“I’m at this point in my life where I do whatever I want,” says Sigrid Trumpy. Her current exhibition at Wellfleet Preservation Hall presents a varied body of work — mostly paintings, but also prints and small sculptural pieces created from discarded paintbrushes — that fluctuates between abstraction and representation.
A familiar Outer Cape image opens the show: a sign for the package store on Route 6 in Truro. It locates the show in a particular place and highlights Trumpy’s freedom of spirit. The sign itself is rendered sharply. The lettering is unmistakable, and streaks of rust carefully describe its age and material. Yet the background is more stylized than realistic. Trumpy depicts the grass in loose, washy strokes, and the hills behind the sign rise upward as simple bands of color punctuated with bare, serpentine trees. She isn’t locked into a lexicon of either abstraction or representation.
“Artists are supposed to create a body of work that’s similar, like 10 paintings that are almost the same or variations on a theme,” says Trumpy. “I’ve done that off and on, and I still am working kind of in that way. But it’s limiting.”
The painting of the sign — her most recent work — represents a shedding of constraints and a contrast to her earlier colorful abstractions. “There’s something comfortable about doing realism,” says Trumpy. “It’s very defined.”
But there are consistent throughlines in all her paintings. Essentially, Trumpy can’t resist working in variations of some theme, though they fluctuate according to how tightly she defines them. “I’m really interested in color, shape, texture, and transparency,” she says. “When I can see through one color to another, that makes it more interesting.”
Trumpy lives in Annapolis, Md. and has been coming to the Cape since she was a child. After receiving a B.F.A. in painting at the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art and an M.F.A. in printmaking from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, she continued her education at Truro’s Castle Hill, where she has taken classes since the late 1970s. This month, she will be an artist in residence at Castle Hill’s Edgewood Farm.
In her horizontal landscape paintings, Trumpy revels in color and mark making. She scratches into the paint in Wetland From High Head Road, Provincetown, exposing the bright yellow ground of the surface while suggesting the spiky grasses of the salt marsh. Splotches of blues and inky greens describe the movement of water. The messy surface echoes the dynamism of a landscape in flux, affected by wind, changing tides, and shifting light.
Surprisingly, many of these works aren’t from observation or photographs. “These started after I’d been out in the landscape, and I was just playing around,” says Trumpy. “Most were made from memory. I’m playing with the paint. Sometimes it’s the paint that’s left over from a larger piece and something emerges. If I plan it, I never think it works. But if I don’t plan it, it just sort of happens. It has taken me a while to get to that kind of looseness. But I’m enjoying that very much.”
Another painting, Across Ft. Hill, Eastham, shows a similar approach. “I’ve been to that area so many times that it’s sort of fixed in my mind,” says Trumpy. In this painting, she loosely defines a body of water in the background. But the space is interrupted by offhand marks sitting on the surface — almost as if the painting had been dropped on her palette — and the effect creates a tension between deep space and the surface of the image.
“I take the biggest risks when I don’t care about making the painting work,” Trumpy writes in her artist statement. Some of the strongest works in her show are the ones that are the least self-conscious, like Bay Marsh, Quagmire Study, a small painting where the color, variety, and speed of marks suggest painting as a record of making rather than simply the act of depicting a landscape.
Trumpy says that when she steps back from actively painting, a sense of place or thematic concerns often comes into focus: after working through a memory of a landscape with leftover paint, she might think, “Oh my gosh, that’s what it felt like there.”
Similarly, as she was putting this show together, some of her experiments began to connect. “It’s not something that I’m conscious of when I’m doing it,” Trumpy says. “But when I look back — and when I was putting this show together — I realized some of the connections.”
Paintings From the Cape
The event: An exhibition of art by Sigrid Trumpy
The time: Through Nov. 30; artist reception Tuesday, Nov. 29, 4 to 6 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
The cost: Free