“My process involves memory and imagination and even concepts like music,
poetry or verses from things I’ve read. To the greatest degree, my paintings are orchestrated
imaginings in my mind—they do not exist in real life.” —Don Rainville, artist


interview NANCY GORDON
photography courtesy DON RAINVILLE

Artist Donald V. Rainville.
Summer's Keeping, 2017
48 x 28 inches, house oil on board
Autumn's Gate, 2011
28 x 44 inches, house oil on board
Beyond the Iron Gate, 2018
48 x 48 inches, house oil on board
Cellardoor Winery label.
Passage, 2016
72 x 48 inches, house oil on board
Trinity Moon, 2013
46 x 46 inches, house oil on board
Reverie, 2013
40 x 48 inches, house oil on board
City Trees, 2018
42 x 48 inches, house oil on board
Evening Lace, 2017
66 x 33 inches, house oil on board
Vivaldi Summer, 2009
48 x 32 inches, house oil on board
When She Dreams, 2020
51 x 31 inches, house oil on board

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

Well, actually, how I came to be a full-time artist involves how I came to paint, predominantly without brushes …

Earlier in my college-age years I was accepted to art schools, but never went (opting to study forestry). Instead, I chose a path of woodworking and more specifically, antique woodworking. I spent decades restoring period homes and furniture. I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and was surrounded by old homes, antique furniture and well-recognized museums. Some of those museums in Salem and down into Lexington and Concord I actually had the opportunity and privilege to work with in restoring some wonderful pieces of history.

As one might imagine, woodworking, especially furniture restoration, involves a different set of tools and approach to concepts, as opposed to standard artist training. While I did at times restore painted furniture and artworks using brushes, I was far more comfortable with a tool than a brush.

One day about 20 years ago—while my wife, Michele, and I were living in Harpswell—I happened to catch her indulging in some painting of her own. I had always wanted to venture into creating my own art. Though I loved restoration work, I did often feel like I was restoring other people’s art while ignoring my own desires to create my own. It was an evolving frustration within me.

So, on that particular day, I saw Michele painting and, in that moment, decided to go for it. I went down to my woodshop and grabbed a plywood board, pulled some paint cans and began moving paint with a four-inch wallboard knife (looks like a four-inch-wide putty knife). Having a forestry background and a being a passionate tree lover, naturally after the background was down, I started my Jackson Pollock version of trees. When I was at the point of leaves, I paused. I had no desire to get a brush and paint in leaves. I thought, “Well, nothing is going to represent a leaf better than a leaf ….” So I ventured out to the yard and pulled a few from nearby maples and a few pine branches as well and returned to painting.

My idea worked. By dipping, dragging and tamping, etc., I was able to create, using actual branches and leaves, the effect of the real and the wild that I was seeking to achieve. And that’s what began my 20 years of painting the forest and/or garden with the tree and plants within.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed with you?

A couple of things have stayed with me that I learned early on in my fine-art life. First and foremost is that a life of art is work. Yes, you get to do what you love, but in a life of fine art there’s a lot of other work that’s involved far beyond the creative process. And second is that promoting yourself as an artist is like a political campaign that never ends. You have to constantly put yourself and your artwork out there in the public eye. And you absolutely must know what you are about as an artist, which involves a grounded knowing of who you are as a person.

What type of reference do you use? Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

I very seldom, if ever, paint from real life places or images. I am far more inclined to remember elements of a landscape. A light reflection, a hillside, a really cool knot in a tree, and then at some time in the future I combine or insert those elements into a piece I’m working on. So, my process involves memory and imagination and even concepts like music, poetry or verses from things I’ve read. To the greatest degree, my paintings are orchestrated imaginings in my mind—they do not exist in real life.

What do you strive to create?

The simple answer is: beauty and intensity. I see beautiful elements, or intensely striking places and orchestrate the idea into my paintings. I strive for intensity and beauty. I often convey to people: I don’t paint what you see of our natural world, be it a treescape or a field of wildflowers—I strive to paint the intensity and beauty you remember in your mind’s eye when you walk away.

Is there a time of day or light most conducive to painting?

I am most definitely a morning painter. That is also when I get the best natural light in my studio. I also love the very early morning predawn hours, before it’s light, when the moon and the sun are yet to exchange places in the sky. I find it very inspiring lightwise, and there’s so much peace of mind at that time of day… I rarely paint at that time, but it’s a wonderous time to sit and observe or walk about outside.

What do you love about painting, or what drives you to paint?

What I love most about my life as an artist is that I can draw from any life experience past or present and apply it within my work. Few other life endeavors can say that and I am so appreciative to be able to do that. As I always tell people, if you are involved in an artist’s life past or present, in a positive way you are a muse in their work.

You mention being part of the U.S. Arts in Embassies Program, envisioned by the Museum of Modern Art in 1953 and initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. How has this honor affected you and your work?

Intriguingly, the rumor is that it was Jackie Kennedy’s idea, prompted to John and was then established. She was the art lover and advocate.

Being curated into the Arts in Embassies Program and having your work selected by an Ambassador to hang on exhibit in a U.S. embassy endorses the work with a specific degree of prestige, given it is being viewed by international dignitaries. Diplomacy is the art of human interactions and visual art is a great conversation starter and tool for diplomatic ends.

I am pleased to say, Passage was given a great honor when it was selected by Ambassador Robert Cekuta (who has a home here in Maine) to exhibit in the Ambassador’s residence in Azerbaijan for some years, while he was in tenure there as ambassador.

