Art that isn’t set in stone, but created using stones for brushes

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Pour some paint into a tin can, add some stones and mix well. Now artist Timothy Roepe is ready to paint.

Sometimes the stones are swirled around and then tossed like dice onto a painted canvas. Other times, he plucks a single rock and makes it jump across the canvas like a stone skipped across the surface of a still pond. Stones drenched in oil paint are sometimes bounced off the canvas surface or simply dropped. No matter how the stones meet with Mr. Roepe’s abstract paintings-in-process, there’s a big dose of let’s-see-what-happens with the marks made.

While randomness plays a big part, there is somewhat of a science to working with stones: rounded ones from the beaches of the East End have lots of energy and seem to dance across the paintings; jagged rocks with hard edges from the Catskills make thin lines that take unexpected turns. One rock in Mr. Roepe’s collection seems particularly well-suited to making swirls.

In an apropos coincidence, it was rocks that first pulled Mr. Roepe away from painting landscapes into pure abstract art. A lover of nature, Mr. Roepe started working as a mason’s assistant, collecting stones in the Catskill Mountains and then sorting them. Rocks have an inert energy that’s hard to dismiss, Mr. Roepe said.

Transporting the large rocks from the mountains to the masonry yard involved hauling them onto a truck and then unloading them into bins. To make the work easier, Mr. Roepe would try to grab the rocks and hoist them with one fluid motion to where they were suppose to be stored.

Enter the Pollock-Krasner House. Dividing his time between living upstate and in Southampton, he took a tour and saw the works and heard the stories of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and his action painting. What struck Mr. Roepe was that the notion that spattering paint reflected a lack of drawing and technical skills was completely wrong.

Fascinated, Mr. Roepe immersed himself in the history of abstract art. Soon, he was invited to become a docent at the Pollock-Krasner House. He was passionately interested in what artists had to say about conquering the problems of painting. How are compositions made so the viewer’s gaze travels into a painting and then outward? How do artists prioritize pushing past a “pretty” painting to discover new challenges? And how can spontaneity and the unexpected get channeled into the quiet process of making a painting while standing still?

Mr. Roepe developed a great admiration for Pollock’s physicality of painting and of his work in general, but didn’t want to copy him, he said. So instead of throwing paint, Mr. Roepe started tossing rocks onto abstract washes of paint applied over sanded layers of acrylic and plaster. A series of these works is currently on view at RVS Gallery in Southampton.

While the paintings draw inspiration from Pollock and other abstract painters, Mr. Roepe says his style is all his own. He is not concerned with the quality of lines, like Pollock, but with creating a memory of viewing a landscape. This could be the sensation of looking through a tangle of branches, trees or grasses to try to see what’s beyond. Or synthesizing the way the clouds, the water and shoreline relate to each other.

More than anything, Mr. Roepe wanted to leave behind the experience of standing in front of a landscape and re-creating it in a realistic fashion. The farthest leap he could make was to abstraction. Developing a method of making colored underpaintings that combine with the dance of rocks and gravity allowed Mr. Roepe to access the artist he is happy to be.

Mr. Roepe has exhibited his landscape paintings at galleries on Long Island and upstate New York, including the Sullivan County Museum and the Crawford House Museum.

“Stone Paintings” by Timothy Roepe remains on view at RVS Fine Art, 20 Jobs Lane, Southampton, through February. The gallery is open Friday through Sunday and by appointment. For information, call the gallery at 283-8546 or email Timothyroepe@yahoo.com.

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