New art exhibition in Benedict features ‘quiet, relaxed’ local landscapes

Renowned painter Gray Dodson will share her work with the Sweet Briar College community in an exhibition opening with a reception at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, in Benedict Gallery. Dodson’s landscapes will be on view through Nov. 20.

Gray Dodson, “Afternoon Light, Roseland,” oil on linen, 22 x 28 inches
Gray Dodson, “Afternoon Light, Roseland,” oil on linen, 22 x 28 inches

“For Benedict Gallery this year, I wanted to open with a quiet, relaxed feel,” says Sweet Briar galleries director Karol Lawson. “But I also wanted to continue the theme of last spring: ‘Celebrating Amherst County.’ ”

Lawson came across Dodson’s work in the 2014 book “Sunday Drives: Cruising the Back Roads of Amherst and Nelson Counties.”

“My colleague Nancy McDearmon, who is herself a painter, knew who had created the book’s images and pointed me in Gray’s direction. Gray’s paintings are calm and lovely, and capture the serenity of our beautiful environs.”

Perhaps some of that calm stems from Dodson’s unusual career. The mother of three says she did not pursue painting until later in life — even though she was drawn to it for a long time.

“Art has always interested me, and I began taking drawing and painting classes when in my forties, as my children were exiting high school,” she says. “The first painting I did was so unsuccessful that I became determined to figure out how to do a better one.”

Dodson decided to return to college and soon received her B.F.A. in studio art from Old Dominion University.

“The steady devotion to painting has since refined and developed my work,” she says.

Since 1995, the Tidewater native has called Nelson County home, but her art takes her all around the world — including Canada, Curaçao, France, Italy and Mexico — and not just for exhibitions: Dodson is a plein-air painter.

“Nature is my inspiration, especially the magical light play and movement of the clouds over the mountains,” she says. “I like the energy of being on site as I paint, and think of it as having a dialogue with the setting at that particular moment in time.”

Her goal, she says, isn’t to represent what she sees, but to interpret it.

“Weather conditions can change rapidly, calling for quick execution as I jot down color notes, altering things in process to emphasize light and shadow,” she explains. “My hope is to finish a painting on site, yet I often take it back to the studio to let it rest, then let it tell me what it needs for completion. Color, paint quality and vitality are important considerations.”

Gray Dodson, “Late Afternoon,” oil, 11 x 14 inches
Gray Dodson, “Late Afternoon,” oil, 11 x 14 inches

Dodson’s paintings hang in numerous corporate and private collections across the country, including the U. S. State Department and U.S. embassies in Panama and Guyana. Her association with Sweet Briar, she says, began more than 20 years ago during her first residency as a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, located just across U.S. 29.

“I was introduced to the beauty of the campus, which was especially meaningful, given that I am a plein-air painter,” she says. “Sweet Briar has offered valuable cultural opportunities to the surrounding communities during the years I have lived in Nelson County, and I am very happy to show my work in Benedict Gallery.”

Dodson has been awarded fellowships at the VCCA and the Vermont Studio Center, in addition to a painting fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Her affiliations include The Washington Society of Landscape Painters and The McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville. Her work is featured in “Sunday Drives” and “100 Plein Air Painters of the Mid-Atlantic,” and Dodson served as the artist member of the Virginia Art & Architecture Review Board from 2010 to 2014. Learn more about her at graysdodson.com.

Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The gallery closes when the College is not in session; it is recommended that visitors call ahead to confirm hours. For more information, email Sweet Briar galleries director Karol Lawson at klawson@sbc.edu or call (434) 381-6248.