In 2020, Autumn's Gate was selected by Ambassador John Carwile to hang in the Latvia Embassy as part of the program.

Why are you drawn to trees?

I am a lifelong lover of trees since my earliest childhood days. Many children will claim they spent a lot of time climbing trees. I can honestly say I spent an inordinate amount of time climbing and just sitting in trees, observing. I’ve never been far from them—forestry schooling, the decades spent as a woodworker, and to this day I still do woodworking. And 20 years ago, when I ventured into painting, they were treescapes.

I have no regrets of my lifelong relationship with trees. I know them very well, and they clearly know me. Mankind and trees have a primordial relationship which predates any written history.

Your paintings draw people in and surround them with a calm. Is this intentional?

Yes, I do quite often endeavor to create paintings which depict an obscured path or slightly hidden special spot. I want the viewer to feel present in the work to a point where they are somewhat compelled to visually venture in, take a seat and rest with a cup of tea or glass of wine, or quietly walk in the silence of the scene.

Many of your paintings have stories. Will you share a few, please?


City Trees

                                    came into being when my wife, Michele, and I were visiting New York City and we stopped at a courtyard café to have a coffee… It was autumn, and as we sat enjoying our coffee and conversation, we happened to look up, as visitors often do in NYC, and when we did we saw the most beautiful orchestration of branches and autumn leaves acting as a kind of colorful canopy above us leading to the further view of the tall building.

So, we snapped a few pictures, intending to use them as a muse for a painting. And as fate would have it, sometime later, the planning began for a festival in Rockland, Maine, celebrating the restoration of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s childhood home. When I read her amazing works, the poem “City Trees” immediately stuck out and I went into my inspiration photo files, found the images we had taken in NYC and went immediately to work in the studio.

The piece is a combination of a memorable experience with Michele and the beautiful poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

"City Trees"
Edna St. Vincent Millay

The trees along this city street,
 Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
 As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
 Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
 Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
 Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,—
 I know what sound is there.

. . .


Evening Lace

                                                    was my first venture into a genre my wife had been encouraging me to take on for years: gardens and wildflowers. It was inspired by the amazing amount of Queen Anne’s Lace I was seeing in the roadside open fields we so often see in Maine. For some reason there was just an amazing amount of QAL that year. I remember going out to my studio one night to check on some things and walking past a wild area of the yard where the QAL was growing… I couldn’t help but notice that in the full moonlight it was actually emanating its own light. It looked as though the entire area was awash with blossoms, large and small, at every stage of development in the process of blooming.

Because when I paint treescapes I use actual plant materials (leaves, etc.), I had been hesitant to take on smaller garden plants and wild flowers as they are so delicate. But, after seeing the wild QAL that night, I thought to give inspiration a try.

After creating my background work, I selected a few blooms, leaves and stalks and began my process of tamping and slapping, creating the wild garden of QAL. I was able to use the more mature leaves and the blooms themselves to create the scene. It took some time to work out the process with plants, but now I have a whole new, never-ending genre of inspiration.

. . .


Vivaldi Summer

                                                              was inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s musical score, which was the very first classical music I ever became attached to. I love creating paintings that reflect music and poetry and I have now created three of the four seasons of Vivaldi’s composition. In this piece, I wanted to capture the presto movement of the music, which is so intense with powerful violin work. In the painting, I worked to create a picture in the mind’s eye of a fast-moving summer storm, intense with lightning and thunder, which tosses and whips the branches of the trees veraciously about. And then as quickly as it came, suddenly it’s gone and all we remember in our minds are the flashes of lightning through the trees in the intense winds.

Vivaldi Summer, I am pleased to say, was selected in 2020 by Ambassador John Carwile to hang in the American Embassy in Latvia as part of the Arts in Embassies program.

How do you give back to the artist community?

I am a premium member of Artists for Conservation, the world’s leading artist organization supporting the environment. Each year a portion of my art sales go to support Friends of Acadia and I am always looking to engage and support organizations that support the environment and/or environmental research. artistsforconservation.org

What does being an artist mean to you?

Being an artist is a lifestyle choice. It provides wonderful fulfillment and the ongoing challenge and passion to evolve one’s self through creativity. I believe everyone in some manner or form, someplace in their busy life, should find time to create: write a book, a song, paint, play music. Make up songs and sing them in the shower… it doesn’t matter… The point is to express and create. It works and evolves the human mind in ways that no amount or intensity of schooling ever can or will. Art forces us to think with the emotional side of our brain.

What do you hope to give people through your paintings?

A place and a piece of mind that can only come from nature. I want people to appreciate the beautiful world we live within. I want them to look at the work and “see” a piece of their experience and themselves within that experience, and to provide a place in their mind that they can go when their life is hectic.

I want them to hear the gentle breeze, the songs of birds, to smell the fragrant air the flowers offer—the experience of synesthesia. I want my works to offer them more than I could paint into them, and I love it when people see in my work things even I never intended to put there.

. . .


Represented in Maine by:
Artemis Gallery, Northeast Harbor
Thomas Moser Furniture, Freeport
Leslie Curtis Designs Showroom and Gallery, Camden

. . .

Favorite ...
Comfort food and time of day or night you most enjoy eating it?
A couple of gooey pieces of toasted cinnamon raisin bread with
butter and organic honey spread on top, with a cup of dark roast
coffee... My favorite way to start my morning.

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