Though in every sense a contemporary painter, New York artist Marianne Gagnier has cultivated a deep imaginative connection with the work of several great French and Italian artists of the 17th century. In their work Gagnier has found, in the words of one New York critic, “rich visual inspiration for a contemporary urban theatre of memory and imagination.” The idealized landscapes of these masters suggest a mythical world in total harmony—Arcadia. But, as Gagnier knows, the perfect sapphire skies or rosy dawns belie a human drama that is at the heart of their pictures. And it is this contradiction between the beauty all around and the turmoil within that finds eloquent voice in Marianne Gagnier’s work.
None of this is to suggest that Gagnier approaches her painting academically, though her academic training is impressive—her Bachelor of Arts degree is from Yale and her Master of Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design. Her paintings strike the viewer with dazzling color and energy and sheer beauty of the paint surface. Gagnier’s working methods are her own. Rather than starting out to illustrate a theme or poetic idea, Gagnier reverses the process: she starts with a movement, sometimes a mere gesture, creating abstract shapes and forms. “When I glimpse an image in the painting,” she says, “the process changes to developing a picture that emerges from the forms.” As the painting evolves through reworking, poetic references suggest themselves, so that the title comes near the end of the process, an allusion to what has been developed on the canvas.
Though Gagnier has exhibited regularly in New York City and the Northeast since the early 1980s, her break-through New York exhibition in Tribeca came in 2002. Critic Patricia Bailey referred to Gagnier’s “remarkable exhibition of darkly poignant paintings” and how the figures in her paintings “seem drenched with profound enigmatic significance.” Maureen Mallarkey, writing in Studio Notes, described Gagnier’s paintings as “vigorously and sensuously done. Darksome, broody passages are abruptly halted by a luscious expanse of sky…. [Lighting] is determined largely by inner need. Mood. Centimeter by centimeter, it is a lovely sight.”