Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine. Today I have with me artist Ed Wintner. And, he's actually officially also called doctor, correct? 


 

Ed Wintner:

Yes, a different kind of doctor. But by rights, I do have a PhD in organic chemistry. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

As someone who took the very basics of organic chemistry in order to get into medical school, I can say it is a very difficult field.


 

Ed Wintner:

It is a difficult field. I made a lot of good friends in college who were destined to become great doctors that I helped through organic chemistry with their Sunday night problem sets. So, that was a first career for me.  I've always been a painter and always loved painting.  But in a monetary sense, the first thing that I did out of college was work in biotech. I actually helped start a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then later, one in Seattle. There was then a point in the middle of my life where I  was asking do I want to try to start a third biotech and keep going in business?  Or is there maybe another part of my life that I really haven't explored? And that's when I was lucky enough to be able to take the plunge and say, I'm going to try being a full-time artist for myself personally and my wife. We said, okay, I'm gonna give myself two years. And if I don't sell a single painting in two years, then I'll go back to biotech. It actually did not take too long to find people who really appreciated and liked my work. So I consider myself incredibly lucky that that was true and have painted ever since. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So what type of people are kind of tuned into your work? What type of people do you have a sense, like the type of style that you paint?


 

Ed Wintner:

So I'm a landscape painter, obviously. I am focused on nature and particularly the nature of New England.  They're two obvious things that I like to focus on in New England, which are the mountains and the coast. I actually have an example of both of those here in the studio.  I've been fortunate enough that in our extended family there's both a cottage in the White Mountains and in Maine here,  right on Sagadahoc Bay in Georgetown. And so as a kid I got to really spend time, during the summers, in both places and then have always come back.

Ed Wintner:

I think first and foremost, the kind of people who identify with my paintings also enjoy nature in whatever respect, whether or not they've been hikers or have enjoyed the beach. And also quite a few people are attached to a particular place. They might have a cottage themselves and I have actually been fortunate enough to have a number of commissions of a particular place that people are familiar with. That's certainly true of many landscape painters. If you paint something that someone can identify with, a specific place, that can really tie you in. In fact, one of my funniest art stories is from a trip to Scotland. I did a very early painting of Tummel which is north of Edinburgh. And I had taken pictures while on vacation and then came back to the United States and painted this picture. And someone in a gallery in Western Massachusetts bought the painting because they were actually Scottish transplants and had loved this particular site along Loch Tummel.  So, that is a very long-winded way of saying people who like nature, and specific points in nature, seem to be drawn to my style of painting.  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It reminds me of a story that another artist had brought up, in a prior conversation. I think it was a porch that had a chair on it and he met somebody who saw this painting of a porch and this chair and insisted that this was her porch and her chair. And she was concerned about how this particular artist ever got to her porch and her chair. So, there is some real strong emotional connection that people will make to art and to place. 


 

Ed Wintner:

My work certainly owes a lot to 1920s travel poster painters who were doing exactly the same thing; trying to capture an image,  and a feeling of a particular destination and to advertise that to the public so they would come. Those were mostly lithographs,  at the time in the twenties, and were absolutely beautiful.  Some were of our national parks which have recently resurfaced in calendars. They were absolutely beautiful renditions of the nature of our parks. One of the things that is interesting to me was when they were doing those, they were done by very, very good artists. They came out in this sort of printmaking, lithograph style, where you have blocks of color, which is obviously what I'm also using. 


 

Ed Wintner:

It's not that they were trying so much to have a style or to be more or less realistic. It's just that they had only a certain number of colors to work with. And so they had to use plains of color, of flat color. And when I developed this style, which I'd really been developing in my mind for quite a long time before it ever came onto the canvas, I was thinking that I really love this printmaking style. But what if I were to do it as a painter where I could still use flat plains of color but I wouldn't be limited by the number of colors that I could use. And so that's really how I came to this style of painting which very much uses flat plains of color but tries to get a light sense of distance and perspective by using many, many gradations of those colors and really focusing on how they come together to form contours and silhouettes.  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Tell me about this, this piece that's,  next to me, this piece that is Georgetown. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Yes. So Georgetown, Maine is a peninsula which sticks down toward the south.  Actually, as the crow flies, it probably is not too far from Portland. But it's hard to get there by car because you have to drive all the way down the peninsula. And at the end of this peninsula is a place called Sagadahoc Bay.  My family,  for several generations, has had a cottage there right at the bottom and on the water of Sagadahoc Bay. And you can watch the water go in and out across the mud flats as you can in many places in Maine. And this cottage happens to be surrounded on three sides by water.  In the morning you can walk down here and if the tide is out, it looks exactly like this and there are sort of little channels that run out. 


