Umbrella and Its Many Ways Paintings by Betty Pethel
The paintings in this series are the artist's portrayal of the umbrella, both as a physical object and a metaphorical entity, used to group people in our relationships with each other. Pethel asks "If you are in a social setting, using your umbrella to shelter or shade yourself and those around you, are you not forming relationships with those people? Are you not together "weathering" what is to come? And, are we not all under the Umbrella of God?
Umbrellas! One can hold them high or low and when we do, they become an expressive extension of a "happening." Umbrellas can offer protection, such as a foil against the sun, protect from the rain, make a fashion statement, and as we saw in Hong Kong (2019 protest), defensive protection against one's foe.
The paintings in this series are the artist's portrayal of the umbrella, both as a physical object and a metaphorical entity, used to group people in our relationships with each other. Pethel asks "If you are in a social setting, using your umbrella to shelter or shade yourself and those around you, are you not forming relationships with those people? Are you not together "weathering" what is to come? And, are we not all under the Umbrella of God?"
Betty Pethel, (left) By the Sea I, Oil on Canvas, (right) By the Sea II, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, (left) Lawn Party, Oil on Canvas, (right) To the Opera, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, By the Shore, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, (left) By the Sea III, Oil on Canvas, (right) Winter Day, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, (left) Hong Kong Protest, Oil on Canvas, (right) Betty Pethel, In-Line, Oil on Canvas
(left) Betty Pethel, Umbrella Swirl, Oil on Canvas, Betty Pethel, Birth, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, (left) The Beach, Oil on Canvas (middle) Red Umbrella, Oil on Canvas (left) Betty Pethel, Yellow Boat, Oil on Canvas
Betty Pethel, (left) Yellow Cab, Oil on Canvas (middle) Divided Into Fours, Oil on Canvas (right) An Afternoon Promenade, Oil on Canvas
(left) Day at the Beach, Oil on Canvas, (middle) Coming and Going II, Oil on Canvas, (right) Coming and Going I, Oil on Canvas
Interview with Betty Pethel - A Conversation Between Curator and Artist
Emily Kohlenstein: Where are you from and what is your art background:
Betty Pethel: I’m originally from the Carolinas, the Charlotte area, and moved from there to Arizona where I lived for three years; and then on to live in New Jersey for a while. While in NJ, I painted my first major art piece, by priming a large piece of loosely woven burlap with oil house paint, but first stitching it together into a piece about 10 x 12 feet. I painted a winter scene of Central Park. That painting hung in three different homes. While in Tucson I was a Fine Art major at the University of Arizona, and engaged in private studies while living in New Jersey. Here, I’ve enjoyed Fine Art studies at Maryland Hall, St. John’s College, and Anne Arundel Community College and I’ve also engaged in private tutorials with many major artists and prominent educators in this area. Most invaluable have been personal studies of world’s famous artists, studying their interesting lives and their works of art. Of course, I benefitted from all the many visits made to the major art museums in Baltimore, Washington, DC, New York City and those enjoyed in Seattle and Portland.
Emily Kohlenstein: What is your technical process in painting?
Betty Pethel: That’s an interesting question because there are many methods depending upon the painting. The development process is as varied as the particular painting itself. My process depends hugely on the chosen subject matter and how I feel emotionally and artistically how the subject matter should be portrayed. I have hanging in my home a “Lone Blue Female Figure” looking obliquely into an unknown distance, and she’s portrayed in whisper sweeps of paleness with paints thinned with turpentine on a large piece of wood.
The Lawn Party painting in the Umbrella Series was painted solely with a slender, sharp pointed palette knife dipped into turpentine with just touches of scooped up oils and then scraped it into a wood panel. The In Line Umbrella painting was an incredibly complex painting to lay out. I first laid out this painting in black and white oils, thinly mixed with turpentine to outline all the figures before applying figure and umbrella colors. Each figure seems to be touching or almost touching. Then they were all laboriously costumed in various shades and with their respective umbrellas that are all different in color and size. “Little Stories” or “happenings” are found throughout this painting which developed as it was being painted, and I seemed to become just its “Facilitator.” The three abstracts in the Umbrella series, and their methods, developed as they were painted – and in a most complex manner.
In Umbrella Swirl, for example, the viewer can observe that its many shapes are characterized by being painted in pyramid shapes throughout. At times there was no mixing of paints, and I was just using pure oil colors from the tubes. To the Opera, was developed during layout and done with a palette knife, using thin applications of mixed colors, thinly applied for the background. The foreground of figures are done with much heavier, mixed paints as can be observed. To the Opera is an imagined scene of an early 20th Century period of a downtown street – perhaps Charles Street, downtown Baltimore. The late afternoon sun is hitting the streets just after a rain fall and the buildings portray the blinding light of moisture, light, and oncoming darkness.
