One of Jeanine Sobell Pastore's earliest memories is of visiting her father's biology lab. While giant computers hummed and researchers probed the structure of DNA, Pastore sat on the floor and drew with crayons.
Pastore, whose work is on display at the Beebe Estate this month, has spent much of her life balancing science and art. She entered college as a pre-med major, but left as an arts major. She made a career designing multimedia shows, which combined her technological and creative abilities.
Then a few years ago, she pushed away her computer and walked into the art studio. Nothing has been the same since.
Today, Pastore paints sun-drenched landscapes, crisply detailed watercolors, and abstract paintings that revel in the juicy texture and rich colors of oil paint. Her new vocation has tipped her life balance in a different direction, opening up a whole new world.
"While I was growing up, I was always an academic person," Pastore said, but art was in the house as well. Her father was a biology professor with an artistic streak. "He is a creative thinker," Pastore said. "He would come up with a theory, which is a very creative process, and he had lab of people who would do the research." He also dabbled in painting. Pastore's mother was trained as a concert pianist, but the family focus was on academic and scientific pursuits. "Nobody in my family that I know of has ever been a painter," Pastore said.
Pastore attended Bowdoin College, where she started out in pre-med. Alongside her calculus and chemistry courses, she took one art class. "I remember thinking to myself I will just take one art course," she said. "I thought it wasn't something I should take seriously." Spending her junior year in Italy changed that. "I went to an art school, and I would walk around Rome just overwhelmed by the art everywhere," she said. "I would take my sketchbook go to churches, go to parks, and just sketch." Upon her return, Sobell switched her major to visual arts. Her family was supportive, she said: "I think it was a self-imposed expectation that I should be an academic."
After graduation, Pastore moved to Boston and worked in a camera store. Some local photographers introduced her to a producer of slide shows, who taught her how to do the camera work and then how to work the computers that synchronized between six and 42 different slide projectors. Pastore turned out to have a knack for the work. "I'm a very detail oriented person," she said. "Everything has got to be exact. I'm a very organized person." Her technical aptitude helped her adapt quickly as the technology changed. She began creating her own graphics using Photoshop and then started doing the programming herself.
And then she stopped.
Pastore had three reasons: Her children. "Once I had the kids, I couldn't do it," she said. "I couldn't drop everything for a deadline. I was working from home, which was great. I had Federal Express and the internet, and I could work to 3 a.m. if I wanted to, but a deadline is a deadline." After September 11, the corporations that had been using Pastore as a freelancer started doing the work in-house, so there were fewer jobs for her. When she and her husband Ron decided to build a new house, one that would include an artist's studio for her, she left the multimedia field altogether.
"I did nothing for a while, and I started going crazy," Pastore said. "My husband said 'Jeanine, you have this brand new studio. Paint. That's what you've been wanting to do.'"
Five years ago, before the move, Pastore had traveled to Vermont to take a one-week course in landscape painting. Painting out in the open was a new experience. "When I'm sitting outside doing my sketches, I am painting what I see, but I'm not really looking at it as 'I'm going to paint a tree,'" she said. "I'm looking at it more abstractly - the color, how I feel, the sun beating on my face. I'm just reacting, but also thinking about this color next to that color, the composition. I have no sense of time. I'm not thinking about the schedule of things I'm doing in an hour. I'm thinking visually."
Pastore returned to Vermont the following summer to take a course in abstract painting. "I was always afraid of abstract painting, because I didn't understand it," she said. "It was a challenge and a risk." Once again, painting led Pastore to a different way of thinking. "I just started with what was in my head, not saying, 'I'm going to start with that corner over there,'" she said. "I just mixed some color and started painting, and it was great."
Now that she has a studio of her own, Sobell has been able to paint more consistently. "The kids are all so busy and at different points of their lives where it still takes up 105 percent of my time, but they are all in school during the day, so I do have a block of time I can devote to my painting," she said.
Most of Sobell's abstract work has some recognizable elements, like the series of paintings in the Beebe show of her studio windows, which juxtapose the recognizable pattern of the windowpanes with areas of pure color. "A lot of times when I'm outside, I tend to work much faster and I don't spend as much time mixing the exact color," she said. "With abstracts I can create my palette and put more thought into it."
While Pastore enjoyed her multimedia work, painting gives her a different, deeper satisfaction. "I think I'm having more fun, because I don't have these expectations of myself that I had when I was younger, i.e., becoming an academic, having to paint a certain way for a client," she said. "I am at this point of my life where I can just paint what comes naturally to me and not have to get anybody's approval. And I also find that I love to paint what I see, but I really love to paint abstractly, and I am definitely going in that direction."
When she paints, Pastore said, she leaves the rest of the world behind. "This is my way of relaxing and then just focusing in on what's going on in my own head," she said, "I'm looking at what I'm painting and starting to look at relationships and seeing the color of the light, the type of tree, really looking at things carefully. A lot of the time, I go through the day and I'm not really looking at anything. I'm driving, not really aware of my surroundings. This is the only time I can just stop. It's like meditation. It is meditation.
"When I paint, I just let down my hair. I'm off by myself. This is who I really am, and it balances off the rest of my life."
If you go
What: Landscapes and perspective art show by Jeanine Sobell Pastore
Where: Beebe Estate, 235 West Foster St.
When: March 12, 19, 26
Time: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.