By using layers of transparent and opaque color, as well as variations in texture, Michaela Harlow creates paintings that dance with energy. Take the painting, Rain in September, 16 x 16 inches, in which she uses pastel, graphite, and polychromos pencil on paper. Michaela uses scratches, scribbles and color to evoke a mood. This particular work is like a soft rain on a pond at sunset, at summer’s end.
Inspired by a lifelong fascination with nature, as well as her work in landscape design, Michaela’s paintings reflect seasonal life cycles and environmental rhythms. The slow accumulation and peeling away of layers in her work is what nature does in all seasons, and it is this mysterious unfolding that she attempts to convey.
Michaela starts by sketching, either from field notes or from memory. Her time alone in nature, during forest hikes and wetland kayaking, provides opportunities for observation and contemplation, which become the reference points for her work. “Curious geometric patterns, compelling color relationships between light and shadow, these all strike emotional chords for me,” she said. “Nature is endlessly fascinating and always changing.” She methodically keeps journals, both analog and digital. “When I return to my studio, these field notes act as a spring board.”
At first light, Michaela begins her work by sketching and drawing. “I love the spontaneity and immediacy of drawing. I prefer materials that retain the energy of gesture: chunks of graphite, charcoal, colored pencil, pastel, oil stick. Often I use my fingers for blending pigment and paint.” She uses rough bristle brushes, as well as rugged metal and wood tools on heavyweight, handmade paper with good tooth that can withstand scraping and reworking.
Another work, Fog of Memory, 16 x 16”, oil and graphite on panel, is a dreamy landscape of color and line. From a shock of orange amidst deep blue, along with the energetic dark lines, one can easily see an early morning fog, a memory, or a dream.
Drawing was Michaela’s first language. At the age of 12, she visited Mexico City as an exchange student. Her host family noticed her constant sketching and knew exactly what to do. “They took me to exhibitions, museums and ancient sites. They introduced me to the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I was hooked.”
Currently Michaela lives and works in the foothills of Vermont’s southern Green Mountains. Her studio is a post and beam barn that she designed and built herself, in the middle of the woods, with a small loft upstairs for sleeping and a tiny kitchen/living room. “I love the quiet and the access to wild things. I feel very grateful for it,” she said.
Since 1994, Michaela has exhibited her paintings and drawings in galleries and juried shows throughout the United States, and is included in public, corporate and private collections in North America and Europe. Her work has been featured and reviewed in Vermont Arts and Living, Santa Fean Magazine and Pasatiempo.
Michaela finds her greatest inspirations in nature, human relationships, culture and art. She is influenced by painters Cezanne, Turner, Klee, and the drawings of Mondrian, Giacometti, Richter, Kline and Cy Twombly. “I am also drawn to three dimensional work: sculpture and environmental/land art. In my own work, I’m very focused on the relationship between painting and drawing.”
Recently, Michaela has been experimenting with collage, as well as returning to work on a larger scale. She is also exploring advanced art theory. “I hope to take lessons in welding and metal work soon. I’m always seeking new experiences, new materials and new means of expression.”