 

Ed Wintner: 

And, to the left of the painting there, that's where the sun rises and these gray Maine rocks take on this beautiful pink sheen. So as with all of my paintings, whether or not I do them from my head, I do them trying to come very close to a specific place.  In this case, it's very, very close to exactly what you have there when you come down in the morning.  I'm trying to capture this sense of the beautiful pink light that greets you when you wake up in the cottage.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So, when I first saw this painting, it reminded me of the walk that you can take to get to Morse Mountain which is in that same general area. It’s taken care of by Bates College and is in the Popham area. 


 

Ed Wintner: 

Right, right. One, I think one peninsula over.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Exactly. It’s in that same kind of place. It's this combination of where the land really meets the sea and there's an ebb and a flow and the tides will bring the water in. Along the walkway you'll really see kind of the sea grass, the very tips as the tide is in. And then it kind of recedes a little bit. So when I saw this piece, that's really what I was thinking of, especially towards the trees in the back. It is that sense of motion and movement of the ocean.

 

Ed Wintner: 

Yes.  I mean, it certainly is,  I'm honored when anybody is able to get the sense as you just have, of what I'm trying to convey with the painting. I'm really just trying to capture the moment that I felt there when I'm painting for the three weeks or so that it takes me to do most of these paintings I’m, for those three weeks, walking around, literally in my head, in this painting, back and forth and into the canvas. So I really feel like I've been inside the painting during the time that I've been doing it. And that's exactly the feeling that I'm trying to convey is this sense of the waving grasses and the water coming in and out.  And then the beautiful tree line, which you get in many, many places in Maine. Often sort of those scrubby oaks that grow along the sea, the seaside, the coast, combined with your, a couple of birches that really stick out once in a while. So,  I'm very glad that that comes to you because that's exactly where it was painted.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

In contrast, you have next to you this piece that was done of the White Mountains. You were describing that this came initially from some teaching you had done and a study that you did. So tell me about that. 


 

Ed Wintner:

So this painting comes from a completely different history and vantage point in my mind. This comes from a collection of ideas that are in my head from spending many summers walking in the White Mountains. I was teaching a class in Chicago and New Hampshire this past summer, a one day class on mid-ground in painting. And we were doing various studies.  I actually brought this sample for you to see. So this was one of the studies that I had the students do. We were working on the mid-ground and how to connect the waterfall to the mountains with the trees and how to compose this in this particular example. And I thought, if I cut out this middle section, that could be a really nice painting in its own right. 


 

Ed Wintner:

And so, that little painting became this painting that you see here.  But as I say, this was done from a lot of memories in my mind. So it is perhaps not quite as realistic as the Sagadahoc Bay painting where I was actually very closely looking at nature.  But here, I've titled this the White Mountains Calling, and this to me is I'm standing here and saying, all right, where would I like to walk if there's a trail up, through, up through here.  And one of the things I find amazing about the White Mountains is that in the relatively congested area of New England there is this place where you can walk for miles, in relative wilderness and really see mostly nature and there are very few houses or people. And, I think,  throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Northern New England, that's one thing that people are really attracted to is the ability to when they want to really just go out into something that is a little bit wild. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And I can see with this piece that there is something, especially with the clouds, an almost ghost-like sense of some of the trees. There's something more ethereal, something that this idea of being called makes a lot of sense to me the way that you're describing it. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Yes. Certainly when I see a landscape there's sometimes when I sort of see it in my mind, I mean, I know that in truth most of the trees of New England were all cut down 200 or so years ago. And it was farmland and pasture land.  I'm always thinking, wow, what must have this been like 500 or a 1000 years ago when most of the trees were 400 years old and towering. It was sort of this absolutely pristine wilderness. And so sometimes in my painting and certainly here, I may have exaggerated the etherealness, the wildness, sometimes the tallness of the trees, to reflect how it might have looked,  to a Native American, the original inhabitants of this land.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So it's interesting to think about you moving from doing early work in painting, to then going towards what I would say is a very kind of simultaneously concrete and abstract field of organic chemistry, and then moving back to painting, which is where you, I don't wanna say it's where you started, but you sort of did.

