Ludlowville Falls 2

My friend Jan Strnad, a comic book writer, television animation writer-and-editor, and novelist, once said to me that, because we live so relatively long now, owing to modern medicine, that it is possible for a human being to have two or three disparate careers in his or her lifetime.

This was on my mind as I was asked to write about the work of the Ithaca artist Nari Mistry.

Mistry is also a scientist.He received his Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University in New York City in 1963, and had a long career as a research physicist.

I chatted with Mistry via e-mail, and got a little background information for the Perspicacious Reader.He wrote:

“I am what is known as an experimental particle physicist,” he said, “working with accelerators to study the fundamental sub-atomic particles that make up the universe. At the Wilson Lab at Cornell we used an electron accelerator (synchrotron) and the Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR) to study the particles.”

Mistry retired in 2003 after 39 years in the Cornell physics department.

The physicist grew up in Bombay, India (now called Mumbai). He said, “It was a great place to grow up, very cosmopolitan, lots of cultural and fun things to do.”

I asked at what age he knew he wanted to be a scientist and/or an artist. He wrote: “I knew I wanted to be a physicist when I was in my last two years of high school. Before that, I wanted to be a ship captain!”

As for the arts: “I started painting when I was a teenager, just trying out watercolors, but I was drawing and sketching as a kid.”

In an artist statement, Mistry wrote, “Landscapes in watercolors, acrylics, oils, and pastels make up most of my work. I continue to paint a series of watercolors of the beautiful scenes of Ithaca and surroundings …”

As for influences, he wrote: “Learning watercolor techniques through practice and observation, I was inspired especially by close examination of the watercolors of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.”

I went to the Tompkins County Public Library and took out a couple of books of the work of Winslow Homer (1836-1910) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). And all I’ve got to say is Mistry has chosen excellent art-heroes to emulate. Both artists were working at an almost incomprehensible level of quality and beauty and humanity.

And Mistry seems like such a serious and accomplished artist.With work appearing in regional galleries and juried shows, and his studio being a destination on the Greater Ithaca Art Trail.

I visited the Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center at the Cornell Plantations to view the exhibition of Mistry’s landscape paintings called “Scenes of Ithaca.”

The Cornell Plantations is one of the most wonderful things in Ithaca. It preserves some 500 acres of natural areas on campus (and manages and protects over 3500 acres around the Cayuga Lake basin).

It’s like an upstate Garden of Eden with all kinds of trails and exotic trees and flowers and lily ponds and waterfalls and overlooks, and big, weird sculptures that look like the work of aliens, and flocks of wild geese that look like miniature apatosaurs and so on.

The Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center is a beautiful building, all steel and glass and hardwood and bluestone.It has a sort of futurist look like something out of the 1960s animated television program The Jetsons.Which is appropriate as it was constructed in the 21st century. It opened in February 2011. (It was constructed to be in the forefront of green design and “was built to minimize its environmental impact”.) It overlooks a big expanse of emerald grass and sits next to the botanical gardens, near the entrance to the Plantations off Forest Home Drive at the east end of Beebe Lake.

The exhibition is composed of watercolors (and one acrylic painting of Taughannock Falls), which is OK with me because I like the watercolors best.

My favorites would include:

“Enfield Falls, Treman Park” … Perhaps I like this one so much because some of my earliest childhood memories in life are of swimming at the Enfield Falls swimming area as a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (Looking back, I often think it was a bit like a childhood in Heaven.)

And, here, Mistry captures the deep, rich forest green of summer, the pines and the moss on the shale-and-siltstone cliffs, the dark, choppy, green water with the sunlight flashing on it … One can almost smell the wet, fresh, green smell of the forest, hear the timeless sound of the falls, feel the rough burlap of the diving board on the soles of one’s bare feet …

Both “Six Mile Creek,” a summer painting, and “Fall Creek in Winter” have a pronounced Winslow Homer feel. “Fall Creek in Winter” is especially impressionistic, with rather broad strokes of blue and indigo and purple in the white snow, and grays and umber and sepia in the shadows. It does remarkably well at capturing what my friend, the Ithaca artist Susan Booth Titus, calls the “bittersweet beauty” of winter.

