Studio Visits With Four Artists

by Sarah London

Jennifer Ditacchio likes looking beyond-beyond windows, through tunnels, between buildings, across bridges. Her eye discards the detail of surface, the minutia of realism, and instead explores form, light gesture, and mood-the imposing silhouette of a city high-rise against a cloud-scrubbed sky or the commanding crosses of telephone poles stitching together a bruised Cape Cod afternoon. Painting with oil on canvas or encaustic on wood, Ditacchio transforms what she sees into haunting abstractions that express intensity of mood, and a somber, revelatory vision.
She describes her work as "a collective memory" of the places she has been. "I go into the painting and it's almost like I'm walking around in this unknown place, and I wait for it to come to me, and I'll remember, this reminds me of that bridge in Italy."Another reminds her of driving in and out of New York City, and another of a train station in Vermont. Specifics, though, are unimportant to Ditacchio, who feels her canvases are more about "the moods I've been in when I've been in those places."
Her moods, she notes, can easily be dictated by her progress in the studio-a cramped cellar room down a narrow alley on Provincetown's busy Commercial Street. Large and small canvases crowd the low-ceilinged space she shares with her companion, painter Michael Landis. Here, among tubes of pigments, brushes and pots for heating wax, she is working on several paintings simultaneously. While painting is Ditacchio's passion, at age 24 she is also an accomplished printmaker. Her monoprints, linoleum-block prints and etchings, like her paintings, show abstracted figurative images, but the medium results in a precision that contrasts sharply with the thickly painted canvases. These small works on paper are elegant impressions of houses and telephone poles. There mood is surprisingly serene.
Ditacchio remarks that much of her drawing has a delicate, sparse character. She takes small pads with her wherever she travels, and sketches religiously. The daughter of Provincetown painter Linda van de Visse, she remembers going to life drawing classes as a young girl with her mother, and studying the figure for many years afterwards. As early as high school, and later in college, she painted in full color from life. "I was really bent on making it look real," she says of her former work, until one day she realized "there's really not a lot of soul in there." As she stood with her easel in a train yard, she had a revelation: "I realized what I was going for was the silhouette of the train against the station." Shapes and light would inform her subsequent work.
What fascinated Ditacchio when she moved back to Cape Cod after college was the "uniqueness of the light at the edge of morning or at the edge of night. That in-between time." The stark forms of the piers began to influence her. And while forms inspired her paintings, a quality of mood infused them with something more complex, the result, she believes, of "a lot of longing-searching and longing."