Peter Poskas is an eminent contemporary landscape painter, who for three decades has been devoted to painting realist views of the rural dairy farms and landscapes of Litchfield County, Connecticut, near where he lives in the village of Washington. He has also spent many summers on Monhegan Island, a remote rocky spot ten miles off the midcoast of Maine, where he has focused on depicting the island’s fishing cottages and its jagged coastlines. With their crisply detailed execution, sensitivity to subtle gradations of light, and compositions that are taut and complex, Poskas’s works are both authentic transcriptions and poetic evocations. In the tradition of Andrew Wyeth, Poskas unites seemingly dispassionate views with a personally nuanced expression that has layers of resonance.
Poskas was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, a small industrial city set on the banks of the Naugatuck River. He was interested in art as a child, but on entering the University of Connnecticut, his intent was to become a science major with an aim of working in forestry and wildlife management. During his college years, his interests shifted, and after three years, he had decided to try art as a career. With the encouragement of his parents, he enrolled at the Paier Art School in New Haven, where he studied commercial art. After a year, however, it was clear to Poskas that becoming a painter was his ambition, and transferred to the Hartford Art School, Connecticut, from which he graduated.
Peter Poskas - Bauch Farm from Johnsons Cornfield, April (Woodbury, Connecticut), 1990
He continued his training in the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts. During an era of Abstract Expressionism, realism was out of favor, but throughout Poskas remained dedicated to his craft as “a process of isolating elements of painting and working on them in a single-minded kind of way.”1 Among his early subjects were the streets and buildings of his native Waterbury, in which he portrayed tired, worn buildings and streets, devoid of people, with sympathy and appreciation. His low vantage points and emphasis on the facades of buildings seen from the road evoke images of a similar subject matter by Edward Hopper.
By 1975, Poskas had moved to Washington, and in that year he began to sketch a small farm at the end of his road, which would serve as the subject of much of his work for the next seven years. The farm belonged to Emily Uranus, an elderly neighbor Poskas had come to know. He perceived her as one of a vanishing species in Connecticut, a person who was self-reliant, who lived close to the land, and who knew and loved the rhythms of nature. With respectful attention, Poskas painted her house, a stocky four-square structure left unpainted for decades that had echoes of its original Greek Revival inspiration. Emily’s farm was the subject for five series of paintings, featuring the pastures, stables, the orchard, the garden, and the windows and walls of the house. For each, Poskas would create several notational and finished drawings as well as a plein-air sketch on which he would draw for his finished composition. In each, shifts in angle or changes in season, weather, or time of day would affect the artist, and he would adjust his tonal schemes, compositions, and qualities of light and shadows accordingly.
After Emily’s death in 1980, Poskas continued to paint her farm, but after the destruction of her house in 1982, he sought another subject, which he found upon meeting Ralph Scoville, the cousin of an artist friend, who lived in the high hills of North Cornwall, Connecticut. The Scoville farm appealed to Poskas because the house was white, and it was a small family farm. Drawn to white buildings for the way they reflect light, Poskas was able to build on a broad spectrum of color, creating complex images in which he carefully calibrated the warm/cool balance that he found in the luminous white surface. Parts of nature are incorporated in the Scoville paintings with the sky and trees often seen reflected in the transparent panes of windows, while the shadows from trees and plants cast patterns on the clapboard facades.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Poskas began to explore new and different types of lighting effects, including images of fields and farms at dawn and dusk. He often recorded these effects in winter scenes, capturing how snow-covered land provided a neutral surface that reflected the sky. He also paid attention to discrete cloud patterns, which are rare in the summer. In recent years, Poskas has continued to focus on rural themes, yet his art is in a perpetual state of evolution as he explores new facets of old subjects and new ways of approaching images he has painted many times before. His works reveal his awareness of the way the eye moves across the canvas, the texture of the soil, the movement and weight of the land, and the interplay between the shapes of his motifs and the shapes of his canvases. His Monhegan scenes capture the striking contrasts between the openness of the sea with its shimmering ever-changing, light-reflective surface and the compact masses and planar forms of rocks, boats, and buildings. His perspectives range from close ups of flowers against clapboard walls and sweeping vistas that encompass broad coastal stretches. Throughout Poskas’s work is evidence of the artist’s careful attention to how shape and color and light and atmosphere relieve and modify each other, and it is with these elements that he forms and gradually builds his scenes.
Poskas has had many individual exhibitions and has been included in numerous group exhibitions. Solo shows of his work were held at the Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (1997); Fairfield University, Connecticut (1995); The Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield University (1990); The Metropolitan Life Gallery, New York (1989); Southern Alleghennies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania (1986); William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs (1984); Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, Connecticut (1979); Mazur Museum, Monroe, Louisiana (1972); and Mattatuck Museum (1970). His work is included in many important private and public collections. Among the museums to which his paintings belong are the Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum, Seattle; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Farnsworth Museum of Art, Rockland, Maine; the Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, Connecticut; the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; the Rahr West Museum, Manitowac, Wisconsin.
1 Peter Poskas quoted in Peter Poskas and J. J. Smith, The Illuminated Landscape: The Paintings of Peter Poskas (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1992), p. 12.
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