Emily Kohlenstein: I have had the honor of touring your beautiful home and seeing all of your original paintings on display. Something unique about your work, and unlike just about any artist that I know, is that you paint in LOTS of different styles. Classical realist still-life, impressionist, post-impressionist, and even more contemporary abstract work is all over your walls. Why do you choose to paint in those styles?
Betty Pethel: Primarily because I have greatly admired and studied and tried to copy and “master” the many different techniques and styles of artists during my personal art studies. I have learned their styles by copying their works, which is incredibly challenging and one that is time-honored. I don’t think even Matisse could have duplicated his work a second time! I have LOVED the works of Corot, Raphael, Renoir, Leonardo, Pollock, etc. but I don’t think there is “just one” artist that is admired the most, nor even a style. What I do believe is that the SUBJECT MATTER itself should be a determining factor. I grasp how very important it is to portray “Beauty” or even “Chaos” in a suitable fashion on the chosen surface. And the surface is also very important. Therefore, as a subject comes to mind – what I am thinking of painting, and what the “primary” question is “How will this most successfully and beautifully be portrayed?” That is, the “what” I am internalizing emotionally -- or wishing to portray… the “HOW” best – will I find its mood, its form, color, and its design. It all becomes very challenging and exciting as all these thoughts gestate.
Emily Kohlenstein: What is the significance of “the Umbrella” in your latest series? Why were you drawn to paint it in all its different forms? Do you have a favorite work in the Umbrella series? Is there an artist, living or dead, that has inspired your paintings?
Betty Pethel: If you think about it, using and having an umbrella with you signifies “a happening” – or even the possibility of a happening – because if and when that occasion occurs, the umbrella becomes a very valuable object that is then engaged and used –and it’s seen in many different colors and size configurations.
An umbrella is something that can be picked up, carried along, small ones even put in a purse, and then later opened when an occasion arises. The usage of an umbrella is almost universal and they can be traced back over 4,000 years to ancient Egypt and China where they were used extensively as sun shields. Even in today’s fashion world, petite umbrellas are being featured and suggested over wearing hats to ward off unwelcomed sun damage.
News coverage of the Hong Kong riots indicated that the residents of Hong Kong while in protest almost always were holding up umbrellas. They were being used against water, tear gas, and even as shield instruments. One Hong Kong movement had all of the protesters holding yellow umbrellas. In the Umbrella Series, I have a Hong Kong Protest painting. Their umbrellas were vital in defending them against water, tear gas and pepper spray. In the U.S., protesters are holding umbrellas. And now with Covid-19, are they not just PERFECT for Social Distancing? Yes!
A favorite umbrella painting may have been the one I was just working on. But there are favorites now as I look at them. Some were far more complex to execute and more time consuming. Many are as tightly knit in layout design as one would find in a woven Oriental rug. They were, therefore, very demanding to paint and visualize.
I greatly admire painters that paint much more beautifully than I could ever hope to paint. I marvel at many of the works of art in museums. However, I have been visually inspired by Turner’s rendition of infusing light; Van Gogh’s brilliance of color, and the beautiful tonalism works of Corot.
Emily Kohlenstein: Which artists or art genre do you most admire? Is there any particular one that inspires your own painting style or subject matter?
Betty Pethel: Perhaps we admire most what we can’t do personally! I greatly admire ALL the many artists whose works I could never achieve no matter their style. Great Art is like a Love Feast! I would love to be able to paint like Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and Rembrandt!
I love the works of Vermeer so much that I have copied several of his Dutch domestic scenes, including the Milk Maid. I have now copied on two occasions the only Leonardo painting in North America, Generva. I have copied two of Van Gogh’s works. I have learned enormously from this copying, trying very hard to make them as the originals!
I never tire of looking at the works of the English painter, Turner, and when in England, I greatly admired his art on exhibit and Sargent’s works. They are all favorites. I also like the paintings of Renoir and some of Matisse.
Emily Kohlenstein: What are you currently painting?
Betty Pethel: I am in the process of painting what could be described as a “volatile” piece – it’s an emotive release, painted in the Expressionist style. I see a name of Peeling Away. A once grand entry is now in a state of decay where its foundations are being stripped away of what it once was.
Emily Kohlenstein: Is creative dialog important to you and if so how do you find it and with whom?
Betty Pethel: Yes, it is important. I love to paint something and invite some artistic friends over to discuss the work. I have many friends in the art field and we often share discussions about each other’s art.
Emily Kohlenstein: Has the current COVID-19 pandemic changed anything about your art making routine or inspired different subject matter?
Betty Pethel: YES! Please let me tell you about it! I am sharing an image below for you to see!
I am working on a large oil painting, 24 x 36 inches, on canvas, depicting 13 women, 6 children, and 3 babies in their mother’s arms. The Women Painting is a bonding of Women. They stand close together and are emotionally bonded. It’s at a time when no Masks were needed. The painting is an antithesis of the social distancing we are experiencing today.