Radio Maine Episode 17

Page Eastburn O'Rourke: Inspired by ColorPage 

Eastburn O’Rourke brings joy to people of all ages. A full-time artist and children’s book illustrator, she developed her artistic style at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where she was heavily influenced by the color work of Josef Albers, and then Parsons School of Design in New York City. Page is beloved in the Yarmouth Maine area, and her travels have allowed her to introduce what she describes as “pop folk art” to countless others around the state. Join us on Radio Maine as we explore Page’s personal journey and find out how it has influenced her unique approach to art and life.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, this is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine. Today I have the wonderful opportunity to have in the studio with me somebody that has been in my sphere of community for quite a long time. But honestly, I think this is the first time I've sat down and spoken with her. And this is artist Page Eastburn O'Rourke. Thanks for coming in today. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Oh, my pleasure, Lisa, I'm really happy to be here with you. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You and I have a Yarmouth connection, so you're not only an artist that I've admired for a long time, but also you live right down the road.

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

I do. I live about 10 minutes away. But I live in town and it was just a delight driving out here through Cousins Island then getting to Littlejohn Island and just looking at the beautiful water and lobster boats. And I'm actually working on a painting right now of Chebeague Island and the ferry and I looked out there and I thought, oh my gosh, the beach is a little sandier than I have in the painting. After this, I'll need to get back and do some revisions.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How do you usually approach your paintings? How do you get inspired to do a particular piece and how do you kind of work through that process? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

I'm always looking for paintings and I'm always practicing. I'll walk my dog along the Royal River and I'm always looking at what would be good subject matter. What would be a good composition? What colors would I mix together to get these green leaves?  So, I practice that way but then I'll go on outings, sometimes with my husband or friends or sons, when they were younger. I’ll have my sketchbook with me and look for a specific painting. Last summer I went with my Aunt Jane, too.  She lives in Kennebunk and she said Cape Porpoise is a great place to paint. I said, “oh, I've been there.” She goes, “I think there's a part you haven't been to.” So she took me down a side road and there was this lobster pound with all kinds of lobster boats and islands. And literally, I don't think she'd stopped the car, and I was jumping out with my sketchbook. I was so excited. So, I'll just see a scene and just know it's going to make a painting that I really want to paint and sort of be in that world while I'm painting it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So you're mentioning a sketchbook. Do you use pictures at all? Do you take photographs? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

I will sketch first and then yes, I will take pictures or my husband will take pictures for reference for colors. But oftentimes when I get back to my studio, I'll think about the way the place made me feel and pick my palette from that.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Color is really important to you. It's something that I think anybody looking at the work that you do can see that you're thinking about vibrancy and you're thinking about contrast.  Why is this a theme for you that's been so important?

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Let's see. I think going back to Trinity College, where I majored in fine arts and I had a wonderful, very challenging professor, George Chaplin, who was just an incredible colorist and he taught us a lot about the relationships of colors and how they influence each other. And I've just been drawn to working on color relationships ever since then. And the color relationship side by side, I'll also take colors and I like to take the same color and put it throughout the painting and sort of see the relationship it has with other colors. And what I'm always trying to do is make the space in the painting work so that the foregrounds are in the foreground and the background is in the background. And that's very challenging just using these flat vibrant colors. But the idea is when someone looks at the painting, I want them to get a sense of peace, calm, delight, have the relationships working so well with the colors that when I get to that point in a painting, I sort of let go and I feel the sense of acceptance. And I love it when someone will come along and get that feeling from one of my pieces like that feeling of just ease and delight and happiness and almost this feeling of like, it looks easy, but it's not, it's taken a lot of challenges and struggles in the painting, but then that's how I know it's done. All of a sudden, I'll just have this feeling and it's almost sort of a magical thing where, oh, okay, you're done. You're ready for the world. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So you have this, this letting go is something that you and I have talked about. This idea that it's actually really very difficult to let go. And is this something that people who are oriented towards a Buddhist way of thinking they're continually trying to decrease their attachments. What does this look like in your life? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Oh, Maine has been a wonderful teacher. As far as that goes. We moved up here 20 years ago and I had this fantasy of moving up here and everything would just be sort of perfect and resolved in my life. And I learned wherever you go, there you are. And we moved up here and it was the worst winter.  We had an 85 year old neighbor, and she said it was the worst winter in 80 years. And I was left alone with the snow and the pine trees. And I remember sitting in our living room one time and I was reading a book and all of a sudden I heard a noise at the window and I looked up like that and there was our yellow lab looking in the window on a huge snow bank. And I thought, oh my gosh, what did we do? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