 

Ed Wintner: 

Certainly as a kid that's what I did.  I would much rather draw with my time, I was drawing Darth Vader and stormtroopers instead of doing my homework. So, yes, that's certainly where I started. And very early on I took serious painting classes at the Philadelphia College of Art while I was in high school.  But then yes, I moved away to the completely different field of organic chemistry. I loved that. I loved, I think that perhaps the one connection was if you're going to do, in this case, it was drug discovery.  You were jumping into something completely new knowing that you may very well fail,  and trying to go somewhere where no one's gone before, because if you're trying to develop a new drug, it's exactly that, it's a new drug. 


 

Ed Wintner:

So you have to go in with a complete understanding that you may very well not make it, particularly on your first attempt.  In biotech, this was in the 1990s,  this was very new money,  small companies,  working crazy hours, startups,  jumping in there and trying to do new things. It was very similar to when I eventually stepped away from that life into art. It was jumping into something completely new where I had no idea whether or not there would be a success or failure and no idea what waited for me when I moved from doing a couple of paintings a summer just for myself to getting up in the morning and doing it as something that was not only my love, but my job. And I think when anybody does something for an extended period of time you find many different things as you do that you had never thought you might find when doing that. I've found so much new in art but through many failures as well as successes and finding out what works particularly in this style and what doesn't work.  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So again, it is this interesting kind of abstract, concrete, abstract, concrete, and this kind of continual honing of the question that you're asking of the form that you're seeking and that ability to move back and forth between that type of neurologic process is really very…it's not something everybody can do. 


 

Ed Wintner: 

Yes, you were sort of mentioning the neurologic process. One of the things which I really like about this particular style is it allows me to think in depth about how a painting is put together. If you take an art course, you're often explained how a painter has created a composition where this line here, or this set of parallel little lines, all point to a specific area of focus that the painter wants you to see,  or the curving and flow of a particular painting. All of that is magnified when you're using a style much more like printmaking, where the intersection of two colors makes a very defined contour and a silhouette is perhaps the most basic form that our brain registers as an object. The brain's really good at seeing patterns and really good at seeing variations of color and very good at perceiving shapes. 


 

Ed Wintner:

And so a silhouette is a single variation of color in a single shape. And even if that shape is very complex and layered with many other shapes, if it's in the same color, the brain puts together that very complicated shape into something that we recognize as a tree or a cloud or a dog. And this style plays with that.  I love how you can go from that very concrete idea of the silhouette of a tree to the extraction of a white pine, which, this is obvious, if you see this white pine in nature, it is not all one color. It's many, many colors.  But if your eye sees the silhouette and sees it in the right place, in a painting, your eye almost fills in the fact that, yes, this is the trunk of a tree, and it's probably more brown or black than the rest of it, but your brain simply says, oh, that's a white pine in the midst of a landscape. You may or may not like the landscape as it's painted, but your brain's doing that extra work. And so I guess, as a former scientist, I love that layer on top of the art. And it is very easy, then to go back to the class and I’m telling people about how I compose a painting. You can very easily point to the lines that I have, because they're so visible between the two colors pointing, giving flow to the painting, to give focus to the painting.  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

When I look at the piece that is Georgetown, if you, as I'm looking closely, you have different sizes and shapes of small rocks on the sand. And they're very specific, different colors. But as you're talking about the brain and how it kind of pulls them all together, if I then take kind of a step back and let my mind process the whole, the painting as a whole, then it, all of a sudden, it's not these distinct different colors. It's what you've been intending to create, which is the play of the light on these rocks on the sand. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Yes. Thank you for noticing that. I think, like many artists I suppose, in more modern times, the point lists are maybe the best example of where if you look closely in a painting, you see one thing that the artist is doing. And if you just take a snapshot, look at the painting, perhaps from a distance, you might see the greater effect that they're trying to achieve. So, I'm always experimenting with new ways to give the sense, the mood, that I want to try to create in a given painting.  And here it was both the highlighted color from the sunrise as sometimes you'll see when you see rocks on the sand, particularly in light, that's coming from the side, they just stand out as individual, little, tiny castles of rock. 


 

Ed Wintner: 

And, that's really what this was and the fact that sure, they were in many, many different colors and I chose three or four was simply my way of telling this particular story of the image that I saw that morning in the painting.  Just as a side note,  in printmaking or in the style that I'm doing here, rocks are wonderful, particularly when they're lit from the side.  And Maxfield Parrish was amazing at doing this. You only need two colors, you need a light color and a dark color. And if you do the silhouette correctly, you suddenly look like you have a beautiful rock scape or Yosemite valley for that matter,  or whatever it is. So rocks really lend themselves to this style.  And that's one of the things I love to paint.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So, when did you first become familiar with this 1920s style of lithograph? 


