Painter Mark Boedges suspects that in another life, he was a peasant farmer. His wife, Rebecca, teases that he must have been an ancient warrior. “Regardless of whether I spent time digging trenches and forging rivers or whether I tilled the earth and fertilized the soil, I do have a connection to the land,” Boedges writes in his artist statement, “and it is this connection that has always informed my work and to which I continually try to give expression.”
Now the 37-year-old artist also has a connection to a more urban spot. In early November, he and Rebecca opened Mark Boedges Fine Art Gallery on Battery Street in Burlington. The goal was to exhibit Boedges’ richly textured landscape paintings, but the couple will occasionally show other artists also. They want the gallery to be known for its high-quality representational art and plan to offer painting workshops and figure-drawing get-togethers there.
This month, a holiday show features small works by Eric Tobin, Charles Movalli, Gary Eckhart and Katharine Montstream, along with diminutive Christmas-themed still lifes by Boedges. He acknowledges that he knew it might be difficult to sell seasonal paintings (think artful arrangements of Christmas tree balls, poinsettia leaves and miniature snowmen), but he went ahead with them anyway.
“For me, it’s a study in reds,” he says. Boedges is an artist who takes pleasure in the study, and it’s evident in his work.
Two large landscapes (unaffiliated with the holiday series) currently anchor the gallery. One depicts an August sunset tearing through dark clouds over Lake Champlain, which Boedges captured from the grounds of All Souls Interfaith Gathering. Primarily a plein-air painter, he prefers not to work from photographs, he says, “because most times I end up just correcting the photo.”
The other large piece, a breathtaking view of the Appalachian Gap from a late- afternoon visit last fall, practically glows. “I’ve tried the Vermont fall hillside many times; it’s hard,” Boedges admits. “How do you make them brilliant and still believable?”
Boedges’ candid written descriptions of his process, wall mounted beside a few of the paintings, are almost as captivating as his artwork. “Francis Bacon said the job of the artist was to deepen the mystery,” he writes. For Boedges, the goal is to walk the fine line between providing too much detail and not enough; to record what he sees while leaving room for the imagination.
“In an age when all manner of visual media are easily produced and propagated, a well-crafted painting has one clear advantage: It has a real, tactile surface,” he writes in another description. “Depth is not just an illusion of pixels but a real quality of pigments layered and smooshed around a canvas. So I attempt to let the paint do what it does best: look like paint.”
About the All Souls series — which includes several smaller studies of the same sunset view, including one bisected by a thick, vertical pencil line — Boedges writes, “Sometimes a study done on location feels like an unalterable moment in time.” He thought about erasing the pencil line, he explains, but resolved to leave it; the painting should reflect his experience out there by the lake.
Boedges, a native of St. Louis, Mo., has always been artistic, inspired and encouraged by his father, whom he calls “a really good draftsman,” and his grandfather, who painted and built musket rifles. But it wasn’t until after Boedges graduated from college — with a philosophy major — that he began taking his painting seriously. These days, when he’s not perched outside with his easel and paints, he’s programming software for National Life.
“I’m an introvert,” Boedges says with a smile, and cites the three interests that keep him blissfully focused inward: painting, programming and philosophy. When a visitor to his gallery points out the acoustic guitar propped against a wall, Boedges laughs at the suggestion that he might serenade gallery visitors. He only plays for his dog, Shelby, who, he says, “is in gallery training.”
In addition to his landscapes, Boedges paints still-lifes of flowers, eschewing the tendency of some artists to stage the scene. “I’ve seen guys tape a leaf down,” he says. “I’d rather it be natural.”
Lately, Boedges has been experimenting with leaving more detail out of his paintings. When he first moved into the gallery, he set up an easel on his front stoop. (“The best marketing is when I just stand outside and paint,” he says.) He looked south toward the Burlington railyard — a departure from his more pastoral landscapes — and painted what he saw, omitting the buildings and road in the foreground entirely.
The resulting panorama of stacked rail cars and rose-colored boulders is augmented with a little spattered paint. Boedges says he was “trying out some Pollock.”
His preference is still for painting trees and streams in the woods, even though the resulting works are usually a tougher sell than, say, a resplendent lakeside sunset. Chalk it up to his introverted personality — or perhaps to his rugged past lives. Boedges says he would always rather be out in nature on his own, walking through the forest, easel in hand.
Mark Boedges Fine Art Gallery, 196 Battery Street, Burlington. Open Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m; or by appointment. Info, 735-7317. markboedges.com