An artist creates a visual feast
Jamie LaFleur is continuously immersed in art. As an artist, he strives to convey on canvas surroundings that are meaningful to him. As owner of the Banks Gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he eagerly shares diverse and impressive collections with others.
The son of two artists, LaFleur cannot remember a time when he was not intrigued by the visual world. His parents encouraged his talent, and LaFleur went on to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He works in oils, with bold, sweeping strokes of the palette knife and with color schemes that revolve around muted greens, soft grays, blues, and a stunning punch of red or yellow. His paintings reflect topics both familiar and unique, but even paintings of boats in harbor, a grove of aspens, or a farmer’s field with rolled hay bales are rendered distinctive by LaFleur’s unique approach. Images are reduced to their essence and the layering of paint creates wonderful textures and dimensions.
When asked who has influenced his work, he enthusiastically rattles off a list of names. “European Post-Impressionists such as Cézanne and van Gogh, the Viennese Secessionists such as Gustav Klimt, the Canadian Group of Seven, American Modernists such as John Marin, the Bay Area Figurists—think Richard Diebenkorn,” he says.
LaFleur focuses primarily on landscapes; his scenes encompass New England, with frequent images of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire where he grew up, and of North Hampton, New Hampshire, where he now lives. Over the years he has seen his paintings evolve from a representative style, where scenes were realistically illustrated, to a more abstract form. “I am now much more influenced by color and design than by a real description of subject matter,” he says. “As for the future, I see myself continuing to paint in oils but continuing to shift into that more abstract realm. I want to continue to explore my own experiences with the landscape.”
LaFleur used to paint in the evenings, after the gallery was closed. He could lose himself in a painting for hours. Now finding that much time is a luxury. “As a father of two young children and with the gallery consuming my days, finding time to paint as much as I once did is difficult,” he says with a rueful smile. “But I will carve out time somehow, and I’m grateful the gallery is doing as well as it is.”
LaFleur founded the Banks Gallery in 2004; it features American art from the 1820s to the present. The size of the gallery is deceptive, with a series of interior rooms unfolding as one moves back into the space. Within its walls, artists of the Hudson River School mingle with early-twentieth-century painters, postwar contemporary works, and a few stunning modern photographs. LaFleur, who once managed a gallery in Newport, Rhode Island, launched the Banks Gallery to showcase contemporary regional artists. However, in 2005 he had an opportunity to mount an exhibition of nineteenth-century paintings of the White Mountains, which opened the door to presenting more historic art.
“This was an important shift for us,” LaFleur says. “It created opportunities for us to highlight works of a certain time period and in some cases has also allowed visitors to see how impressions of a place have altered over time. For example, we have a painting from 1887 by Frank Shapleigh of the Thornton Road, which runs from Bartlett to Jackson in the White Mountains; we also have a painting from 2012 by T. M. Nicholas that looks down on the same road from a different perspective. You have two impressions by different artists a century apart of the same place. It’s fascinating to see these two viewpoints.
“We also like to recognize particular artists,” he continues. “We recently did a showing of the works of Robert Eric Moore, who died in 2006. He was a local artist who was popular in his lifetime but had not shown his work since 2001; as time passed, he was somewhat forgotten. It has been exciting to reintroduce people to his paintings. We have a similar show currently in place which features the works of Stephen Pace, a unique artist who died in 2010 and spent extensive time in Maine and New York City.”
LaFleur travels extensively, journeying to major art centers such as Chicago, Miami, and New York City annually, as well as making trips to meet with clients and art representatives all over the country.
Thanks to LaFleur’s dedication, the Banks Gallery is able to capture significant works in one perfect space. Upon entering, visitors are immediately captivated by the breathtaking vistas of a new series of White Mountain paintings dating from the early 1800s. Set in gilt frames that echo the golden light predominant in many images, these paintings capture sunset striking the peaks of Mount Lafayette, the majesty of the Presidential Range above rolling farmland, and deep forests with tumbling waterfalls. Here and there are interspersed rugged seascapes from the same period, which are reminiscent of Winslow Homer. But LaFleur is not afraid to mix things up: along one wall in this section are vivid, color-blocked pieces of Monhegan Island and Portsmouth’s South End done by contemporary local artist Carol Aronson-Shore.
He features other local artists such as Lisa Noonis and Tom Glover, along with the only photographer the gallery displays, Carl Austin Hyatt. Here are big, bold canvases rich with color, but also soft marshland views and seascapes so realistic one can almost feel the salt spray. Adding to the visual feast are Hyatt’s dramatic black-and-white works, which range from a storm brewing off Odiorne Point to the quiet dignity of a Peruvian woman captured in a close-up portrait.
In the back recesses of the gallery are some works by major twentieth-century artists, including Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Stuart Davis, Walt Kuhn, and Marsden Hartley. The last room, a new space just renovated, focuses on postwar contemporary art. The room currently features the work of Stephen Pace, who captured regional scenes with splashes of color and playful simplicity.
LaFleur believes his gallery thrives because of the booming local art scene. “I think the audience has matured since I started,” he says, citing the Button Factory, Rollinsford and Dover mills, the Discover Portsmouth Center, and plans for 3S Artspace. “I think the New Hampshire Art Association, my gallery, Nahcotta, and the former Three Graces Gallery opened the door, and now we have a very successful and sustainable artists’ community here.”