The horizon line has long been a source of inspiration for landscape artist Susan Haley Northington.
She remembers growing up in South Georgia where the open land led to the horizon line. “I remember being in love with the land. The vast flat land and open skies attracted me. Watching sunsets in amazement. The colors, the texture, the endlessness of it all.
“I viewed that horizon line as mysterious but at the same time it offered peacefulness and calm, that balance I sought. As we get older we yearn for balance and I find it with the horizon line. I’m in awe of that powerful image,” says Northington.
A serious artist for nearly 20 years, she “dabbled” in art in childhood and later worked in clothing design, drawn to shapes and the textures of fabrics. “To create from a 2D concept to a 3D creation was a complete process. To learn and understand what fabrications would and would not work for the shapes and forms with each design seemed so abstract but became a reality,” she says.
Northington has always painted abstracts, reaching for the emotion rather than a realistic representation in works that often suggest the horizon line. “The memory of place,” she says, “the landscape, the nature of things influence me.”
“In my abstract landscapes, the horizon line is there. It might be prominent with color or texture but the line also can be blurred. Regardless, always seeking a balance.”
Northington takes pictures of a scene, making a mental note of how she feels at the time. Then she taps those emotions, exploring them with color on her canvases. “I use texture and colors to represent the state of emotion or mood of places and memories rather than an actual location,” she says.
“Once back in the studio, I tend to paint in the moment based on a memory primarily of landscapes and the environment around me. Nature evokes my use of textures, layering colors, scraping and reflection of emotions. This process lends to the depths of emotions that our surroundings offer the viewer to feel.”
The flat horizon line surfaces in Northington’s art offering a balance between the endless sky and the sturdiness of land. Her work includes the Blue Ridge mountains surrounding her in Virginia. “If I’m painting a mountain, it’s coming from emotion while witnessing what I’m seeing,” she says. “Marking the horizon line is also meditative; with markings on the canvas, I’m trying to capture emotions, bringing emotion out with color.”
While seeming to reflect many moods of nature, her paintings are not weather paintings per se but depend on the look of the sky at the time. Her varied palette reveals nature, its colors enhanced by the actual environment.
Northington works principally in acrylic with graphite and color pencils. She uses a palette knife, sandpaper, rags. “I also use my hands a lot. I like the palette knife but to get the colors I’m looking for, I use a brush.”
Northington started with workshops led by artist Jeannine Regan years ago at the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville. She was sparked to continue with more classes and workshops offered by other local artists. She admires the work of Color Field abstract artist Mark Rothko for his use of color, the simplicity yet complex nature of his work as well as more representational artist Milton Avery.
In new paintings, Northington explores geometric space with polygon shapes. Striped fields show spring fresh green and blooming. “I’m challenging myself to get away from the horizon line,” she says, “but the line of balance seems always to be there.”
“With no formal training, I feel allowed to not hold back. I don’t find myself questioning if a technique is correct or not. I experiment and explore what works for me as an artist. I am also always seeking new techniques, expanding myself with new practices.”
—Written by Elizabeth Howard, Streetlight‘s Art Editor
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