Ron Gee spent an entire day painting four fingertip-sized likenesses of the outdoor sculptures at Storm King Art Center. He was trying to fit all of Orange County from the Hudson to the Delaware – all the best parts, anyway – onto a five-foot-six-inch by three-foot-two-inch canvas. Commissioned by the Orange County Department of Mental Health for its refurbished Goshen lobby, the painting was supposed to include 16 county highlights, from Storm King to hot air balloons. Gee’s challenge was to fit it all into a sleepy and pastoral, almost dreamlike landscape.
Gee’s wife, Gar Wang (also the writer of Dirt’s gardening column), saw what he’d done. “It doesn’t work,” she told him. The sculptures popped out, like they were stamps stuck onto the canvas. This was one of those tests of marital mettle: a collaboration. Wang was painting the foreground in the lower right corner, where she snuck in the couple’s Warwick homestead and their erstwhile white horse, Becca. Ron was doing the rest, starting with a downsized Mt. Adam and Mt. Eve, stretching to Newburgh on the right and the High Point Monument on the left, with three white hot air balloons drifting off into the Catskills in the distance. The first time they worked together on a painting, “We almost got divorced,” Wang laughed. “I would paint one part, go away, and it was gone when I came back.” “I just modified it,” Gee objected. “I had to smooth out a few angles.” But Gee knew his wife had a point. He repainted the sculptures, using shadow and light to make them feel grounded. Gee relied on this highlighting technique to get all the required detail in without overwhelming the viewer. The foreground, for instance, is in deep shadow, while Greenwood Lake and the Goshen Harness Racing Museum have their places in the sun. The feeling is of light coming through clouds. Gee and Wang thought the painting would take four weeks. It took seven. “This is why we’ll be poor artists,” said Gee. “But we’ll never be starving artists, because we have a garden.” The day the painting was delivered to the Goshen office of the Orange County Department of Mental Health, Dirt called to see what they thought. Joe Malfa, a financial technician, had few words. “Awesome,” he said. “Awesome.”
By Becca Tucker