Nature has inspired some of the world’s most beloved artists of all stylistic backgrounds, from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to Winslow’s “Sunlight on the Coast.” Some of the best-known paintings – even if they are not always known by name – attempt to capture the beauty and power of nature. Carol Roark, a painter based in the Mississippi Delta, does the same every time she picks up a brush.
Roark began painting at age 13 under private instruction. She continued painting and sketching throughout her youth, focusing on equine portraiture. Then, when she began studying for a BFA at Mississippi State University, she fell in love with plein air painting – the art of capturing outdoor scenes in natural lighting – under the instruction of Sammy Britt. Roark’s affinity for plein air painting bolstered and was bolstered by her love of the landscapes around her.
“The landscapes are vast, with a strong sense of atmosphere,” Roark said. “There is no place like the South, especially the Mississippi Delta. The Southern culture is so tied to the land. Sadly, I think most people never realize the beauty here, so I try to bring awareness to it through my work.”
Roark paints a variety of subjects en plein air but her most frequent subjects are horses, her family and the Mississippi landscape. It is the nature of plein air art to capture an honest and powerful representation of a place’s atmosphere. Because of this, Roark does not shy away from any aspects of the Mississippi Delta’s topography, including agriculture.
“You can’t appreciate the Delta and avoid agriculture,” Roark said. “I actually enjoy painting the way fields look during different stages of farming. I also like the challenge of painting the equipment and the structures found in the southern landscape. I think they are an important part of the Southern story.”
Roark believes sunlight is the most important aspect on which to focus when attempting to capture the feeling of a landscape. She especially loves the light of the Delta and how it changes seasonally and throughout the day, and said capturing this light helps her to bring out the “extraordinary in the ordinary,” such as the beauty of a dirty cotton gin or a weathered barn.
“The way light plays on and object and how it affects the colors around it, fascinates me,” Roark said. “It’s something that is very difficulty to capture in photography, especially the light and colors that are seen in shadows. I find this a challenge time and time again and I am always striving to get better at capturing it.”
She has been able to hone her skill partially thanks to the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, who awarded her a Community Supported Arts grant for 2018. This program allows members of the community to support local artists by purchasing “shares” of local projects. For her project, Roark completed “200 Days/200 Paintings,” the title of which speaks for itself.
“The confidence and experience I gained was immeasurable. All of the these paintings were from life and on location – in the heat, in the cold, in the rain and in many different locations,” she said. “I was able to paint the changing of the seasons from day to day which deepened my love for the landscape even more.”Shares of Roark’s project were purchased by community members through the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council’s CSA and were distributed to buyers at the Oxford Art Crawl on June 26. More information about Roark and her work can be found at her website, on Instagram @roarkstudios and on Facebook at Roark Studios.