggie invites a friend to be the sitter in her works. One beautiful, alluring woman occupies a red dress in her paintings. The color red thrusts forth from velvety atmospheric colors and was the first fiery passage to catch my attention.
Maggie’s brushwork is almost abstract expressionism and the whole melody of light, pattern, color and shapes come together in a reminiscent experience and richness of the senses. She captures moments in time that are a feast for the eyes.
In her earlier bed series, fabrics held the shapes of time and action in the theatre of the night. Our most intimate and vulnerable selves lie in the dark and are revealed by the light of day in the folds and shape of the vacated beds. Maggie’s newest table theme came about through the movement of her daily life. A new piece of furniture appeared, a movement of objects in the room, a table received new fabric and a new still life was born. Light was etched on new forms and a story began to unfold. A place setting was added and a new process of discovery began in this ancient setting mixed with sparkling light and calligraphic marks. The figure, seemingly at rest in Maggie’s energetic brushwork, comes to life amidst the shapes and folds of the composition.
I asked Maggie what she loved about living and painting in Venice. She mentioned the water, light and sky that speak to her and informs her art in ways that inspire. She loves the walkability, lack of cars and the water, which is truly the lifeblood of Venice. She also loves all the great art in Venice. Ancient surfaces and architecture are enduring qualities that capture her eye. In a bin on the left side of her studio, Maggie showed me a series of small oils on linen that she paints on location in the tradition of plein-air painting. Donning a 15 lb. backpack, she goes into the streets on a visual discovery to compose the shapes and light of the city and water in masterful compositions that delight the viewer.
Siner is a devoted teacher who has influenced a generation of painters. She has been on the faculty of L'institut Américain and the Lacoste School of Art in France, a visiting professor at Xiamen University in China, artist in residence at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Dean of Faculty at the Washington Studio School and teaches many workshops around the country. She is a frequent guest artist and public speaker appreciated for her revealing lectures on the internal workings of painting. She studied medicine at the Faculté de Médecine in Marseilles and taught anatomy at Georgetown Medical School. She is well known for her expertise in artistic anatomy and human movement. Since 2008 she has spent much time painting and exhibiting in Venice, Italy, enamored of that city's ever-changing surfaces. She returns annually to the Washington DC area where she gives workshops at the Washington Studio School.
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© 2015 Anne Marchand for Painterly Visions Blog