FAIRFIELD, Conn. (May 11, 2009) During the turmoil of the 1960s, Greenwich, Conn. artist Ernest Garthwaite had a seminal revelation that would affect his fifty-year career in art; he would use art as a medium of ethical awareness. He discovered quickly, his artistic expression demanded more than two-dimensional painting. The result of his remarkable synthesis and overlap of dimension through sculpture, film, sound and painting — “Wetlands: A Spiritual Refrain” — opened at Fairfield University’s Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery on Thursday, May 7 and continues through Sunday, July 12, 2009. Admission to the gallery is free.
Dr. Diana Mille, director of the Walsh Art Gallery, is meticulous in her description of the artist’s painting and sculptural forms, “He incorporates the painterly and formal elements of Neo-realism and Abstract Expressionism and,” she continues, “the shaped canvas has been reborn here with new vigor, particularly felt in the large gestural bands of color and brushstroke. Garthwaite endows each work with a fusion of paint, shaped surface and implied movement.”
With six decades behind him that speak to a profound dedication to finding new perspectives in painting, Garthwaite’s “Wetlands” signifies a major unveiling of previously unseen works; a collection of masterworks from his early periods through his latest work.
Using his signature-curved surface, the parabolic shape, Garthwaite shares a new perspective in viewing art — through the unity between light, color and natural phenomena. He achieves the implied movement of film and the physical presence of painting and sculpture. The viewer may experience subtle movements on and within the surface that awaken the senses and challenge the mind. Connecticut Artist Ernest Garthwaite’s Wetlands Exhibition May 7-July 12, 2009 at Fairfield University’s Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery.
It is Garthwaite’s intention that the paintings provide a few moments of meditation for the viewer. “The rest is up to them — it is possible they may find a new visual sense of self-discovery.”
The Walsh Art Gallery is located in the Quick Center for the Arts and is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00-5:00 p.m., Sunday, 12-4:00 p.m., closed Monday. The gallery is open before and during intermission for all events at the Quick Center for the Arts. Saturday, 11:00 - 5:00p.m., Sunday, 12 - 4:00 p.m., closed Monday. The gallery is open before and during intermission for allevents at the Quick Center for the Arts.

The Connecticut Post's review of "Wetlands: A Spiritual Refrain";

By Phyllis A.S. Boros
staff writer Connecticut Post

Ernest Garthwaite’s paintings dazzle. Truly dazzle.

Not only for their beauty and size (some are gigantic), but for the way they glow when the light strikes them just so, when the light bounces off the precious material he embeds in many of his works.

Garthwaite is a master of gold leaf, liberally using the glimmering foil-like substance is many of his oil and acrylic artworks.

Representational and abstract landscapes and seascapes from this veteran Greenwich artist are the focus of a mini-retrospective “Wetlands: A Spiritual Refrain,” at Fairfield University’s Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery, on view through July 12.

Inherent in much of his work is a fascination with pristine “raw” landscapes — those that might have been seen “by North America’s early settlers and Native Americans,” Garthwaite said in a recent interview. He added that his love of the land may be a by-product of his heritage, coming from generations of wheat farmers, and his early years living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (noted for its prairies) and in Wisconsin’s hill country.

His work “. . . communicates directly with our souls,” writes Dr. Diana Dimodica Mille, gallery director and adjunct professor of art history, in an exhibit brochure.

“As a result, the mind, heart and spirit experience the deeper meaning underlying nature. His multicultural narratives and textural layering excite our aesthetic sensibilities and leave us breathless,” she points out.

Included are works created over the past 50 years, from the artist’s first painting of a Columbus ship on the high seas, done at age 18 in 1958, to works recently completed.

Garthwaite pointed out that he has for decades embraced gold leaf — used for centuries for gilding decorative items such as manuscripts and icons — and credits Sister Justin at the College of New Rochelle, where he taught, for opening his eyes to its possibilities in 1966. Apparently, the nun had a good deal of gold leaf (gold that’s been beaten into extremely thin sheets) left over from one of her projects and donated it to Garthwaite.

He began experimenting with it, and soon came to realize its enormous possibilities.

At about the same time, Garthwaite began experimenting with the shape of his canvases and developing what would become his signature look; rather than use a traditional flat canvas, he often paints on convex shaped wood or on “parabolic” (concave/convex) canvases over a wood stretcher.

“Two prime directives” propel his work, he said.

“Beauty is of prime importance.”

“Bringing mood and movement to inanimate objects” is the other.

Garthwaite found that by using gold leaf, working on shaped canvases and manipulating the texture and color of this paints, his paintings could seemingly capture the ever-changing “light and movement [found] within nature.”

