First thing in the morning, some of us head to the gym, while others can’t do much of anything until we’ve had that first cup of coffee. As soon as Jane Dahmen’s feet hit the floor, she heads for her studio. “I have the best ideas when I first wake up—before I’m fully awake—or before I go to sleep at night,” she says.
Known primarily for her large, abstract and colorful acrylic paintings of the woods near her home on the Damariscotta River, Dahmen says her best work happens when she allows the process to flow unencumbered by her thoughts. “As I start to paint, I let the painting talk to me in a way. I may have a preconceived notion in my head, but it often doesn’t go there,” she says. Her love of painting is founded in freedom. “There are no rules. When I’m in my studio, it’s just the paint and me and nobody can tell me what’s right or wrong, or what I should do,” she says. “I feel completely able to be myself.”
This means she is also free to make changes in what and how she paints. Many years ago, Dahmen and her late husband began coming to Maine from their home in Massachusetts to sail. As he sailed their boat on Casco Bay, she would paint—scenes of the islands and other boats on the water in gouache or oil on paper that she would finish in her Massachusetts studio. When her husband could no longer sail, they would go for walks through the woods near their house. “I saw paintings everywhere, looking from the land to the water through the trees,” she says. At home, she longed to paint the way being in the woods made her feel. “Every day I’d go to my studio and try, but I just couldn’t do it, so I’d go back to the seascapes.” A fellow artist had given her an 8 ft. x 8 ft. canvas on a frame, “and one day I came in and I just started putting tree trunks all the way from the top to the bottom, with stripes across for the land—that started the whole thing,” Dahmen says. She had simplified the woods by breaking down its complex layers into abstract but still identifiable components: birches and evergreens against swaths of color representing the forest floor, water, and sky. “I like the two-dimensional quality as well as the depth,” she says.
After 20 years of painting this way, Dahmen is moving in a new direction. Inspired by her own inner thoughts, her new work features even brighter colors and exuberant patterns. Round and curved shapes are entering her landscapes. “I usually don’t stay forever with one subject or way of painting,” says Dahmen, now in her fourth decade as a working artist. “I’m trying to let myself go and have it come out of me the way it wants to.”
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