Jayne Shoup is a painter living in Middlesex, Vermont. Her paintings usually depict scenes or objects from her central Vermont neighborhood. Each standing or slumping barn, towering tree, or unfolding flower in her work reflects the serenity and beauty of this area of Vermont. Some paintings are of New Mexico’s landscape and architecture. She is a member of the Vermont Crafts Council, Art Resource Association, Northern Vermont Artists’ Association, Bryan Memorial Gallery, and the Vermont Pastel Society.
Interview by : Tom Waters
For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your art?
I call myself a contemporary modernist painter. What I mean by that is I’m sort of a throwback to the true American Modernists who were painting between the two world wars.
I never went to Europe so I haven’t studied any art there so I have that in common with them. In the O’Keeffe / Stieglitz school there was this celebration of nature that I have as well. And they certainly brought more emotional kinds of feeling to work than what had been showing up in a lot of the paintings in that era. I call myself “contemporary” because I’m not dead yet, obviously, but I do trace myself back to the American Modernists.
How long have you been an artist, and how did you get your start?
I started seriously in the late 1990’s. I had been a writer for a long time, a creative writer, and that’s a tough trade too. Visual arts are hard, but I think a writer’s lot is worse. Talk about being in a vacuum. You are so isolated and it’s so hard to break in. I was disillusioned with what was happening and I’d always liked visual arts. I realized what really called to me was creating a visual image as opposed to doing that with narrative, with language. So I started in the late 90’s with watercolors and gouache, and then I took a pastel workshop with Linda Hogan in Montpelier. That’s when I got serious about what I was doing. I learned in the early years how to use pastels and that sort of thing. And like many people, I tried to render everything. You know, I’d look out at a landscape and see every leaf and I tried to do that at first. Then I realized I could edit things.
Your work is very personal. As you state in your artist statement, you “depict scenes or objects from my central Vermont neighborhood”. Describe how you choose what to depict and why.
When we first moved to Vermont in 1988, we moved next door to a working dairy farm that had about 75 cows and two farmers in their 70’s. It was really different for me. I came from a rural wooded area in western Pennsylvania and then came here, which was rural agricultural. I really enjoyed that. I liked it visually. I found the landscape very stimulating.
I walk a lot, and just seeing things, like old homes, sometimes falling apart, sometimes being restored. I like seasonal changes, that became more important to me. I got used to the rhythm of the land because of the farmers next door. I’ve never been a fan of painting snow scenes, but I have done that. There is not enough color in winter, for me, so it’s not my favorite. But I like looking around my neighborhood.
I recently started work on a piece, on my easel right now, inspired by neighbors building a new house. They built it on this little knoll of land. That was two years ago. I walk past there every day, and in the meantime they’ve added a mudroom and a deck. Three weeks ago I looked at the house and said, “There’s a painting!” Nothing had really changed with the house, but the sky opened up that day. There were some clouds and the sun was lightly covered and there was a little bit of a notch in the pine trees on one side and deciduous trees were on the other. The house was sort of centered on the knoll. And that really struck me. So it’s that kind of thing where I may see a particular scene for a number of years and then it becomes a painting for me.
Also, I sometimes feel like the scene chooses me, after a while, to paint it. At first I’m not quite ready. I haven’t looked at it enough. I don’t know. But I think over time, I keep looking at it and seeing it through different seasons. Then there is just that one day where, literally, the sky will open and now it’s a painting. That was it for me.
I find that happens quite often with this area. I’m lucky because we live in this little valley with a farm in it that actually isn’t in production anymore, which I’m quite sad about. But it’s visually striking because the barn’s still here and one of those old, eight-sided wooden silos. Just seeing those kinds of things stimulates. I live in an old farmhouse, circa 1848, and both houses next to us are a similar era. It’s that old New England look and I like that.