By Will Broaddus
---- — BEVERLY — Most people look west to watch the sun set, but Carol Pelletier looks east.
“In the east, if there’s a bank of clouds, it acts as a canvas,” said Pelletier, chairwoman of the fine arts department at Endicott College. “That sunset hits the bank of clouds, and those subtleties — there could be five or six different colors in the sky.”
The light is too intense and clear if you look toward a sunset, she said. “I like the haze. I’m trying to capture the subtleties.”
Pelletier’s most recent works are currently on display in “Local Ground,” an exhibit at the Manninen Center for the Arts at Endicott College through May 24.
As the title of her show implies, Pelletier also cherishes a sense of place, which is evident in paintings of local scenes like West Beach.
But while they look away from setting suns, each painting in Pelletier’s series also faces a horizon of ocean and sky, which introduce mystery into her surroundings.
“For me, it’s about familiarity, but it’s also about the unknown,” she said. “And what is unknown is what you see on that horizon.”
It’s a paradox, but Pelletier finds consolation in that sense of uncertainty.
“It’s more calming, it’s softer than a vertical space, or trees that break up that space,” she said. “If I’m putting anything vertical in the space, it has to be ethereal, it has to be atmospheric.”
Pelletier was surrounded by vertical shapes, in the form of the mountains of West Virginia, when she taught at West Virginia Wesleyan College from 1997 to 2011.
The fact that those mountains were also landlocked, just like Fort Kent in northern Maine, where she grew up, was another source of discomfort.
Pelletier wanted to paint the ocean, which she lived near for three years after attending college in Presque Isle, another landlocked town in northern Maine.
So she would travel back for fresh views of the coast every summer, then work from memory in her West Virginia studio during the year.
But joining the faculty at Endicott two years ago has given Pelletier a permanent home by the sea and made it that much easier to get to Deer Isle, Maine, where she bought a house six years ago.
Her current show celebrates this reunion with her favorite subject.
“Not being landlocked had an impact on my work,” she said. “What happens when you’re working with memory is, your mind plays tricks with you.
“Structure and light are important, but most important is emotional connection to the place, which is a deeper connection since I returned.”
Pelletier works with cold wax, which develops a pastelike consistency when she mixes it with varnish, and to which she adds paint.
“Depending on how much paint I add, I get different transparencies,” she said. “That’s how I capture the layers.”
The process differs from encaustic painting, which also mixes paint with wax but melts the wax with heat.
“I apply paint with a brush, then remove it with a blade, so you have these really thin layers that allow the colors to come through,” she said.
Pelletier eventually ends up with around 25 layers.
“I use additive and reductive painting,” she said. “The image comes to me. I’m not there to overly control what it looks like.”
Sometimes she uses plain wax, which introduces a layer of transparency that “adds depth into the work,” rather than drawing the eye across it.
Though she was always trying to get closer to the ocean, Pelletier thinks her fascination with its horizon started with the St. John River, which flows past Fort Kent and forms the northern boundary between eastern Maine and Canada.
“I have a Canadian family, as well, with lots of cousins, and the St. John River is what divided us,” she said. “I remember going to the shoreline and looking over to the other side.”
Horizons recall these relationships that she was forced to measure. But if the view from shore in Pelletier’s works sometimes feels lonely, it also enjoys an enlarged sense of possibility.
“We canoed the St. John’s every summer, and it feels like the last frontier when you go up there,” she said. “You could be on the water all day and not see a soul.
“That spiritual time of being alone is sublime. It causes you to reflect, and that’s what these pieces are about, is emotional reflection.”
If you go What: "Local Ground," paintings by Carol Pelletier Where: Manninen Center for the Arts, Endicott College, 376 Hale St., Beverly When: Through Friday, May 24. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m. Free. More information: Contact Kathleen Moore at 978-232-2655 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.endicott.edu/centerforthearts.