NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Sometimes you just need to stop and paint the roses.
And the barns. And the hay fields. And the stone walls. Well, you get the picture.
Moving to North Salem, says artist Chrissanth Greene-Gross, gave her the time to slow down, bathe in the beauty of her surroundings, and distill their essence onto canvas.
En plein air painting, or painting outdoors, was a revelation for the Queens native.
Previously, creating art had been strictly an indoor, studio experience.
A portrait painter, storyboard artist and illustrator, her focus was always the human figure.
Encouraged by mentor Andrew Lattimore, a world-renowned teacher who has an atelier in an historic building in Cornwall, she reluctantly took it outside … and has never looked back.
(Lattimore once had a studio in Peekskill, and is the painter of the portrait of Peekskill native George Pataki that hangs on the Wall of Governors at the State Capitol in Albany.)
The change of venue opened up spaces, both mentally and physically, Greene-Gross says.
It was daunting at first. “There’s a lot of chaos out here. Nature is so beautiful; how could I ever capture that?”
Outdoors, artists are at the mercy of the seasons and the weather. The landscape is constantly changing. So making a painting isn’t simply one and done.
You have to slow down enough to let things reveal themselves.
It’s an organic relationship that “builds over time,” Greene-Gross says.
And since the light is at different places at different times of the day, “some sites are morning paintings; some are afternoon paintings. Some are both.”
Greene-Gross’s en plein air style is impressionistic, taking what the eye sees and tempering it with what the heart feels.
“It’s like cooking down the sauce,” she explains.
That’s why Greene-Gross admires photography, but thinks it “rarely” is able to capture what a painting can.
One of her favorite subjects is the Tuttle Barn, the last standing of what was once four “stepped barns.”
Every time she paints there, it’s “like a potential last visit with Grandma. You never know how long she’s going to be around.”
Fortunately, the barn’s “crooked walls” have held up long enough for her to make three paintings.
However, a beautiful old tree just up Mills Road did not fare so well during a recent storm.
“That tree, and its unique gesture were near the top of my list to paint, but apparently not near enough,” she says, sad to recall its demise.
Greene-Gross compares nature to a “model who never complains or looks at its watch.”
“But in a way, it’s always keeping time,” she admits.
Part of the fun—and challenge—of painting outdoors is the sensory input, namely the “the scent of fresh-cut grass, the perfume of wild roses in early June, the heat of the sun on my back.”
Greene-Gross can get so into the moment that sometimes she isn’t aware that her shoulders are getting sunburned, rapacious bugs are dive-bombing her, or that she’s accidentally trod all over her paintbox.
Even thirst, hunger and rain aren’t always enough to drive her away.
An environment that can’t be controlled certainly offers lessons in “humility,” she says.
It demands that the artist “stay in the present, ready to seize a moment of grace—perhaps a golden snippet of cloud or a robin that lands in the grass—that can make a painting sing.”
Greene-Gross—frequently seen working by the side of Mills Road or trudging through Baxter Preserve with her easel, brushes and oils—has almost become part of the local scenery herself.
Now that North Salem folks are at home because of the pandemic, more are out walking, running and bicycling. They often stop to take pictures or chat with the artist.
For Greene-Gross, who has lived in North Salem for three years, it’s a “special joy” to meet her new neighbors.
“It’s remarkable how friendly people are,” she says. “I think they are attracted not only to the act of devotion, but also to the simple joy and peace of the artist becoming one with their surroundings.”
Turpentine apparently runs in Greene-Gross’s veins. Her late father, Darrel Greene, was known for his illustrations, book covers, portraits, and posters.
Anyone who’s read pulp fiction in the 1960s has probably seen a paperback illustrated by Greene. He freelanced for Bantam books through the 1980s. Some of his most notable covers were for Conan the Barbarian, Ragtime and Black Orchid.
Raised in Canada and Utah, he studied art at college, later moving to New York City to seek fame and fortune as an illustrator.
It was there that he met Greene-Gross’s late mother, Olga Nicholas.
Nicholas was a highly valued model among illustrators such as Al Buell, Coby Whitmore and Bernie Fuchs, and also among photographers in the 1950s.
A “real ham,” Nicholas appears in much of her husband’s work.
“She loved the costumes. She was very theatrical,” says her admiring daughter.
Greene-Gross, who has two older half-sisters and two younger brothers, remembers being fascinated watching her father paint her mother’s portrait.
But she didn’t think he had gotten the likeness quite right. “They weren’t mommy’s eyes; they were scary, like Angelique’s (a fictional character from the gothic, horror soap opera and film ‘Dark Shadows.’)”
So one day the precocious 5-year-old tiptoed into daddy’s studio, borrowed a brush and some paint, and made a quote, few corrections, unquote.
Needless to say, a lesson in “respect for different perspectives and boundaries” quickly followed.
Greene-Gross, a graduate of the High School of Music and Art, Queens College, and the University of Michigan, studied with
Daniel Greene (no relation), said to have been the “foremost” pastelist in the United States; famed figurative sculptor Richard McDermott Miller; landscape painter Joe Pacquet, and of course, the Hudson Valley’s Lattimore.
She has drawn storyboards for advertising agencies like Ally & Gargano, whose clients included Dunkin’ Donuts and Federal Express, illustrated a children’s book, and painted portraits for roughly 30 years.
Her three children are also artistically inclined, each in their own unique way. The eldest, while pursuing a degree in library science, wrote and illustrated a published coloring book on female astronauts and astronomers.
The youngest has an Etsy shop where she sells her horticultural creations. And the middle child paints and has dreams of being a tattoo artist.
Greene-Gross is an award-winning member of The Salmagundi Club, a fine arts center, founded in the late 1800s in Greenwich Village, that is now located on Fifth Avenue.
She also belongs to the Northern Westchester Artist Guild and the Ridgefield Guild of Artists and had taught at Katonah Art Center in Mount Kisco.
Greene-Gross’s paintings can be found at BB Abode at Union Hall, a boutique and interior design service on Keller Lane.
She also sells her work at Hayfields Market on Bloomer Road.
That, and her commission jobs, are keeping Greene-Gross “mighty busy.”
And they are constantly luring her outdoors, sometimes to the mild chagrin of her hubbie Jonathan, who recently retired from the finance biz.
But Greene-Gross is anything but regretful about her deep dive into the plein air lifestyle.
After “a bit of wandering around and wasting time, I realized that one just has to stop, drop, and paint.”
Philosophically, the artist believes it’s a reflection of what Lakota holy man Black Elk once said: “At the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit. And that center is really everywhere. It is within each of us.”
For more information about the artist and her work, visit chrissanth.com, email her at Chrissanth@me.com, or call her at 914-260-0526. Her studio, located on Little Mountain Road, is open by appointment only.