Painting instructor learned by teaching: Joe Bolger paintings on exhibit at the Edgewater Gallery

A casual afternoon conversation about painting with artist Joe Bolger can leave you with the knowledge most cannot gain in a semester enrolled in a traditional painting course. His constant desire to learn from inspiring artists drove him to read, reread, dog-ear, and underline all of their writings. He immersed himself in these books until the concepts were part of his own process and understanding. His passion for creating these visions from figures and portraits, to landscapes is the true force behind his genius.
Bolger was born in New Jersey where he spent most time by the shore of Sandy Hook. He attended Catholic school where there were no art programs offered. Even so, Joe explains that he was still recognized as a strong drawer, but never thought it would become a career. He attended college in Kentucky with a major in history and began a minor in art. When Joe left college is when he truly began his journey as an artist, taking an art teacher position first in Montana and then at Middlebury Union High School for about 30 years.
Bolger explains that teaching the fundamentals has really ingrained them in his own practice. Being able to teach color theory, value scales, and proper edging are the techniques that are crucial to these burgeoning artists, and to his own artistic development. Each day in the classroom Joe would also focus on a particular artist in history where he almost always proclaimed, “Now this artist is one of my favorites.” These icons are the very people who inspired his own work, sharing them with his students he hopes will do the same for them. He does not recall any difficult students in his many years of teaching and feels truly blessed to have had the opportunity. Every project was a problem for his students to solve using these fundamental skills.
Art was not just a job or a hobby, but a constant adventure of discovery and uncovering the mysteries of the great impressionists. That adventure began with a book written by John Carlson — “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting” — which was one that was most influential on Bolger’s development as an artist. It explained a theory called “angles and consequent values,” which explains how the value scale flows in relation to landscape painting and how the artist can use the sky as a light source and lightest value.
Emile Gruppe is another inspiring artist for Joe. Gruppe studied this “angle and consequent values” theory but wanted to take it a step further and learn more about the color in impressionistic painting. Gruppe studied color at the Cape Cod School of Art, and Joe Bolger decided to attend that same school to gain similar knowledge. One lesson that stands out in Bolger’s mind is one he has repeated with his own students. Each student is given a pallet of paint and they need to apply all the color using only a pallet knife. This, Joe explains, teaches one to locate the abstract shapes within a still life or a landscape and not focus on the object itself.
“Up until an art student is about 11 years old they see the world as symbols that they replicate in their drawings. I try to get them to see their subject as a series of abstract shapes, with colors, values, and edges,” Bolger says.
Joe believes that you can have all of these skills but intellect alone cannot create the painting. A successful painting has a concept and a goal. When there is passion behind this goal, that is the force that brings it all together. Bolger uses his skills to make selections in his pieces, moving particular forms in his painting and changing color intensities are just some of the ways he creates harmony within the landscapes.
Joe Bolger’s landscape paintings are golden and really bring a royalty to his surroundings. The rich glow of the treetops harmonize with the soft blues of the sky. He captures the shadows to contrast his brightly lit surfaces of an old barn at just the right time of day. When discussing his pallet Joe explains that it is hard to limit himself to just primary colors, instead he usually uses both a warm and cool shade of each primary to get the correct mixtures. He explains that he has heard two different theories, one related to a very limited pallet to create a harmony within the piece. The other came from a professor who found himself having up to 20 colors on a pallet at one time. Joe feels that his technique is somewhere in the middle.
“If there is one thing I have learned in my years as an artist it is that there are no rules but many different theories.”
It doesn’t take long to see in a Joe Bolger painting that there is more than just a landscape or a figure. There is an understanding of shapes, light, and color strategically placed to take the viewer on a journey through the artwork.
Today Joe resides in Shoreham, Vt., where her has lived for 40 years. He is constantly inspired by the changing weather and vast lands of the Vermont area.
A beautiful collection of impressionistic landscapes by Joe Bolger are on display at Edgewater Gallery at the Falls in Middlebury through the month of May. 

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