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Behind the Scenes

Already acclaimed, local artist gets big

Carole Bolsey’s “Surge Left II,’’ a new work at the Thayer Academy Gallery. Carole Bolsey’s “Surge Left II,’’ a new work at the Thayer Academy Gallery.
By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2011

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Carole Bolsey is painting the world. The Kingston artist with the national reputation will show her new large canvases along with several extra-large painted screens in the first exhibition at the newly restored Thayer Academy Gallery in Braintree. These screens and paintings have never been seen together before.

Bolsey’s ambitious, critically praised works have been described as “grand painterly abstractions that use recognizable shapes to explore the phantasm of light’’ by Globe reviewer Cate McQuaid. In a long introductory essay to a book on Bolsey’s painting titled “The Shape With No Name,’’ critic Donald Kuspit compared her to Monet and wrote that her work “recovers the state of reverie in which every appearance becomes an aesthetic hallucination.’’

But with the publication of that book two years ago, Bolsey realized that as an artist she had “closed the book’’ on a phase in her career. It was time to allow her inner wild woman out to paint the biggest subjects that compelled her attention - light, water, awe.

The Thayer exhibition will show six or seven new paintings and two or three screens, depending on how much the gallery in the restored Southworth Library can comfortably hold.

Bolsey calls her painted screens, free-standing panels 7 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide, “contoured walls . . . somewhere between architecture and painting.’’

The screens can be hinged together in various shapes, Bolsey said last week by e-mail: “Each side is presented in its own configuration, changing the shape of the room it’s standing in, generating its own three-dimensional physical space, as well as a deep-space illusion, like the night sky, or a view onto a sunlit marsh from the dark interior of a Japanese house.’’

Since both sides of the screens are painted, each offers its own “interior season - an atmosphere, a quality that contrasts with the other side,’’ she said. One side may suggest a dark interior and the other a brilliantly lit outdoor beach scene.

The newest screen is “Moonrise and Transit,’’ a work inspired by many winter evenings spent in the hot tub on her deck at home. “The inspiration came from watching the moon crossing the sky from an outdoor hot tub over the course of the seasons,’’ Bolsey said. Her painted screen records some of the expressions she observed with awe in the moon’s changing character - “sometimes huge and pale, sometimes small and red, waxing and waning in its celestial patterns.’’

The painter and her husband, film lighting technician Twig Johnson, have been staring up at the moon for three years while immersed in warm water on winter nights. “I never want to go indoors,’’ Bolsey said. In addition to spying on the cosmos, the experience provides an evening’s relaxation from the physical side of working on 7-foot canvases - painting a stroke, then scrambling back 20 feet to see the effect.

Bolsey’s new paintings, made since the publication of the book, are so large “they feel like walls that aren’t there,’’ she said.

Water figures largely in images such as “New Boats,’’ in which circles spread over the surface of the water like representations of planets circling the earth. In “Surge Left,’’ a water surge depicted from a tilted horizon appears to be pushing the boats off the canvas.

These works “contain deep illusionist space where movement and gesture can happen, where a depth of water or sky is felt with light animating the space,’’ Bolsey wrote. The images express how it feels “to watch choppy water tossing small boats, or gaze down into clear water at a submerged boat.’’

Bolsey said “The Shape With No Name,’’ containing large color reproductions of her works, gave her a push in a new direction both liberating and terrifying. Its meaning was reinforced by the death of her 24-year-old cat, a longtime companion, and the arrival of a new kitten.

The message? “I may not live forever,’’ she said. “It was time to paint without constraint’’ and release the wilder side of her vision.

The day has arrived to come to grips with what she calls the “craziness’’ of this side of her vision because in the world at large “this time is so fraught with madness and illogic, and a terrible beauty,’’ she said. She sees the madness of our times as a kind of “entropy, the tendency of things to fall apart.’’

But as an artist it’s her job to see how they tie together as well, Bolsey said. Whether it’s by watching the moon pass over the house or the endless lapping of the waves on the shore, light and water are the avenues into a sensibility that the painter’s new work seeks to express.

“I have an irresistible desire to make things that reflect my sense of awe.’’

Robert Knox may be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

“Paintings and Screens/Screens and Paintings’’ Works by Carole Bolsey at newly

renovated Thayer Gallery

Thayer Academy

745 Washington St., Braintree

Through Oct. 14

Reception Sept. 14, 6 to 8 p.m.

Free; 781-843-3580