But it ended up I really got pretty down and luckily got some really good therapy and learned a lot about it's all about letting go of the layers in life, not building them up. And I used to sort of think it was like a change in location, a change in, I don't know, getting a new shirt, a vacation, painting the room a different color. And I think through like the nature and the isolation of Maine, it just kept turning me inward for answers. And you did an interview with Jane Dahmen a few weeks ago and she said, all the answers are inside of you. And I thought, that's it, that really is it. And that's what has been part of my growth. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So I think of the idea of the Bardo or the liminal space,  this kind of place in between, this place of transition and discomfort really.  I know that many people are describing this to me this year in particular because of COVID. So where we were, where we're going, we're not really sure, it feels uncomfortable. Does that in any way, resonate with you? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

It does resonate.  I think about that with my art style and for a long time, I was painting with the bold flat colors and shapes that I'd still love. And I was doing a black line around it. And that felt like an integral part of my art. And I did that for a number of years. My first clam festival poster was in that style. I was selling in that style and I usually just have so much joy getting up in the morning and going to my studio. And I started not feeling that way. It was dragging my feet a little bit and I would do the black line and it felt like it was dimming the colors instead of enhancing the piece. But then it felt like it was expected of me. So I kept doing it for a little while. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

And then I thought, I can't, this doesn't feel authentic. So I talked to my husband and I said, “I think I need to just take some time off and just paint, whatever. I feel like painting, and just mix it up.” And he was so supportive of that. So I think I did some crummy paintings, a lot of experimenting, but I ended up with a style that I have now without the black line. And I feel like that's, well, it's sort of like what we talked about, like letting go of another layer and then the colors could be more vibrant. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Describe this painting that is between us here in the studio. What's the name of it? And how would you describe it for people who are listening to this podcast? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Okay. This is “Monhegan Island Light”. It's a big painting. It's the biggest size I've ever done. It's 60 by 40 and it's the lighthouse at the top of the hill in Monhegan. And it's got three whales in the background and let's see, lots of great colorful shapes, the red roof and then a vibrant green lawn. I've cut out some bushes and they've got these cork, light blue dots on them. They've cut out the evergreen trees, which makes this really neat shadow and rocks. And they always liked to have a feeling of community in my paintings. So I've got these seagulls hanging around and whales and it just feels very joyful. And it's a place that my husband and sons, Griffin and Duncan, and I have gone a lot of times for day trips and we'll take the ferry out there and take a picnic and hike around. And yeah, this lighthouse is very special. It's now a maritime museum and art museum because there've been so many amazing artists that have painted on Monhegan and still paint. That's one of the really neat things about hiking around Monhegan. You see artists with their easels everywhere, creating. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

There are a couple of things that I'm interested in. And one of them is this idea that you first were talking about peeling back layers and taking lines out, but there's a three dimensionality to this piece where you've kind of added in layers. You now have these, these cutout shapes where the rocks that the seagull is standing on and the seagull him or herself. I mean, they actually are layered.

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

They are layered.  That came about two years ago and I hit another period where I was looking at my art. I was like, oh, I need to challenge myself. What is it? And I kept looking at the pieces in my studio and I thought, some of those shapes really want to stand out and I love shapes so much. I thought, how can I explore more in a three-dimensional way? So I ended up deciding to shake things up and scare myself. And I got a saw and I have another saw, an electric sander and a power drill now and just really wanted to explore my love of shapes and forms in a three-dimensional form. And it's also, I found it's a form of drawing when I use my scroll saw. So it's sort of like, I don't know, a very intimate way to get to know the shapes better if that makes sense. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So why is that a “scaring” of yourself? What was it about that that was so scary? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Doing something brand new and not knowing how to do it. And I just thought about it. I wrestled with it. Then I started researching saws online, and then I went to some local, you know, wood shops and ask questions about it. And it was this sort of tug back and forth between a comfort zone and scaring myself. And I thought, you know, the only way  I've ever grown is to push myself out of my comfort zone and scare myself. And I actually have an artist friend who has said that to me, a number of years ago, he goes, you need to go to the art store and you need to buy the biggest canvas they have there to shake it up and scare yourself. So that's always sort of been in my head that that's the way to grow with art is to do something out of your comfort zone. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

