Painter Catherine Raynes

A life shaped by art…




Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;

Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;

So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,

Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

Many people struggle throughout their lives to find a career that resonates, while others discover their path early in life and never falter. Rye, New Hampshire-based artist Catherine Raynes is one of those lucky few; she embraced her calling as a young child and has never looked back. “I knew from an early age that one day this is where I would be,” Raynes says.

The youngest of six, Raynes grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, the daughter of world-renowned naval architect John W. Gilbert. A man of vision and conviction, John Gilbert’s devotion to his work left an indelible mark on his youngest child. ‘Follow your dreams, know your passions, and believe in yourself’ were the principles my father lived by,” Raynes notes. “I admire my dad so much for that—it is who I am.”

Raynes’s father also introduced Catherine to the joys of creating art. Although his passion was naval architecture, John Gilbert was also a gifted artist who always encouraged his daughter to nurture her creativity and let her imagination run free. Raynes poignantly recalls that just months before his death, her father’s artistic talent was recognized with a first place award in the South Shore Art Center’s annual arts festival. (Her sister, also an artist, had entered the piece without their father’s knowledge.) “I’m always trying to win awards in these types of contests, and Dad took first place the one and only time his work was entered. It was a wonderful acknowledgement of his gift.  He was really surprised, but also very pleased.” Today, her father’s winning watercolor hangs in Raynes’s home, a joyful reminder of his legacy.

Although she embraced the creative life early on, it was not until high school that Raynes identified painting as the medium she would pursue. During a high school art class, she picked up a brush, dipped it in oil paint, and knew at that moment she had found her creative place. “I loved the way oil paint moved around my canvas, my ability to vary the weight of my brush strokes, and the smell of the linseed oil and turpentine—it made me feel like a real artist. I felt like I needed to paint,” Raynes says. She subsequently enrolled in the BFA program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she pursued a degree in art and design. A year-abroad program allowed her to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brugge, Belgium, and travel throughout Eastern Europe. The impact of the trip was profound. “I was completely immersed in the art, culture, and history of the area,” she recalls. “I was enamored of the Dutch Masters, particularly Rembrandt and Vermeer. I found their rich use of light and composition captivating.” Nor has this fascination with light, color, and composition waned for the artist in the intervening years. “The use of light and its effects are always central to my work,” she says.Yet painting is not merely an intellectual exercise for Raynes; she is also deeply committed to the narrative elements in her work, citing such artists as Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Andrew Wyeth as sources of inspiration. All these artists seek to reveal the inner beauty of their subjects. “Their techniques may vary from Impressionism to Realism,” she acknowledges, “but each has a wonderful narrative going on that draws me in every time.”

Raynes’s commitment to narrative is not only pervasive but also deeply influenced by the sea. The artist has spent virtually her entire life living in a seaside town and the maritime influence flows through her oeuvre. “My whole life has been shaped by the sea—personally and professionally,” Raynes says. In her early years as an artist, Raynes painted boats (she lovingly refers to this as her “homage to Dad” period). She then moved on to landscapes. Some, like Marsh Inlet and Winter Lake, focus on the simple beauty of untouched nature. Others, such as Summer Daydreams and Lighthouse Keeper’s House at Sunset, appear as elegiac remembrances of simpler times. Most recently, Raynes has focused on portraying simple icons that, for her, personify the sea: boats, buoys, and gulls. She renders these subjects with a bright, bold palette and clean, strong lines that immediately transport the viewer to an idyllic seaside environment. The warmth of the sun and the bite of the fresh salt air are palpable.

Raynes_LighthouseKeepersHouseAtSunsetIn attempting to concentrate the emotional impact of her works, Raynes has also devoted considerable effort to becoming more painterly. “My earlier work was tight, almost illustrative, but I’ve made a conscious effort to relax my style,” she says. “As an artist, you mature, evolve, get more comfortable with your voice as well as your technique. I find that I’m eager to push myself—I know that, technically speaking, the foundation is there, so now I can allow myself to paint more freely.” Her goal is graphic simplicity—in shape, feel, shadow, texture, and light. Whereas earlier works were about sweeping vistas, Raynes’s style today is more reductive, emotion distilled to its basic elements.

This approach is not only satisfying for Raynes but also for the viewer, who is easily drawn into the implied narrative of the scene. In Hidden Cottage, for example, Raynes establishes tension between the seen and unseen so that viewers of the painting wonder what is taking place in that home below the rise. Raynes is fully aware of the seductive power of what is hidden. “The unseen is where your imagination goes,” she says. One of Raynes’s favorite paintings is Red, White, and Blue, an unassuming front door on a weathered historic home (presumably in Portsmouth), adorned with festive bunting that undoubtedly signals a Fourth of July celebration. Raynes loves the work because she feels that she got the play of the light on the fabric just right, handling the passage in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent, an artist she deeply admires. But the work is also powerful for the emotions it evokes­—quiet strength, love of country, and respect for tradition. Viewers look at the canvas and smile wistfully. With such a response, Raynes has hit her mark. “I want my works to evoke a positive emotional response in the viewer,” she confesses. “We live in trying times and if, for just one moment, a person can feel a sense of peace or beauty in this world, then I’ve done my job.”


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