Nicole Wittenberg’s Simple Scenes Paint an Otherworldly Stillness

The New York painter, who often spends summers sketching midcoast Maine’s luminous sunsets, vividly recalls one night when the haze and smoke from California’s devastating wildfires drifted across the country and shrouded the sky in uncanny bright pink shades.

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Nicole Wittenberg, 43, New York (@nwitts)

Title of work: Sunset 21 (2022). 

Where to see it: “Our Love Is Here to Stay” at Acquavella Palm Beach (340 Royal Poinciana Way, Suite M309) until Jan. 10.

Three words to describe it: Reflective, expansive, resplendent.

What was on your mind at the time: Making landscape paintings for me is pure pleasure as nature reflects all the beauty that is imaginable. This pond in Maine where I spend my summers has been a subject for me for the past decade, and every night at sunset I see something I’ve never seen before. It changes so quickly, second to second, and I love the race that starts 20 minutes before sunset. It’s 20 minutes to see if I can capture the feeling of that particular sunset knowing that if I miss it, I’ll never see it again.

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: I made this painting in the summer of 2021, during the devastating wildfires in California. The smoke had drifted across the country, and the haze turned the sunsets for one week into this bright shade of pink I had never seen before. While I worked on the study for this painting, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fires. For the show where this work will be presented, Acquavella Galleries and I have been given the privilege of donating the proceeds to Art to Acres. The sale of the painting will receive 200 percent in matching funds to conserve about 40,000 acres, funding the creation of a permanent protected area—either a municipal, regional, or national park, or an Indigenous conserved area.

How it reflects your practice as a whole: I never really think of my practice as a finite or complete entity because it’s always changing. The thing I like so much about painting is the freedom. There is no destination, really, it’s the wandering that’s so exciting.

One song that captures its essence: “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

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