So then I ordered this great saw. I bought it and then it sat like in my basement woodshop for a while. And I was like, oh geez, what did I do? Then I just sat down one day. I actually watched a couple of YouTube videos, I sat down one day and absolutely loved it. It really is a form of drawing and my poor family, because I would cut out a shape and roar up over the stairs, look what I did. And, you know, they give me a little round of applause, very supportive. It's been a real point of pride learning something new. Yeah. And doing the saw. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

One of the things that I know about you is that you're beloved within the Yarmouth community. I mean, you're well-known as a Yarmouth artist, you've gone into the schools and you've done career day. In fact, I think you and I may have been at a career day at one point where I was being the doctor career person and you were, I believe, the illustrator and artist career person.  You also did posters for the Yarmouth Clam Festival, which is a wonderful festival that up until the last couple of COVID years, we've had on a yearly basis for just decades now. But do you think that in some ways that success and that being known in a really specific way, kind of the happy Page, who does the happy art and the fun characters, do you think that that creates those dark lines around you and creates that kind of boundary that you sometimes worry about pushing through? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

That's a great question.  Let's see. Yes, I do. I do think so. And I do think that's part of what I keep learning that it's really about being vulnerable and being open and putting yourself out there. Those black lines. They, they felt like part of me, they felt safe and then it felt like it was restricting me, but what's happened is I'm still attracted to the same kind of art, but I feel like it's like, through the therapy I had, it was interesting because she would say to me, like, “what's that feeling?” And I would go, “I don't know.” And she would list all the different possible feelings, you know, sad, bad, happy, angry, frustrated. And I was like, “okay, that one. Okay. That one.” And then she kept like every session we would work on that. And it really taught me the language of feelings. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

So that's what I've really been able to bring to my paintings now. I really feel something when I see a scene and then I'm really feeling something when I'm painting and  the work while I'm creating it is really hard and it's challenging and it's frustrating. But now that it's, I guess, sort of a feeling of self-awareness to be able to label those feelings that I'm having in my paintings and in real life, they really mirror each other. So that's part of it when when a painting is finished, I have this really deep feeling of acceptance and joy, and then it can go out into the world. And my hope is that someone looks at it and has those same really strong, optimistic feelings about life. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Tell me about the idea of the Peaceable Kingdom and how that manifests itself in your work. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Well, I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on a farm and it's an area that's very rich in sort of cultural history and artists just like Maine is, and there's a wonderful Quaker minister, Edward Hicks. He painted in the 19th century and he did a whole series of paintings called the Peaceable Kingdom. And it was all different creatures and people getting along.  The lion lying down with the lamb and William Penn and the native Americans meeting and this idea of everybody working and all the creatures working together in community. And we had one of his, I think it was a print of one of his pieces that I would look at all the time, but I was exposed to a lot of his art, just, you know, going to local museums and things. And  it really resonates with me and I feel like that's what I keep recreating in my paintings, that spirit of community. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

