Local artist Andrew Haines has an exhibition at the Arnold Arboretum called “The Evolution of an Urban Landscape: Recent Paintings of Forest Hills,” which runs until Oct. 8.The Gazette recently conducted a Q. and A. through email with Haines about being a painter and the exhibition. For more information, visit arboretum.harvard.edu or andrewhainespaintings.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: How did the exhibition of “The Evolution of an Urban Landscape: Recent Paintings of Forest Hills” come about?
A.: When I learned that the Casey Overpass was coming down, it dawned on me that this would be the first time in 60 years Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace could again be a greenway linking the Arnold Arboretum to Franklin Park. With all of the existing subterranean infrastructure and the [previous] elevated train line in Forest Hills, it is not clear if this part of the Olmsted’s greenway was ever fully developed as a park.
Being a longtime resident of Forest Hills and as an artist with a lot of paintings of the neighborhood, I went looking for someone who was planning an exhibition to commemorate this important event in the life of Boston’s park system. When I approached the Arboretum, Sheryl White invited me to have my own exhibition in Hunnewell building.
Q.: How were the paintings completed? (Did you paint them from memory or take an easel down to Forest Hills?)
A.: After years of living in Forest Hills, I had never really set out to document the area, but I had a lot of old work. This is the landscape that I have right out my door so it has often served as the backdrop for other projects. I moved to Forest Hills in the 1980s, well before the current station had opened and I commuted daily on the old elevated train. Having lived through that transition, I now had another chance to take advantage of all of the chaos and change that I imagined would be coming to this section of the Stony Brook Valley.
In terms of how the paintings were made, there are two very early pictures in the show; the smallest one was painted on-site 30 years ago. Today, I continue to draw on-site, but all of the recent work in the show was made in my studio over the past two years based on my personal drawings and photographs.
Q.: What brought you to Jamaica Plain?
A.: My wife and I moved to Forest Hills for a dog. We were drawn to the adjacency of so much park land, convenient public transportation, and at the time, relatively cheap rents: the constant construction and crumbling infrastructure were just an added bonus to the working artist. In all my time living here, Forest Hills has been a place that is on the verge of becoming something else and that has been something I continue to watch.
Q.: How would you describe yourself as a painter?
A.: I guess you could describe it as a painterly realism and I paint the landscapes that I know firsthand and the one that I pass through every day. All my subjects are things or places I have some relationship to, generally I tackle things that distract me as it is usually some form of irritant that grabs my attention then goes on to shape the way I perceive the world.
Q.: Who are some painters that have influenced you? How have they done so?
A.: The group of paintings that are now on view at the Arboretum were all made after I started an Instagram account. This is significant because not only did I suddenly discover a world of other working artist that I would otherwise have no way of seeing, but was I also privy to how some of my neighbors perceived the construction in Forest Hills by their posts on the many Jamaica Plain hastags. Best of all, I was getting immediate feedback for any new work I posted. While I still have a personal group of “Old Masters” that I consult and aspire to, having this new source of impartial feedback from strangers has been whole a lot of fun.
Q.: What started your interest in painting? When did you realize you had the talent to be a professional painter?
A.: I have always liked to draw and wanted to be an artist from an early age. Seeing a blob of paint that looks simultaneously like a blob of paint but also perfectly describes the light on a tree, an eye ball or shiny car bumper is a magic trick that I never tire of seeing in the work of others and is something I aspire to in my own paintings.
This show has been so much fun for me as an artist because it is the first time I have been able to show paintings of my neighborhood in my neighborhood. At the opening reception, several other longtime Forest Hill residents came out and introduced themselves to me. It was great to meet my fellow “Forest Hillbillies” and share our stories of the many campaigns of construction and to lament all the other lost landmarks that once graced our little patch of Jamaica Plain. But a new Forest Hills is coming and we were all looking forward to seeing that.