WEST ORANGE, NJ — At several points throughout the year, the West Orange Public Library will adorn its exhibit space with work from local and nonlocal artists. The selection process favors pieces that fit with the library’s values and themes.
This month, the library, located at 46 Mount Pleasant Ave., did not have to look far to meet its criteria, as one of its own librarians, Marianne DeAngelis, had a series of her paintings selected to be shown mere feet from where she works her day job.
The exhibit, “fragments + passages,” is a selection of oil paintings done by DeAngelis from 2009 to 2017. DeAngelis described them as “an insight into how (she) sees painting,” with the notion that the paintings are all fragments of a continuum.
DeAngelis said she was glad to have the paintings hanging in the library, as she thinks it lends them a new context.
“It is nice to see the works at the library, as I haven’t visited with them in a while,” DeAngelis told the West Orange Chronicle. “It is interesting to see the conversation between the paintings — how they respond to one another.”
DeAngelis described her process for creating the paintings, which are colorful and expressive, as quite the undertaking. She layers paint and continues to make marks on the canvas until she feels the image looks natural and fully formed. The process can take anywhere from a few days to years, with DeAngelis working on multiple pieces at a time.
“I choose a color, perhaps influenced by something I saw, something that caught my eye, and I make a mark,” DeAngelis said. “I continue making marks, removing areas, building a history, until the painting seems as if it just appeared, complete. Some paintings come together rather quickly; others can take years. Some lay dormant for long periods of time and are worked on sporadically until there is a resolution or a pause when it feels complete.”
DeAngelis’ eye for art was present from when she was just a child, when she would visit museums with her grandmother. She said she can still recall the thickness of paint and the beauty of the colors present in pieces by the likes of Vincent van Gogh as she wandered the halls of the Met.
Later on in life, while helping a friend apply to art school, DeAngelis said she realized that she too wanted to pursue the arts. She took night classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York while working full-time. After an instructor observed how DeAngelis worked with ink, DeAngelis was encouraged to move into painting as well. It’s a moment that DeAngelis said reconnected her with her youth.
“Paint is a visceral medium and can be messy and unpredictable,” DeAngelis said. “As a child it was the medium I preferred. There is a beauty of not completely controlling the medium.”
DeAngelis said this journey into the world of painting has given her some of the best experiences of her life. After receiving a grant, DeAngelis had the opportunity to study in Paris, a hub of artistic creation. She said she got to explore the city and fell in love with its ambience and, of course, its art.
Art was always at the forefront of DeAngelis’ experiences, and DeAngelis said learning how to understand the process of painting was the most enriching experience yet.
“Paintings are a meditative medium. They are experiential; they evolve with our attention. The more time we spend with them, the more we see,” DeAngelis said. “I see the work as an entity, not as a possession. The paintings interact with the space they are in, they change in reaction to where and how they are curated, and they change with the light throughout the day.”
DeAngelis’ journey and love of art eventually led her to the West Orange Public Library. After applying for a position last year, she was made a reference and programming librarian — a role she said is very fulfilling, as she gets to interact with the public during her day-to-day operations.
She also said that she has been focusing on making the library a space for artists like herself to exhibit their work, allowing the community a chance to experience art in an educational environment. Right now, DeAngelis said she is working on a creative aging program, in which artists teach workshops for older adults.
All the while, DeAngelis is still developing her own art, taking obstacles, such as the pandemic, in stride and using her love of the medium to carry her forward.
“There never seems to be enough time for everything,” DeAngelis said. “These past few years have thrown me a few curveballs, so I focus on what I can. I tend to paint in cycles anyhow, so something new is bound to happen.”