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Napa Valley Artists in Residence: Molly Corbett, letting the painting guide her
Artists in Residence

Napa Valley Artists in Residence: Molly Corbett, letting the painting guide her

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Molly Corbett, whose work is in many fine art collections, paints with spontaneous and intuitive brush strokes from her studio, on a hill, overlooking the vineyards below.

Using acrylic paint, she “lets the painting guide” her to the next step as she refines it.

In the past, Corbett often depicted the abundant wildlife, especially the birds, that she saw from her studio, with its floor-to-ceiling windows. Her canvases, once covered with landscapes and animals, are now devoted to more abstract works.

“I’ve been focusing on abstracts with a few realistic pieces for Jessel’s cigar box show,” Corbett said, referring to Napa’s Jessel Gallery.

“I’m working on a series that I started a while ago that has evolved over time,” she said. “The inspiration came when we were having our house painted and the windowpanes were covered with newspaper to protect them from the paint spray.”

“Inside, we have curtains that have sheer circles as a pattern,” she said. “I could see the newsprint through the sheer circles. I thought, ‘what if I painted a painting where you could see another painting coming through the top layer of paint.’ So, I painted a large grid consisting of many different colored squares on my canvas.”

“Then, I laid the curtain fabric across the painting and used it as a guide to figure where to create the circle pattern,” she continued. “I ended up with a field of color with the circles revealed from underneath. Each circle becomes a small abstract painting in itself.”

The paintings she is working on now have evolved without the grids and circles. These paintings have begun more spontaneously, but she is “still building up many, many layers and colors.”

Her goal is to reveal the “exciting painting beneath the surface.” Her biggest challenge in doing this, she said, is to pull the whole piece together as a cohesive work with so many elements at work.

At the beginning of the shelter in place, Corbett painted every day, taking advantage of the long days with “great sunlight” coming into her studio.

“Then I got sidetracked with the cleaning and the purging bug – like a lot of people,” she said, laughing.

When the shelter-in-place mandate began, Corbett said she felt restless. Not going to the gym to work out was hard for her, so she replaced her former exercise routine with walking.

Corbett and her husband, Skip Kruse, have been taking daily two-mile walks along an old county road that serves as an extension of their driveway. Their three cats join them on these walks.

“The cats love it and come running when it’s time to go. They stop to smell things and climb trees,” Corbett said. “It’s so nice to be able to stop and really enjoy the beauty of where we live.”

These walks with her husband have been fostering a deeper appreciation for nature and the abundance of wildlife in the area surrounding her home, she said.

“Every evening, the light is a little different, or I see a new tree that I didn’t notice before and listen to the birds and crickets singing their songs,” she said.

“Over time I have felt more relaxed over-all, since I’m not trying to rush from here to there and trying to do too much in a day,” she said. “I’ve slowed the pace down and it’s been really great.”

Corbett took a short hiatus from painting when her sister had surgery two weeks ago. This week, her husband is scheduled for knee replacement surgery.

“I’ll be busy for a while. But as soon as everyone is back to health, I will be back in my studio,” she said. “I’m very excited about the direction my work is taking, and can’t wait to jump back in.”

Corbett’s artistic journey began before she was old enough to attend school. Being the youngest of four children, she had her mother to herself while the older children were at school. She fondly remembers painting with her artist mother.

Even though her mother had four children, she always found time for painting, sculpting, printmaking, sketching and more.

One of Corbett’s treasures is a sketch her mother did of her when she was a baby.

“We’d draw together,” Corbett said. “Mother was a good art teacher.”

Her mother taught art classes professionally for years. Corbett recalls art classes where her mother took her students to a beach. There were times when her mother gave her students brooms or sticks to use on nine-foot paintings.

Along with her mother, Corbett learned to paint with sumi ink by following a Japanese teacher every afternoon on television. Her mother would also take her to painting class and set her up with a still life and oils.

During childhood, Corbett’s love for creating and working with her hands emerged in painting her furniture, sewing and drawing. She often wrote and illustrated little books.

In high school, she “dabbled in” jewelry making, weaving and sculpture.

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in textiles, Corbett started a successful hand-painted fabric company in San Francisco, with showroom representation nationwide. The fabrics were used for interiors, drapes, furniture and walls.

“It was in the early 1980s,” Corbett said. “My abstract and painterly symbols on fabric were most popular in hotter climates.”

When Corbett and her husband moved to Napa Valley a little over three decades ago, she was able to fulfill her “long-held dream.”

“We built a light-filled studio and I began painting on canvas,” she said.

From the couple’s remote place in the valley, they see wild animals that include ravens and other types of birds, foxes, squirrels, turkeys, and sometimes bobcats, coyotes and a mountain lion.

Corbett not only feels a deep connection to the wildlife in her area, she also has pets, including three “beautiful donkeys.”

“Donkeys have such delightful personalities, that I had to capture their essence on the canvas,” she said.

Since the pandemic began, Corbett has been missing the camaraderie of interacting with her five-member art group that previously met every Monday.

“Each artist is pursuing their own work and medium. We respect each other’s work and give critiques when asked,” Corbett said. “It’s a great support system and a lot of fun.”

What Corbett misses most is spending quality time with friends and family members – especially her mother.

“The first thing I would like to do when the quarantine is over is give my 96-year old mom a big hug,” Corbett said.

Corbett has been able to visit her mother, who lives in a nursing facility in San Rafael, only half an hour a week, and those visits are through a window.

To see more of Corbett’s work, go to MollyCorbett.com.

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