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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Michelle Babbitt Paints HAG Red

Have you ever had a dream so detailed in scenery that you wished you could preserve that image infinitely? One UMB alumni keeps her easel and paint supplies next to her bed and after such vivid slumbers, she dashes to her canvas and her dreams come alive at the stroke of a brush. The Harbor Art Gallery has recently opened its doors to the world of Michelle Babbitt. The paintings in the exhibit, described by the artist as an “evolution” of her work, were completed over the course of four years during her ongoing struggle with diabetes.

Babbitt’s stream of paintings borders the white gallery walls like a vibrant flowing river. Her most striking artwork includes images of the planet Mars, which she painted using a fierce red color. Her two paintings of Mars feature gothic-like mountains soaked in a crimson sky. Gazing at the image longer than a couple of seconds allows one to be transported quite literally “out of this world” and placed smack dab in the middle of another planet. Babbitt says she loves to play around with reds in her work.

Many of her earlier paintings have a nature essence, portraying several images of trees that appear to be blowing freely in the wind. Though realistic, the trees are set in an abstract, dream-like setting. “A lot of things come to me when I’m sleeping,” says Babbitt. Many of the leaves she painted for the trees displayed the blood red shade used in the Mars artwork.

One large painting of a tree that seems to float on the canvas sits alone on one of the gallery walls. Bordered by a chunky gold frame, the painting is noteworthy because it is the only framed painting in her show. Babbitt explains that since it is simply a painting of a tree, the frame adds another dimension, drawing one’s attention to the image.

Her most recent paintings include large, freehand illustrations of type written letters, some buried in a chaotic jumble of colors. Babbitt says inspiration behind these paintings was her obsession with how these letters looked. She exclaimed, “Wow, that could be big!” while talking about how small typed written letters appeared, as in a book for instance.

Babbitt grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where she described the arts as a sparse topic there. Despite the lack of arts in her town, Babbitt says she was talented with crayons, paint, and arts and crafts.After developing juvenile diabetes at age nine, life was a constant battle for Babbitt. In this case, painting was a way for her to vent. She states, “I used drawings as an outlet for my frustration, except I made pretty things. Things to hope for, peaceful and serene. I wanted to escape these places and not feel pain,” she explained.

It wasn’t until she turned thirty that she ventured off to explore an education in English and art at UMB, where she studied from 1999-2002. “It didn’t take me long to know what I wanted to do. I was already doing it everyday in my dreams, creating colors and images and imaginations of perfection. Things I wanted to achieve around me and inside me but sickness blocked it,” says Babbitt. She served on the committee for Arts on the Point, a public art initiative at the UMB, but was forced to depart from the UMB community on account of her sickness.

A couple of UMB professors in particular inspired Babbitt to paint. She commented, “I was especially inspired to paint by my first drawing instructor Wilfredo Chiesa and was inspired to grow in it by another outstanding UMass professor, Paul Tucker.”

Babbitt says her diabetes feels like a perpetual case of the flu. Painting, in this sense, seems to curb her illness. She says, “I paint solutions to these feelings. I think they are less cathartic and more like a steady stream of possible cures-at least that’s the way I hope to perceive it.”

“My paintings never end. I just pick up and leave off with each new canvas depending on the time period, what I’m going through, and what colors I see. I feel like my head is a printmaking machine that’s not always plugged in nor full of ink,” Babbitt states.

Babbitt is grateful for her family and cites them as additional inspirations to create. She says, “But if it weren’t for my husband and mentor Todd Babbitt and my most reckless chaotic creative son Max, I might not even be around today to paint.”

Michelle Babbitt’s paintings will be featured in the HAG gallery until November 11.