As Gallery Director Mille writes, Garthwaite “incorporates the painterly and formal elements of Neo-realism and Abstract Expressionism in his painting/sculptural forms. They are full of image vitality and vibrant in sculptural feeling. The shaped canvas has been reborn here with new vigor . . . Garthwaite endows each work with a fusion of paint, shaped surface and implied movement” as he searches for a sense of the sacred in the marshes, fields, lakes and other natural settings that he paints.

“Rapids Uphill” (2001-02), for example, combines size (about 14 feet high and 6 feet wide), gold leaf and a myriad of blues to create an awesome work, hung like a tapestry from grommets on a curved wood beam that extends about 10 inches from the wall. The work, as Mille notes, “reads both as sculpture from a distance and a painting up close.”

In “Surf I - IV” (2008-09), a dramatic suite of four parabolic paintings in acrylic, oil and gold leaf, the sea seems to swirl around the viewer in shades of purple, violet, blue and green.

In contrast is “Mohegan Spirit Winter,” (1990-95), an oil and gold leaf canvas more than 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide, which exudes a sense of calm and quiet as golden marsh reeds reflect the sun.

The Walsh Gallery show is but one of more than 50 solo exhibitions that Garthwaite has to his credit; he is represented in more than 75 public and corporate collections (such as those held by Pepsico, Texaco, Time, Union Carbide and United Parcel Service). The artist was graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1961 from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and received a master’s degree in 1962 from Indiana’s University of Notre Dame. In addition to painting, Garthwaite is an accomplished sculptor (a few pieces are included in the show) and a filmmaker. And for more than 40 years, he worked in academia, teaching at Loras College (1962-65); the College of New Rochelle (1965-68); and at York College at City University of New York (1968-2004), where he founded and directed a program on art history, studio art and media.

The Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery, in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, is near the 200 Barlow Road entrance to the University of Fairfield campus, exit 22 off Interstate 95 in Fairfield. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., and before and during all Quick Center events. Admission is free.

Ernest Garthwaite in Conjunction with Southport galleries:


Pristine landscapes, close-up abstractions, caressed by an early and late day light are the focus of Ernest Garthwaite’s paintings. His works are infused with purpose and a spiritual refrain. It is as if, on an otherwise ordinary walk, one has discovered a private view shimmering with some mysterious alchemy.

Suzanne Arney, 2008

Ernest Garthwaite has been documenting the North American landscape in his paintings for fifty years. Braiding ongoing concerns of beauty, social ethics, and environmental responsibility, his work is an invitation to see the land with both eyes and heart. This sensitivity can be traced to his parents early nurturing on Saskatchewan’s wide prairies and his coming of age in Wisconsin’s rolling hill country. His paintings are meditations on a Native American respect for the land and their definitive interconnection with the natural elements. As an environmentalist, he has made it his passion to record and interpret natural spaces, often paying homage to original tribes by name, while depicting his own sense of the sacred in wetlands, waterways and fields.

While still a student, Garthwaite began questioning a formal point of view toward painting’s limited two-dimensional plane. Studying with master sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, then artist-in-residence at Notre Dame University, Garthwaite’s changing attitude toward painting’s expressive potential began developing in the early 1960s. During his first academic position (Loras College, 1962-1965), he had two solo exhibitions of paintings that expressed his outrage at civil rights atrocities exploding across the South. He realized art’s potentials—and limitations—as a medium of ethical awareness. Throughout the decade, he explored the overlap and synthesis of two- and three-dimensional planes, stillness and movement. In 1967, while teaching at the College of New Rochelle (1965-1968), he introduced sculpture installation, experimenting with polyurethane rigid foam and Dacron stretched fiber. In this same period, two of his films, Water-Trees (1968) and The Jogger (1970), were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. These sculptural and cinematic explorations coalesced in the development of his signature parabolic-shaped canvases in 1972. A resultant series of sculptural paintings with a sound environment, Cree Skins, was exhibited in New York at Echo Gallery in 1978. In 1982, his Ojibway Prairie Series traveled to five Ontario museums, sponsored by the London Regional Museum. His work is in more than 75 public and corporate collections and he has had over 50 solo exhibitions.

He takes pride in an academic career spanning five decades. From 1968 to 2004, he taught at York College, City University of New York, where he initiated the fine arts department. Now professor emeritus, he taught studio, film/video, media and art history, and mentored scores of graduating students. During his tenure at York College, he received five Faculty Research Awards for film and shaped paintings from the Research Foundation of City University of New York, allowing him to further develop the idea of implied movement of light within and on his sculpturally shaped surfaces.

From his studio in the shoreline town of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Garthwaite continues his quest to understand the overlap and synthesis of land and water, truth and beauty, respect and responsibility, and the formal elements of art. That he seeks our active engagement is a confidence of trust and an invitation to joy.