Profile of Stephen Remick

Sky Lights

Vermont perspectives inspired Dartmouth artist Stephen Remick's abstract landscapes

Published in The New Bedford Standard-Times on December 1, 2006

Dartmouth artist Stephen Remick paints those times in nature when light is at its most dramatic. His canvases describe sunrise, sunset, midday brightness, moon glow, blizzards and lightning storms. He chooses strong colors that express those heightened moments — golden yellow, hot pink, electric blue, often contrasted with black — to illuminate the large abstract shapes that are the characters in his paintings.

The 45-year-old Mr. Remick grew up in Vermont. He spent long hours as a child playing outdoors, observing the dense woodlands and open skies that would eventually inspire him as an artist. His first landscapes out of college were realistic studies of forest views. But when he realized that his real interest was the effect of the sky on the land, he simplified the individual trees into one mass floating in the center of the canvas. This way, his colors could tell the story.

While Mr. Remick says he wants his landscapes to look natural, "almost like they grew," his process is complex and constantly evolving. He uses fluid acrylics and multiple layers of gel mixtures, sometimes as many as 50, to create the lush surfaces in his paintings. His color mixing is "trial and error," often the result of the tones that create themselves on the canvas as the layers build up. He also allows random drips to act as defining lines that emphasize the large forms in his compositions.

When it comes to painting, Mr. Remick says he "can't not do it." But he started on the path to this impractical profession with practical intentions. He first earned a degree in architecture from Vermont Technical College, then moved on to the Swain School of Design in New Bedford with plans for a degree in graphic design. It was at Swain that Mr. Remick found the two loves of his life — his future wife, Anne, who was a fellow student, and his unexpected career as a fine artist. He applied himself with care to his design courses, but felt more stimulated by the painting and drawing classes he was taking as electives. After two years, he made the decision to follow his heart and change his major to painting. 
Mr. Remick says the "bohemian atmosphere" at Swain had a big impact on him. He was influenced by the sense of camaraderie among the students, the spirit of free expression encouraged by the teachers, and the ornate beauty of the historic buildings on campus. He completed his studies with a bachelor of fine arts degree.

After he graduated from Swain, Mr. Remick's architectural training landed him a plum job at Jordan Marsh in Boston with a good salary and benefits. But the 9-to-5 life didn't suit him, and he left to work for a friend from Swain who was wallpapering and painting houses on the SouthCoast. When the friend moved on, Mr. Remick stayed with the business. In 1986, he founded Remick Painting and Paperhanging Inc., specializing in faux and decorative finishes for residential and commercial settings. This work gave him the chance to combine his experience as a contractor with his background as a painter.

As his company flourished, Mr. Remick found his voice as an artist during a residency at ArtWorks! in New Bedford from 2000 to 2002. In his Dover Street studio, he came upon two discoveries that altered the representational landscapes he had been painting up to that time. He realized that he was most drawn to the areas where two colors or two shapes met on the canvas, so he began to focus on those intersections by enlarging small sections of his formal landscapes. He also realized that he could unify his compositions by depicting one overall weather pattern like a snowstorm.

When Mr. Remick's ArtWorks! residency was over, he began painting in his garage at home. The switch to a larger studio gave him physical and mental space to expand, so he stretched larger canvases to create more imposing scenes. His palette became bolder, too, with paintings of stormy blue or sunny yellow taking their place alongside the quieter umbers and whites of the earlier snow-based works.

In 2003, Ms. Remick heard about the planned conversion of 21 Cove St. in New Bedford from manufacturing spaces into artist studios. He soon joined a group of other artists who were dividing up one of the building's 7,000-square-foot floors. The change of environment again influenced his work, allowing him to work on even larger canvases, some up to 10 feet long. The sunny environment, brightened by the huge windows in the mill, urged increasingly complex color combinations into his paintings.

Today Mr. Remick balances his time between his business, his studio and his family. He lives in Dartmouth with his wife, Anne Carrozza-Remick, a mural painter, and their two children, Theo, 14, and Tess, 8. His home has a view of the woods that recalls his childhood in Vermont, still providing imagery for his current work. A lightning storm, viewed last summer out the back window with his son, inspired "Watching Lightning with Theo," a dark-blue and white work-in-progress that sits on the easel in his studio today.

Mr. Remick's favorite professor at the Swain School, David Smith, trained with famed teacher and painter Hans Hoffman, who himself had studied with the legendary French artist Henri Matisse. Mr. Remick says he is honored to be a part of that legacy of dedicated artists, and dreams of being a link in the chain through art history that joins one generation of artists to the next.