The Journal continues the once-a-month series “From the Studio” with Kathaleen Roberts, as she takes an up-close look at an artist.
When Jeannie Sellmer was 3 years old, she drew pictures all over her New Jersey bedroom walls.
“Somehow, I knew it was wrong, so I put a chair in front of it to hide it,” she said.
Her supportive parents bought her a drawing pad, an act that launched her studies at the Art Institute of Boston and, eventually, a career. Today the Albuquerque artist shows her work at Sumner & Dene Gallery, spanning a range from Impressionist landscapes to pure abstraction.
Sellmer moved here from Massachusetts with her husband and dogs in 2005 because she couldn’t face the New England winters anymore. She joined a plein air (outdoor) painting group.
“I met my tribe of artists,” she said. “I was painting landscapes. They were kind of quick studies because the light changes so quickly here and the shadows are different in an hour.”
Sellmer took her sketches back to her studio and created larger paintings. With their bare impressions of form and emphasis on natural light, these were recognizable landscapes. With time and artistic growth, her work progressed into more abstracted, then completely abstract paintings.
At first, “they were much more true to the scene,” Sellmer said. “I added my mood and my reactions to the landscape and it evolved more to my own interpretation.”
The more recent works featuring softly blended bands of color reveal the influence of the American color field painter Mark Rothko.
“When I was in school studying the figure for five days a week, it was (the Impressionist Edgar) Degas and (Post-Impressionist Paul) Gauguin,” she explained.
Today she is drawn to the peacefulness of Rothko and the elusive color changes in his paintings.
“The softness of the edges and the subtle transition of color is something that speaks to me,” Sellmer said.
Those simplified, horizontal bands of color can give the feeling of vast views, she added.
She counts nature as her muse.
The early painting “Moon River” is her languid interpretation of the Rio Grande at sunset.
“I got on one of those bridges that crosses the Rio Grande and took some photos,” Sellmer said. “I turned it into an evening or night-lit painting.”
Dotted with scrubby chamisa and tufts of juniper, “Morning Light” is another early work. It emerged from her days working in plein air at the Elena Gallegos Open Space.
The boldly textured horizontal crimson and orange lines of “Navigating the Way” showcase a more recent work.
“That alludes to landscape,” Sellmer said. “I changed from working with oils and wanted to start using mixed-media.”
The painting features burlap and pumice gel. The artist switched her tools from paint brushes to squeegees, palette knives and brayers or hard rubber rollers, to create texture.
“It was more working from my imagination and memories of landscape,” she said. “I was more into evoking feelings than I was in describing a place.”
“Saffron Sky” also is marked by the softly blended, horizontal bands of color suggestive of landscape.
“I think I was exploring breaking down the landscape to its essentials,” Sellmer said. “I didn’t want to paint blades of grass or bushes anymore. I never wanted to depict it literally.
“Generally, the main theme throughout most of my work is calmness,” Sellmer continued. “People say, ‘Your work is so contemplative.’ There’s enough chaos in the world. Art and doing art is sort of my refuge.”