‘The Closest Faraway Place’
Closing reception for series of Salmon Falls paintings is today
At first, as you step into the small, white space of Ursa Major Gallery in Shelburne Falls to view the current exhibit of paintings by Christin Couture, the room seems a little bare, the paintings a little small. A passerby might glance in the window and walk right by.
But stay a little longer. Step closer. Couture’s small paintings begin to grow on you. The subject remains the same in each painting, yet the “bones” of the composition — Salmon Falls seen through a natural framing of trees — is obscured by what reads as mist in some, growing dusk — or is dawn? — in others. In one painting, the landscape has become so obscured it’s almost abstract and it’s interesting to wonder how it would read without the others to inform it.
Titled “The Nearest Faraway Place,” Couture’s show will be on view through the first weekend in June. There will be a closing reception at the gallery Thursday, May 30, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Couture, who lives in Shelburne Falls and New York City, said that this series is very different from most of her work. Working in a small size and painting the same view again and again allowed Couture to loosen up.
“Normally, I’m a very tight painter,” Couture said. “When I do my figures or interiors, I’m really tight, and this is the first time I’ve gotten really loose — loose and romantic.”
She found herself getting swept away by her subject, “Which itself is very dynamic and verdant,” Couture said.
While some of the paintings are indeed green and verdant, others glow yellow or gold. The paintings are lustrous with a natural patina of beeswax. Lean in a little more and you can see the elaborate layering and texturing that often begins, for Couture, with a base layer of pure gold paint and ends with that layer of beeswax, heated and melted across the painting’s surface, or with a final smattering of oil paint on top of that.
“You learn, when you’re painting in layers,” Couture says, “that the layers will all come through somehow, like an echo. Something will break through, no matter how you under-paint something.”
This is exactly what happens in these small paintings — depths float forward, pulling the viewer in. Despite their diminutive size, the nine paintings, none larger than 9x12 inches and one as small as 5x7, take on what Couture says she and her husband, sculptor William Hosie, call, “Monumental intimacy.”
Couture said she began the series, which now includes 20 to 30 paintings, around 2005. The year 2008, when the U.S. economy took a drastic downward plunge and she began to read writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s work on climate change, marked a turning point for Couture.
“There were a lot of fears of losing money, of losing property, people losing their homes. There was just a feeling of loss in the air. So I was looking at this also as a Paradise Lost.”
Painting from the view from her backyard again and again became a way of holding on to it, Couture said. During this time, she also sketched figures from Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio’s “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” and worked on some paintings that combined these figures with her beloved view of the falls.
On the website she shares with Hosie, Couture quotes an Emily Dickinson poem as an introduction to the gallery of paintings in “The Nearest Faraway Place.” Couture describes Dickinson’s poems as, “A small little poem about wildness.”
“Had I not seen the Sun,/ I could have borne the shade, /But Light a newer Wilderness, /My Wilderness has made”
Like Dickinson, Couture sees nature as, “Numinous, god like. You look at that, it takes your breath away,” she says of her view of the falls. “It’s kind of a rapture.”
In October of 2012, some of the paintings in Couture’s series hung in an installation at the Amherst Biennal at the Strong House Museum, on a wall right next to Dickinson’s white dress.
“I was feeling really, really close to her with these — they were kind of ‘Emilified.’ There’s a wildness to these, like poem-landscapes,” Couture said.
“The Nearest Faraway Place” will be on view at Ursa Major Gallery, 1 Deerfield St., Shelburne Falls through the first at weekend in June. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday, 1 to
5 p.m. and by appointment. A closing “Finissage” for the exhibition will be held on today, 5 to 7 p.m. Email:
For more information about Couture and Hosie, including images of their individual work and some of their collaborative shows, visit
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She has a studio in Greenfield and can be reached at email@example.com.