PLATTSBURGH — At the moment, artist Joe Remillard paints what is closest to him: family and the Adirondacks, though he lives in Georgia.
North Country folks can view his majestic oils, which capture the spirit of his kin and home place, during an opening reception for his solo exhibition, “JOE REMILLARD: Adirondack Vision” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, at the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Burke Gallery.
Joe was child number six of the 14 children of Rubin and Monica Remillard of Peru.
He grew up on the family farm, which his grandfather, Hermas, uncle Jerome, and his father purchased in the 1940s from Mason & Sons.
Hermas immigrated to the states from a small town in Quebec in the 1920s and worked on the dairy farm before purchasing it.
Art was not Joe’s thing during his years at Peru High School, where he graduated in the Class of 1974.
As an undergrad, he majored in American History at Siena College and followed those studies with a Juris Doctorate from Albany Law School in 1981.
For three years, Joe made his way in the world as a law clerk for Appellate Division Judge Norm Harvey, who had chambers on Oak Street in Plattsburgh.
LEAP OF FAITH
“My wife (Dr. Marguerite Madden) and I at the time, decided to pivot, and we both returned to grad school,” Joe said.
“She received her doctorate in ecology from the University of Georgia, and I received my master’s of fine arts in painting and drawing from the University of Georgia.”
His life-is-an-adventure pivot from the discipline of law to a disciple of art was a result of soul searching.
“I came to the conclusion early in life that life is short; you better do what you love,” Joe said.
The summer before he entered law school, Joe took a drawing class with art professor Bill Robbins at Plattsburgh State University.
“I always had an interest in art,” Joe said.
“I never pursued it because of the idea how can you make a living with art? So fast forward, I’ve been an art professor at Kennesaw State University. That’s a university of 40,000 students outside of Atlanta. I’ve been a professor a number of years. One of my very important points that I make to my students all the time is that you can do anything you want with your art. There is a creativity component that you develop with art that can carry you through to any endeavor whether it’s in the field of art or elsewhere.”
Without his bold, leap in the mid-1980s, art could have been a what-if, a road not taken, for him.
“I guess I’m here to say don’t put off your dreams, aspirations,” he said.
Problem solving is one of the intersections between law and art.
In the former, a lawyer arrives at a solution for the sometimes weighty issues of others.
The artist seeks to illuminate the beauty or not of the world around him, within him.
Both disciplines can take tolls on the attorney making his mark and the mark maker.
Each calls for understanding, compassion and vision.
In his artist statement, Joe writes:
“I am a traditional realist and so I never project or trace an image. The people and places I paint are guided by a philosophy which sees life as incredibly precious and fleeting, and that, through art, the beauty of certain moments can be immortalized. I am attracted to images which have a distinctive sense of light and which hint at the layering of modern and historic elements. The times within which we live are just a tiny piece of a much bigger picture. I see that tiny piece as containing some universal ideas about life and beauty which I hope are reflected in my art.”
His artistic influences include Andrew Wyeth and Carl Larrson.
“Both of them have in common just hanging the people and places that are important to them,” Joe said.
“I was certainly familiar with both of them before art school. I had been an avid museum-goer long before art school. I did a study-abroad in Denmark for half a year, and that is where I was exposed to Larrson and his work. Andrew Wyeth, I mean, that’s a household family name. I had seen many shows throughout the country of his work.”
As Wyeth painted the inhabitants in his sphere in rural Maine and Pennsylvania, Joe turns his lens on his plethora of siblings, nieces, nephews as well as husband, Steve Osunsami, the award-winning senior national correspondent at ABC News in Atlanta.
“My students are always saying, “How will I know what to paint?’” Joe said.
“I reassure them that it just happens organically. I think that’s certainly the case with me. One of my earliest paintings after grad school is in this exhibition. It’s entitled, ‘Silver Lake Morning.’ Silver Lake was a really important part of my life. That’s where my kids would spend each summer. Marguerite’s family has a camp up on Silver Lake.”
The artist strives to embed a narrative element in his works such as “Chasm Farm,” and “Spitfire Shore.”
“Even if there are no individuals represented,” he said.
“There’s another little painting that I have of Asgaard. Of course, that is Rockwell Kent’s farm. But I have included in it a very heavy, heavy sky depicting an approaching storm. To me, we are living in rather troubled times. Even idyllic places like Asgaard are not immune to that. That’s the kind of narrative I try to put into my pieces.”
Joe’s works start in his mind.
“But then once I have an idea of what I want to paint, then I will go out and look for source imagery,” he said.
“My source imagery will include on-site color studies and drawings as well as numerous photographs. When I’m on site, I’m doing what is called alla prima paintings, which are very short, two-hour color studies. and then I will go back with that source imagery to my studio and create larger, extended, more detailed image paintings.”