Art therapy

‘Wintering’ show explores darker days, highlights hope

Lake Placid artist Ingrid Van Slyke on Thursday, Feb. 16 poses next to one of the Adirondack winter landscape paintings — “Hidden Structures” — that will be included in her “Wintering” art show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, which opens on March 2. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Winter has long been a time of personal reflection, and local artist Ingrid Van Slyke has taken the “Wintering” concept to a whole new level, creating a body of work that explores her own dark days and hopes for a brighter future.

“Wintering” is the title of her upcoming show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, which opens on Thursday, March 2. It was designed for her Master of Fine Arts program at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. She graduates in May.

“In order to graduate, you have to write a thesis paper and you have to have a thesis show,” Van Slyke said on Thursday, Feb. 16, surrounded by paintings in her Lake Placid studio, tucked away in the woods off Old Military Road.

Since about 2020, she’s built a body of work — about 20 pieces, many of oils and pastels — that feature snow-draped Adirondack landscapes. But they’re not the sweeping landscapes seen in the Hudson River School paintings from the 1800s; they’re more intimate snapshots.

“I either take my own photos or I do little drawings or paintings outside, plein air, and then bring them back to the studio to do them,” she said.

Adirondack winter landscape painting by Lake Placid artist Ingrid Van Slyke (Photo provided)

In her thesis, Van Slyke explains that “Wintering” explores the symbolic and emotional nature of her winter landscapes to the human condition of personal wintering. But she didn’t create the term; her thesis was inspired by — and loosely paraphrases — the book, “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” a hybrid memoir by British author Katherine May, published in 2020.

“Each of my paintings, through the filter of nature, reflect a deeper level of the unconscious,” her thesis states. “Symbolism and mystical sublime are woven throughout this body of work, leaving one to believe that we are not alone in our process of wintering.”

The term “wintering” is a metaphor. It’s about the time and space of personal introspective contemplation and transformation.

“Times when life lessons are learned through upheaval and internal inquiry in a search for spiritual guidance. In the natural world, winter is a time of stillness, hibernation and shorter, darker days. C. S. Lewis depicted winter and snow as a place of perpetual frozenness, an allegory for hell or purgatory.”

Yet, every winter is followed by spring — whether it’s in nature or inside each one of us.

“I am confident that readers of this thesis have wintered in their own lives,” Van Slyke wrote in her thesis. “Most likely they call it something else or have no name for it. It comes in many different forms and wears many different faces. It may arrive in a flurry when one becomes a new father or mother, realizing life will never be the same. It may come on a frosty night that seeps through the clothes of a new college student whose confidence is shaken. Death of a loved one brings on wintering as strong as a nor’easter storm and makes one question the purpose of life, life after death and God’s purpose in all of it. Winter is a retreat, a reevaulation, a resurfacing and a found resilience.”

What Van Slyke is trying to do with this art show is explore her own wintering. She recently went through a long period of grief, losing her mother, father and mother-in-law in less than two years. She was active in the hospice program for her mother, as her caregiver. Being that close, there was a lot of emotion to process.

“And I felt I was drowning a lot of times,” she said.

Instead of writing down her feelings, Van Slyke painted.

“As an artist, it’s the way I speak. It’s my visual language,” she said. “And instead of painting dark signs of grief, my paintings are all light and shadow.”

These paintings are a metaphor for hope and resilience. They focus on the light of winter. She could have easily painted bleak landscapes and darkness.

“It never even crossed my mind to go in that direction,” she said. “It’s the resilience of the human spirit to just keep going and carrying on and fighting through. And the winter does the same thing. We’re covered with a blanket of snow. It transforms the entire landscape. And it’s kind of barren, and it’s dark, and then the spring comes and life regrows again. It’s like this cycle of life that keeps going.”

Standing next to a winter scene called “Hidden Structures,” Van Slyke talked about the importance of directional light.

“The feeling that I felt when I saw that scene and I was in that scene, and the time of day. I’m just trying to elevate someone’s feelings to a good place, because we have so much junk going on in the world right now.”

Van Slyke said she’s not sure everyone will understand the “Wintering” show.

“It’s funny I have one of my winter paintings in a show somewhere, and I stood behind someone that was looking at it. And the woman said, ‘It’s a beautiful painting, but I wouldn’t want it because I don’t want to be reminded of winter all the time.’ Which I agree with. After this, I’m going to start painting summer.”

The opening reception for “Wintering” will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 3 at the LPCA.

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