And “Ludlowville Falls 2” works like gangbusters. The near abstract expressionist explosion of white-and-greenish-brown of the falls does a marvelous job of conveying the feel of a rushing, cascading waterfall, and the near abstract expressionist background of dark green, lit by musical flashes of red-and-yellow, perfectly conveys the magical feel of deep green summer foliage.

“Buttermilk Falls” is a bit tighter: Impressionist, but a bit more naturalistic like Academic Realism, and again, a Homer and Sargent feel …

And “Flat Rock, Fall Creek” with its bathers at a little concrete dam in the forest really feels like a lost Winslow Homer. (Perhaps because one senses a similar love of humanity in the painting).

“Marina at Taughannock” is, again, a bit tighter, almost photographic. (Although, if you look close, it is totally impressionistic in technique.) With a little wooden bridge with summer people sunning on it, boats tethered at dock in the rippling summer water, sun-dappled trees and green rolling parkland, and distant summer lake … It all hits the viewer as if one were there. One can almost hear the water lapping around the boats and the singing of the birds, feel the summer sun on one’s arms, and smell the lake …

“Old Mill Falls, Upper Treman Park” and “Old Weir, Upper Buttermilk” are both wonderful paintings, capturing the transitory magic of deep summer in upstate New York. (I think of Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine where Grandpa magically bottles summer in wine bottles down in the cellar …)

“Kip’s Barn, Lab of O” is a dance of impressionistic color, looking like it was put down fast. But, from a distance, it too, has a realistic feel like a photo. Indeed, it is a beautiful snapshot of life … with misty, distant pines, mid-foreground leafy trees, and the realistically rendered barn (nice use of perspective) and a pond with its flora reflected in the water.

“Overlook, Cornell Plantations” … I find this painting especially appealing. It is a downshot from the Newman Overlook at the Plantations (the one with that big, Oriental gong up there) looking down at the Houston Lily Pond below (with that wonderful neo-Japanese gazebo on the water) and the big, white War of the Worlds Martian-walker water tower and McConville Barn high on a distant hill …

It is an early fall scene, with shots of bright red-and-orange-and-gold and vivid, hallucinatory red-violet within the late summer green, with a full, fall sky of white, wet East Coast cumulous clouds. What seems significant to me is that it is stylistically different – a bit more cartoony and simplified. It reminds me of my favorite American painter, Thomas Hart Benton.

“Beebe Lake” is a radically different sort of painting. We see a high angle of Beebe Lake in the fall, the blazing foliage reflected in the lake, a couple of people paddling a canoe on the water …

The colors (vivid, violent reds-and-blues and violet and green and gold) are almost Day-Glo, and the technique virtually as wild as a Jackson Pollock.

(The technique reminds me of the work of the late, great animation background painter, Johnny Vita, who styled all of Ralph Bakshi’s early films, and painted with wild, vivid explosions of watercolor …)

And, somehow, the painting conveys the wonderful, wet freshness of a fall day in upstate New York …

In summation, I would recommend that the Art-Loving Reader drop by the Plantations Welcome Center and take in the Nari Mistry exhibit.

There is no way to lose in the proposition. It is an early spring and the Welcome Center, which has both a café and a gift shop, is right next to the botanical gardens, so the Reader can stroll the Plantations in early spring and smell the roses and so on. A wonderful way to spend a spring afternoon after work, or perhaps a Saturday on the weekend. Indeed, the Cornell Plantations is one more marvelous resource that makes Ithaca such a charming and culturally rich place to live (and Nari Mistry’s paintings are one more resource to make life worth living).

Nari Mistry’s “Scenes of Ithaca” exhibition runs from March 2 to April 28 at the Cornell Plantations Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center, One Plantations Road, Ithaca, N.Y.The hours are Tuesday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.The grounds are open sunrise to sunset. The Cornell Plantations phone number is (607) 255-2400. The website is Nari Mistry’s website is


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