The canvas eye
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:03 PM
"As stimulating as exercise and strangely intoxicating - that's a trip through the world of island artist Sylvia Carlton.I get hungry when I paint, says Carlton, because I'm concentrating so hard. Chewing pensively on the end of her paintbrush, Carlton confesses that like Van Gogh, she loves the smell of turpentine.Although I won't cut my ear off, she laughs, claiming to avoid the thinner Gogh must have ingested when sucking on his brushes to clean them. Carlton came to painting fairly late in life. She began seven years ago at age 42, first teaching herself, then taking classes from Eileen Nelson through the parks district and studying under established artists like Lois Griffel and Susan Sarbacke.Following displays of her work at Bremerton's Manette Gallery and the Harbour Public House on Bainbridge, her latest exhibition of impressionistic landscapes, still lifes and Italy studies opens with an artist's reception July 1 at Bainbridge Gallery. But for all her first-flush excitement, Carlton walks the tightrope between inspiration and instruction with poise. Rising above the language of gush so many fledgling artists fall into, she offers advice to pupils Teresa Pollmar and Caleb Summerfett as they nestle amongst colorful palettes of paint and sustaining plates of oranges:You have to paint what you see, not what you think you see, she says. Otherwise you'll end up with a lot of local color and lollypop trees. These student have been working on a still life of colored blocks, to which Carlton has added a lemon and an egg. Her enthusiasm for how light effects these friendly, organic shapes sparks the memory of the soft sunlight and picturesque fields of the Tuscany depicted in so many of her paintings. There, she recalls, homes were literally growing out of the ground. She says she enjoyed the lusciousness of the landscape and would mix her oil paints on the canvass to build up mass like clouds.Typically, however, her passion proves practical. She cites the versatile medium of oil painting by way of explanation for her fixation with Italy's luscious landscape. Furthermore, she is quick to add, my paintings are small not for aesthetic reasons, but because I need to travel with them. And her nomadic inclinations may serve to illuminate her unusual description of summer on Bainbridge as orangey by day and purpley by evening.I'm a slave to light, she says. That's why I move, and that's how I see things.A reception for Carlton's latest exhibition runs 6-8 p.m. July 1 at Bainbridge Gallery, and the gallery displays her work throughout July. Hours for viewing are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon - 5 p.m. Sundays. Information: 855-1112."