And I did a painting “Portland Harbor, Sea Shanty”, and my son Griffin was listening to sea shanties all the time. Like they're a thing now. And so I thought I want to paint a sea shanty scene because the sea shanties are a form of folk art, folk music. And I love the idea of cooperation. And so I have all these people together. Men, women, lots of diversity, and they're all working together and they're pulling up an anchor and then there are seagulls that are in the scene too. And so that's really what I'm always looking for. That kind of theme in my work of the Peaceable Kingdom, of everybody working together and getting along. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So those are kind of a set of disparate ideas that you continue to work on. I mean that you simultaneously need conflict to kind of push you forward, but then you like to get to a place of quietude and harmony. So to have that back and forth and that push and pull again, it kind of returns to the theme of willingness to be uncomfortable. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Yes, absolutely.  Sometimes I'll see it almost as a form of meditation and I try to meditate every morning, but I don't every morning and sometimes I'll meditate, you know, just like I'm really struggling with something. And it's back to that. All the answers are inside of you, but I can't access them when I'm struggling. And so I'll need to just sit and be quiet and that's a struggle. And that's a challenge just to sit and then to let those thoughts sort of go through your head and then pass, it's just a whole process. And then sometimes you just get the payoff of getting a little inner wisdom that helps you sort of move forward or handle a situation and not react to a situation, respond to a situation. So, yes. I'm always having that struggle. And I think through the therapy and being able to label feelings, I'm more apt now to go, okay, this is really painful. This is really hard. This is a struggle. What's the feeling? And can I do something about it? What can I do about it? So it's a little bit of figuring out what you can and can't control in life. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you think that this has helped you in the work that you've done as an illustrator and working with children? Because, you know, as adults, we all feel like we're supposed to have passed some magical threshold and we know how to be people now and children don't have that idea. They're like, okay, someday I'll be an adult, but right now I'm just going to feel what I feel and it, and sometimes it's really hard. So when you're illustrating, do you think that tapping into that knowledge, that really, we're all kind of doing that all of our lives enables you to create scenes that children will relate to? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

That's a really good question. And yes.  I was thinking back to a big illustration board that I did for my nephew years ago. And he was struggling, you know, with some issues. And I was talking to my sister about, you know, the whole idea of labeling feelings. And so I was visiting them in North Carolina and we made this huge poster and I did all these pictures of him with all these different emotions and then labelled them. And then my sister said for a number of years after that, he would go up to the poster and point to that emotion. And now he's now like 13? And he's really on top of stuff, you know, as far as being able to access those feelings and talk about them. And so, yeah, I think kids just have this whole world inside of them and the more we can give them, like the gift of that feeling language and help them label things. And yeah, I hope that I can somehow help with my children's illustrations doing that. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You and I have children that are roughly the same age and your children appear in some of your books. How did they feel about that? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

They actually really love it. I remember when we were talking about, you know, having a family I wanted to, but I also thought, oh, this is going to be challenging to have a career as an illustrator and have children. And it ended up working out wonderfully because I got a glimpse into their whole world all the time. And with children's books, you have to be really specific. I mean, if you're doing, you know, like I actually did an illustration recently and it called for children to be five years old, so you need to make sure they look like they're five years old, because five looks different than three, it looks different than seven. So now having kids, there was just so much good reference, but also just the fun of being in the whole world of kids.  I loved the opportunity to go into my son's classrooms and read my books and really enjoyed that. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I have to admit that there are a lot of things that I miss about my children being younger, but probably top on the list was my reading to them. It was that special time. And in part, because I loved those books, I loved “Miss Rumphius”, all the Barbara Cooney books you know, “Goodnight Moon”, all of the things that, and even now, as I'm thinking about, it just makes me wish I had children around so that I could have an excuse to read these things to them. So when you're creating your art, now, it actually feels like you're also being inclusive to people of all ages. When I look at your Monhegan piece, I mean, I could be five and I could look at this and I could see the happy whales in the background. You know, I could be, you know, 20 and look at the kind of lonely-looking seagull in the middle of the picture.  It seems like it's just this universal nature of being human. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Yes. That's exactly what I'm looking for in my pieces. I want everybody to be able to relate to them. And I know through my journey, I've been able to get sort of back to that feeling of just sort of freedom and delight I had as a younger child. And it makes me feel that way when I'm working on these paintings, it makes me feel that way when I look at lots of different types of art, you know, there's just that connection sort of down to this like essence.  I was just talking with someone recently about art and sometimes it can be made to feel sort of exclusive. And some people feel like they don't know enough about it to go into a gallery or a museum. And I feel the opposite. I just feel like it's trusting your feelings and your instincts. And do you like that piece? What does it say to you? We would always take our young sons to museums and galleries and, you know, sometimes we'd just go for a few minutes and get a snack afterwards, but just, what do you think about this piece? And take them to comic book stores. That's a great type of art.  I just think art is about it's just this wonderful one-on-one experience and you just need to trust your instincts. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Going back to the Monhegan idea, Monhegan is known for its fairy houses and we live near Mackworth Island and they're also fairy houses there. And I know this has become a theme that a lot of parents and children resonate with the possibility of magic, the possibility of small communities that exist, even though we can't see them.  What thoughts do you have about the possibility of magic in this world? 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Ooh, I love that question. Especially yesterday, I'm trying to do an outing on Thursdays.  Just some day trip around Maine with my sketchbook, and yesterday I went up to the botanical gardens and they have this huge exhibit of trolls and they're made by an artist from Denmark created on site. They're huge. I don't know, they were like 40 feet high or something.  They're made of reclaimed floorboards from all over the world. And I went up with a friend and it was so much fun. It was really magical to walk through the woods and then come upon this enormous troll. And then they had summer camp kids there and to see the kids interacting with this art, these sculptures and this feeling of just pure delight, I thought, oh, this is magic. And this is the kind of magic that my husband and I always wanted for our son's going into galleries, museums, wherever, like just being able to tap into that. And so, yeah, yesterday I had that feeling. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It's interesting to hear you talk about this because my brother, John brought his three little boys up and he had posted pictures on the family feed of the trolls up at the botanical gardens. There’s a doctor friend of mine who was going to be bringing her child up to the botanical gardens. I don't think I've ever heard more about the botanical gardens than this year when they brought the trolls in. So it kind of tells me that we need that right now. We need the trolls and the magic, and we need to be reminded that there's something beyond what we've lived through over the last 18 months.

