Barbara Chase and the impressionist twist

Thu, 06/16/2022 - 8:00am

The eyes are the windows to the soul. That’s why, for Barbara Chase, capturing the look in an animal’s eye is essential to her painting process. 

Chase’s subjects range from domesticated pets to wildlife, but she admits some animals are harder, emotionally, to paint than others. Her recent series on barnyard animals forced her to rationalize her own feelings and the realities of the farming industry and slaughter. 

“It's different from how I see them. I see them as beautiful creatures, so it's sort of creating an idealized myth,” said Chase. “I had to come to grips with the fact that underneath it all, (slaughter) was part of what happens.”

Animals weren’t always Chase’s muse. She focused on printmaking during her college days and graduated with a bachelor of arts from Pennislyvania’s Arcadia University. In the early 1980s, she established a stained glass business in New Hampshire. Chase also traveled across the country to attend workshops on Norwegian rosemaling, a style of decorative folk art done by painters in Norway until the mid-1850s. 

In 2013, Chase returned to acrylic painting. Around then, Chase’s mother Louise could no longer look after her two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Chase took the animals on. She soon became a foster for the breed. Another foster asked Chase to commission a pet painting, and Chase hesitantly agreed. She’d never done animals. 

“It came out beautifully,” Chase recalled. “I didn't know that I could do that.” 

Chase likes to add an impressionist twist to her works, collecting things such as screens or lace to add background texture. Modeling paste and texturized gel also help create a more raised effect.  

“As the years have gone by, (the animals) have gotten more and more realistic, but there’s a balance to that because I'm not really interested in doing totally realistic paintings,” she explained. Chase hopes to explore interpreting the animals more abstractly. 

Beyond animals, Chase likes to do landscape work focusing on Maine. Chase is originally from Binghampton, New York. She has lived in Waterville 30 years. She and husband Don have traveled to multiple countries, and recently returned from Scotland, but Chase said the environments there do not inspire her the way Maine does. Chase also values people being able to connect to the state through her work. “Why would I paint a picture of Venice that nobody else could relate to?”

However, Chase’s journey to being an artist hasn’t been linear, and she often finds herself plagued with self-doubt. 

“I’ll look at something that I've painted and be like ‘How did I ever do that? Could I ever do it again?’” Sometimes she still finds it hard to refer to her painting room as an art studio. While the validation Chase receives from buyers helps, at the end of the day, painting is something she enjoys.

“I love painting. It’s very relaxing. And the nice thing is that at this point in my life, I don't have to paint for anybody but me.” 

Chase displays regularly at Boothbay Region Art Foundation.