Found Accident, Landscape Paintings by Julia Sutliff, on View through September 28 at Adkins Arboretum


In Julia Sutliff’s paintings, flowers dance, trees sway, and you can just about feel the sunlight or rain on your skin. Returning for her third show at Adkins Arboretum, Sutliff is exhibiting her newest oil paintings in the Visitor’s Center gallery through Sept. 28. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Sat., Aug. 18 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Most of Sutliff’s landscapes are painted outdoors near her home in Cockeysville, where she lives with her husband, Rob, and Adam, their 8-year-old son. Even though she paints very specific places, her paintings aren’t realistic. They don’t look like photographs and aren’t meant to. Instead of defining every stem, blossom and leaf, she relays the fleeting impression of being at that place at that very moment in time.

In “Fall Cascade,” there’s an instant sensation of tall trees soaring up beyond masses of green and orange foliage, but the details of the high branches aren’t shown. It’s as if they’re seen with peripheral vision.

“I’ve started to look at Monet a lot,” Sutliff explained. “He has an inattention to edges that I like. I think you can create a rhythm that seems to replicate sight somehow and the experience of being in a place.”

Although she earned master’s degrees in English and teaching and went on to teach English, when she took some art classes at Rhode Island School of Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art, she realized that what she really wanted to do was paint.

These new paintings have a particular intimacy and sense of discovery. Whether she is focusing close-up on wildflowers or painting hazy sunlight glowing through a grove of trees, Sutliff skillfully conveys the scene’s unique beauty and atmosphere.

“I’m constantly trying to balance everything,” she said. “The focus, dark and light, small marks and big marks, chaos and order.”

There’s a patch of brilliant yellow-green in the foreground of “Winter Hillside in the Rain.” It might be a grassy meadow or a patch of lawn, but the specifics don’t matter. The brightness is balanced by the misty gray hill rising behind, where quick strokes of gray-brown indicate the trunks of the bare trees. Muted colors around the trees and the softness of the brushstrokes tell of the kind of rainy day when color sings out against the shadows and you can smell the wetness in the air.

“Color is everything for me,” Sutliff explained. “If the colors aren’t good, I’m not finding anything to paint.”

Finding things to paint is one her biggest challenges. During the window of time while her son is at school, she searches out nearby bits of nature wherever she can, often painting in a park close to home.

She said, “I have to really, really look to find things I haven’t done before, so that’s kind of pushed my hand to be more innovative.”

Although she occasionally works from photographs, she finds her work is not as inspired unless she is painting directly from nature.

“I wish photos worked as well, but they don’t,” she said. “The more I can do something that feels authentic, the better it is for me. It has to come from within to be what you do best.”

This show, titled Found Accident, is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. It is on view through Sept. 28, 2012 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

“Winter Hillside in Rain” is among the works of Julia Sutliff currently exhibited at Adkins Arboretum. Titled Found Accident, Sutliff’s collection of landscape oil paintings in on view through Sept. 28.