The Oreo Cookie Principle
Artist Louise Sackett paints with passion, bolstered by intellect.
by Marjorie Lilly
I turn right onto a dirt road off Hwy. 180 northwest of Silver City. The road winds upwards for two miles with sweeping views of hillsides dotted with piñon and juniper.
Artist Louie Sackett on her property northwest of Silver City.
(Photo by Marjorie Lilly)
At the very top is the driveway to the house that Louise Sackett and her husband Dick moved to over two years ago, from which they have a spectacular view out onto the surrounding hills and houses. Sackett, this month's cover artist, has a new studio there in a converted garage. That's where she's planning to have her grand opening on May 4-5.
In her studio she has a large ceramic bowl overflowing with ribbons she's won at exhibitions.
She's showed at numerous venues in both California and New Mexico. With the help of an online organization called Fine Line Artists, she's exhibited her paintings in Canada, Virginia and New Hampshire.
Several of Sackett's paintings are hanging in her house, and there are many more in her studio. I like a pencil drawing of sliced lemons that's hanging in a hallway. The lemons are very translucent, and I ask Sackett about them. What she points out is that the lemons are "very abstract in a lot of ways."
A lot of landscapes are on the walls of her garage-studio. Her use of color is subtle and the landscapes are warm and dreamy.
She's an enthusiast of what is called plein air painting. She explains that in French the phrase literally means "open air," but in common practice it's loosely translated as "with the thing there in front of you" — instead of painting from a photograph.
Currently she paints mostly in pastels and oils. She usually does landscapes in oils and still lifes in pastels. "There's something very sensuous about pastels," she says. "There's nothing between the pigment and you. There's nothing artificial, no gloves."
I was attracted to Louise Sackett's works because of the luminosity she achieves. There's an acute realism in her still lifes, and she makes sunlit colors that leap off the canvas.
She, on the other hand, is always talking about the composition, or the nice effect she achieved in a particular shadow of a leaf.
She tells me about one of her workshop instructors, Ken Oster, and a certain model for thought passed along by him: Intellect/passion/intellect. "You can't express passion in a piece of art without it being bolstered by intellect," she explains. She calls this the "Oreo cookie principle."
Sackett grew up in a French-Canadian community in Gardiner, Mass., a town off Route 2 (a road I know like the back of my hand from my own growing-up years).
"I didn't speak English until I was 9 or 10," she says.
“Nectarines and Sunflowers”
In the Catholic school she attended they taught half the day in French and half in English. "When I get really tired, my grammatical structure reverts to French," she says, gurgling with laughter. As an example she offers, "Throw me down my sweater red."
Sackett was from a blue-collar family with little education, but her grandmother had a high school degree. Whenever she had any spare time, the grandmother would pull out a piece of paper and sketch. "She would draw with a crow-quill pen, which used to blow me away," Sackett says.
"One of my earliest memories was my grandmother at a table with an oilcloth tablecloth and a kerosene lamp [at their summer cottage], teaching me how to feel things with my eyes."
She remembers her grandmother teaching her in French — "Pensez bien, pensez bien." ("Think well, think well.") "She was very patient, very insightful," Sackett adds.
"She would use food coloring for watercolors," Sackett says. She would paint birds, trees and flowers. "They were very, very delicate — they had the delicacy of watercolor wash."
It was very important to Sackett that she had someone in her family who "did art."
Sackett early showed a talent for art herself and headed for an art degree after high school. "I was accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design, but my mother wanted me closer to home," she says.
So she started out taking courses at the Worcestor Art Museum School. This education was cut short by her marriage at 19, when she moved to San Diego. She spent many years getting her BA in art at San Diego State University.
She was turned off by abstract art because of instructors who had "absolute sour grapes because they hadn't made it like Pollock."
Sackett became a confirmed realist when she took her abstract works and burned them. "I literally had a bonfire in the courtyard of the SDSC campus. I got a permit."
But she adds, "Art is big. There's room for all."
Sackett had a career for 25 years with the Navy in San Diego doing work that involved armament systems. "I was a classically trained artist but could understand computerspeak," she says. "I did 3D modeling, schematics, animations and scenario training."
Some of her talent for this may have come from her grandmother's training. "I had the ability to translate anything they told me into visuals," she says. "I liked the tactile element of the thing.
"Art took a back seat," she adds, although she did take workshops during the last few years of this time period.
She's now pretty much a full-time artist, actively exhibiting her own art and taking workshops. She's even given a couple of workshops herself in Silver City.
"The light is what attracts me to the subject matter," she says. "The light is the attraction; it's the hook. You like things that glow, like any child. I'm a child." But she says she always asks herself, "Is the composition strong enough to carry it?"
I keep asking her how she gets such beautiful light into her paintings. "If you look at a thing long enough, you see more and more things," she says. "It's the way light breaks across an object, the way it falls on it, the way it lessens as the object turns."
"You have to understand the structure of it, as it's revealed by light," she says deliberately, as if summarizing her approach to painting.
In one of her blog entries titled "Getting the Glow," she describes what this glow is: "Sometimes it's in your face. Sometimes you have to hunt it down, get under a tree and look up, glance at a sun-filled sky of backlit clouds, lean over a cliff to see the magical effect of light."
In comments about other artists, past and present, who have influenced her, Sackett is full of enthusiasm (the word "amazing" pops up over and over) and pungent observations.
"I gravitate towards painters that paint light," she starts out saying, mentioning Swedish painter Anders Zorn.
She describes his contemporary, Paul Gauguin, "For a roué, he was really good," she jokes, using the French term for a rake or debauchee. "His color is phenomenal — rich, saturated, lush."
She admires current Minnesota painter Jeffrey T. Larson. "He's the total antithesis of Gauguin," she says. "He's controlled, muted. His composition is right on the money."
About John Singer Sargent, she says, "He practiced economy of means. If one stroke can say it, don't use three to ten."
She also likes contemporary landscape artist Camille Przewodek. "She's from what they call the Cape Cod School," Sackett says. "She uses an entirely different color system. Her work literally glows."
With the help of her husband, Sackett spends a lot of time these days taking trips outdoors to do paintings, although limited by the weather and sometimes bad health. She finds painting on boards easier than using a notepad or easel.
She doesn't use pastels, because "pastels break, and they're very expensive," she says. The car is always packed with oil paints and other supplies for their trips, and she carries what she can into the field with a backpack.
Sackett is affiliated with many organizations including the International Plein Air Painting Society (IPAP), American Women Artists (AWA), Black Range Artists and Fine Line Artists.
"I want to build a community out here," she says, meaning an art society made up of people living in the houses in the surrounding hills.
Louise Sackett's website is at
Marjorie Lilly writes the Borderlines column.