 

Ed Wintner: 

I've always liked, for those who know, the covers of Yes albums. I believe Roger Dean is certainly someone who has used this kind of art.  Also an artist named Jerry Stevens from Philadelphia originally,  has done what he calls stereographs,  which is sort of halfway between printing and painting. And so I'm just trying to get in the reference influences. I'm certainly not the first person to try this kind of painting. And all of this comes back to,  as far as I'm concerned,  looking back toward Asian printmaking which has hundreds and hundreds of years of history and perhaps for most well known as say, the printmaker Hokusai, his Wave is almost common enough to be on t-shirts.  So I think I've always been aware of this. It's certainly not how I began painting. I began trying to paint extremely realistically,  sort of all of the Hudson River School, Frederick Church is certainly a hero of mine.  But then for me personally, to give a sense of a particular place,  this style just comes naturally to my hand. And,  that's what I followed because I've really just followed this style. I wouldn't say it's certainly not that I've always thought that this would be the way that I would, would end up painting. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It's an interesting mixture of references that you've blended into the conversation where you're talking about Yes albums, and those are albums, by the way, for those of you who don't know, we used to have things called records <laugh> which were very large and they needed beautiful art for their covers. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Cultural references come back. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes, that's true. That's true. They are back now. You've also talked about, I think we got Star Wars in there. As in the 1920s lithographs, you're not forcing your mind to stay tuned into one particular or one particular style. You're really trying to kind of bring them all together and create something that is unique to you. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Yes. And, I think many artists may have a similar story.  You look at someone and say, wow, they create an amazing style. Certainly speaking for myself, I can't say that this was something which I planned, designed out, this just evolved out of many things that I visually appreciated and finally put together.  But I can't claim perhaps as much forethought as it would imply to say. I took a bit of this and a bit of this and a bit of this, and I put them together into this particular style.  But certainly, I'm a very visually oriented person and when I've seen something that I liked in my life ,visually, I remember it pretty much exactly as it is forever.  So, it's not a photographic memory. It's just sort of the ability to take individual photographs once in a while of something that's really striking. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's a great skill to have. It's not one that I have. <laugh> The way that I remember things is very different from what you're describing, but I can see how it would lend itself to the type of art that you're doing. 


 

Ed Wintner: 

I think that also blocks out plenty of other things, for instance, remembering somebody's name at a party two minutes after they've told me does not not come in under the heading of things that I remember so that there's other things that sometimes I wish that I had that this memory is clearly taking the place of.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

<laugh>,  I'm not that different. I think it's interesting that we all kind of coexist in this world and we all assume that everybody sees the world that we do, but we don't even remember things the way that everybody else does.  I don't remember names, dates, numbers, or this visual thing that you're describing, but I always remember stories. You can tell me a story and  I'll remember it for decades. So it's funny that we all have our own way of interfacing which believe is somehow common to all of us,


 

Ed Wintner:

I think as an artist, you immediately see that because you paint something and particularly when painting it, at the point when I finish a painting, at that moment, I believe it's perfect. It's the best that I can do. And there's not another drop of paint that needs to be put on this. And so it's ready. I have done everything I can, it's ready for someone else to enjoy if they want to. And I have seen very specific things in it. I might think that this little part of it was done absolutely brilliantly. And I certainly think that the whole thing works as a composition. Otherwise I would not have said that it's a finished painting. Then someone else will look at it who might well be my wife, giving it a critique, and says,   this cloud really doesn't work for me. 


 

Ed Wintner:

It really takes my eye away from the entire rest of the painting. And I can't see the whole composition you have here, because this is just ruining my vision and to see, what is so obviously a perfect painting for me in a completely different way,  immediately keys you into the fact that everybody looks at the world in not just a little bit different way, but sometimes a lot different way. And I think, obviously, the first thing you have to understand is that not everybody's gonna like your stuff.  On the other hand, if you can  go through that and take in people's suggestions,  you can find commonalities that as someone who wants to eventually sell their paintings, you can find commonalities that a large number of people do want to see on their living room wall. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Ed, I've enjoyed our conversation very much. I've learned a lot from you today. 


 

Ed Wintner:

Oh, thank you.  You've been a wonderful host. And, I'm extremely happy and blessed to be at the Portland Art Gallery. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

 I encourage people to go to the Portland Art Gallery, or to the Portland Art Gallery website, to see Ed's work. I've been speaking today with artist Ed Wintner here on Radio Maine. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and thank you for joining us. 

Thank you for joining me today, Ed. 


 

Ed Wintner:

It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for the time.