Two great minds find beauty in the world around them

Although married couple Rita Baragona and St. Clair Sullivan live together and paint together, their works are very different. “A Marriage of Two Minds” is featured at the Art Gallery in the Bart Luedeke Center until Dec. 7.By Lauren Runza

In 1970, Rita Baragona and St. Clair Sullivan, two students at the New York Studio School, met and fell in love. Nearly 40 years later, the two are presenting their works at Rider in an exhibit entitled “A Marriage of Two Minds.”

Sullivan developed an interest in painting later in life than many of his contemporaries; in 1960 he attended Princeton University, where he majored in English, and it wasn’t until his late 20s that he left his cushy job as junior editor in a publishing group for his current vocation.

Baragona had reached her career decision during high school, although she had once considered studying physics. Originally a student at New York University, she was convinced by a professor to transfer to the New York Studio School. According to her, after her transfer she was “finally in a place among teachers and students who cared about art the way I did.”

Although married, the two artists work separately, and their styles can be easily distinguished from one another. Both make use of vibrant color and paint images from nature, but Baragona’s paintings can be considered dreamy and impressionistic, while Sullivan paints landscapes that are so vividly detailed they appear almost photographic. All of Baragona’s images have a light, sun-soaked quality, whereas Sullivan makes use of a more realistic, if dimmer, influx of light.

The two take their inspiration from the beauty they find around them, particularly around their home in Columbia, N.J. Sullivan often treks the surrounding nature trails, photographing whatever catches his fancy with his digital camera, and later settles down to put it on canvas. In fact, these very nature trails influenced him to quit painting interiors and switch to landscapes.

“I have a taste for places that are lonely looking and seem kind of remote,” he said.

Baragona, however, tends to stay closer to home, painting scenes from her garden or of flowers inside of the house. She shows a preference for painting flowers, rather than entire scenes like her husband.

“Flowers, for me, are the most beautiful, most colorful things that you can paint,” she said. “I’m really interested in color, and how colors can make you feel.”

Sullivan works with oil paints, which are highly luminous but dry slowly. The acrylics Baragona uses can resemble either watercolor or oil paint, depending on the dilution. It dries much more quickly, usually within 15 minutes or so. The reason she uses this medium stems from the lack of time she had while raising their children.

“When my kids were little, I learned to paint in 15-minute blotches,” she said. “That’s when I switched to acrylics, because they have quicker set-up and drying times.”

In consideration to how different their paintings appear, the artists have nothing but positive responses, at least in respect to each other.

“Our paintings are entirely different,” Sullivan admitted with a smile. “Rita has this wonderful color sense and everything is exciting; then you look at mine and they’re dreary.”

Baragona, however, chose to explain things differently.

“St. Clair mirrors nature,” she said. “He sees his picture as taking the picture, whereas I look underneath nature. I am painting exactly what I see, only it’s my perception of what I see, so my things are very loose, very fluid and very colorful.”

Overall, the two artists are masters of their craft, and it’s highly recommended that anyone with an appreciation for the arts checks out their gallery before it leaves Rider University.

The exhibit runs Nov. 6 to Dec. 7. and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

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