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Absolutely. And I think that's really true. I think it's been such a painful, raw time going through COVID and I think that that's sort of the silver lining that it's shown us what's most important. And I think something like the troll, you know, going to the botanical gardens, seeing all the beautiful colors, beautiful plants and flowers, and then going through the forest and seeing these trolls, that's just really, really special. And I think that also is part of why Maine has just been on so many people's radar lists as far as visiting here and moving here. And it's just a magical place. It really is. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You and I were talking earlier and one of the things that came up was the ability to go deep or not go deep.  We were talking about being human and having really deep things happen, but also being able to be more light. And to my mind, it actually made me think of the ocean where, where sometimes you you're at the bottom of the ocean and you're looking at the lobsters crawling around and the critters that it seems kind of dark and I'm scared and that's one experience. And sometimes you're in a boat and the light is on the water. You're going around the islands. And I love this idea that you and I both were just thinking that you can be all those things. You can experience the ocean. And in all of those ways you can be a person that is interacting with other people in lots of different ways. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

I think that's really, really true. Yeah. And that's getting to know yourself really well. And I think, and having that level of acceptance of yourself and what I found is the more I judged others, the more I'm judging myself, the more I accept myself, the more I'm accepting of others and, and all the different gifts that there are out there. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. I mean, I think I was a very different doctor than I was when I first started this process. And at that point, I think I unfortunately believed in this quote unquote adult idea of right and wrong and you get to a place and there's no right. There's really no wrong. It's all just kind of perceptions of reality. But that takes lived experience to get there, I believe. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Oh, I think that's very true. And it goes back to, I think all the answers are inside of yourself.  But it's a lot of lived experiences I think, to get to that place and a commitment to grow and want to see things in a really honest, authentic way, which is really challenging, but very gratifying and rewarding. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, Page, we could go on forever. I feel like we could sit here and we could be here tomorrow, still having these conversations, but it's really been my pleasure to talk with you today. 

Page Eastburn O’Rourke:

Oh, my pleasure too, Lisa, this has been a wonderful experience. Thank you. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I've been speaking with artist Page Eastbourne O'Rourke and you can find her work at the Portland Art Gallery. She actually has an upcoming show in a few months, but right now you can see all kinds of versions of what she's doing on the Portland Art Gallery website. She's a wonderful artist. I really recommend that you get to know her work and maybe when you come join us for an opening someday at the Portland Art Gallery, you'll get to know her too. Thank you for joining us today.

 


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