Jeweled Patterns With Atmosphere

The delight we find in arranging ornament and discovering  ornamental patterns reaches back to the beginning of human history as we carved and painted our stony walls.  Across time and cultures the patterns grew in complexity.  Even in our most regressive moments we found opportunities to embellish with patterns, colors, and symbols. Deep in medieval Europe around 800 CE the back cover of the Lindau Gospels offer a rich example of our fascination with ornamented patterns (example 1).  We enjoy interlocking curves suggesting vines, glittering colors reflected from jewels, and the rich arrangement of colors and shapes.

Example 1. Medieval Back Book Cover from the Lindau Gospels, 800 CE.

The arrangement of colors and shapes  within confined areas and along the edges of confined areas are well suited to how we pay visual attention.  Gustav Klimt as well as his mentee, Egon Schiele, enjoyed and employed  ornamented patterning in their paintings in the midst of the  Art Nouveau  movement in Vienna around 1900. Medieval decoration acted as a source for Klimt and other Art Nouveau artists. If we examine some of his landscape paintings from the period it’s easy to see they are as much ornamented patterns as they are landscapes (examples 2 and 3).

Example  2. Gustav Klimt, Rose Garden,

Example  3. Egon Schiele, Garden,

Klimt and Schiele, like their medieval masters exaggerated colors, isolated shapes, and simplified forms into turning , twisting shapes. Following that idea stream I created a landscape of compressed color tension as well as a compiling a series of similar shapes within a unified design form which offers the ambiguity of  perceiving space or a flattened map-like pattern.  The result is my painting in example 4.

Example 4. Beaver Pond, 36×36 oil on laminated enameled aluminum.

My next two examples continue with the theme of arranging jewel-like shapes rhythmically in receding space.  My first example (example 5, “Hamonassett Skies” ) was first introduced on Instagram but, has since been revised and further simplified.  The next painting is a work in process for me.  Here I present three sequential steps for this work (examples 6,7, and 8)  so you can follow my process.

Example 5. Hamonassett Skies, oil on laminated aluminum, 36×36.

Example 6, Fog At Otter Cove, oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum 24×48, step 1.

Example 7, Fog At Otter Cove, Step 2.

Example 8, Fog at Otter Cove, Step 3, present state.

My title for this blog post promised the inclusion of atmosphere partnered with pattern.  The following examples address the issue of  simplifing patterns along edges and interrupting  those edges with broken patterns as well as fog. These images also present distilled forms while simultaneously suggesting the  expansion of space. Example  9 presents  a Lakeshore in fog. This image is 24×24. I decided to expand the size of this image and try floating it over an older painting (example  10, under-painting and example 11, over-painting). This served to frame the image and add an additional ornamental complication.

Example 9,  Lakeshore in Fog, 24×24,

Example 10, Under-painting for  “Lakeshore in Fog”, 36×36,

Example  11, Over-painting for “Lakeshore in Fog”, present state 36×36,




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Woodland Veils

We derive much of our image of landscapes from the poet, Virgil of ancient Rome. His ideas were read and interpreted by artists like Nicolas Poussin in the 1600s.  Poussin kept to ancient classical themes while updating the form of his ideal landscape.  These landscapes were framed on the sides by trees and clouds acting as theatrical curtains. We refer to them as the coulisses. Through these curtains of trees we seek the luminous distance beyond.  In his landscapes Poussin also introduces water features in the foreground or middle distance as you see in example 1.

Example 1. Poussin Landscape from mid 1600s.

Landscape artists of the 18th and early 19th centuries used Poussin and Claude as models for structure and subject ideas.  Italian, French, English and American Hudson River painters borrowed the Poussin/Claude formulae.  The model mutated with each artist. By the mid 19th century Victorian watercolorists evolved the model into a carefully depicted idea known as the “Picturesque”.  Example 2 (Wilson watercolor) demonstrates such a carefully realized ideal landscape. We still look through the coulisse of framing trees toward a luminous distance. A subtle water feature can be seen in the lower right; it’s a brook winding toward a bright and infinite pastoral distance.

Example 2. Edmund George Wilson’s Victorian watercolor.

In my own example I borrow the idea of seeing through a screen of trees looking toward the distant light (example 4, painting). I also use a foreground water feature as way of carrying you across an intimate, fertile, shimmering foreground toward a distant bucolic and luminous meadow.  I discovered this subject two weeks ago in Acadia National Park in Maine. I began to rethink my composition by layering photographs in Photo Elements until I had new ideas with which I could further experiment in paint (example 3, layered photo).

Example 3. A composite layered photo, one of many from which I would begin my painting experiment.

Example 4. The painting.

My third historic example is another Victorian watercolor by Walter Tyndale from the 1870s (example 5).  Here the form has been modified to include Japanese influences from woodblock prints. The horizon is pushed higher.  We cross over a hedge of wildflowers with their top edge acting as a field of light.  As you see in examples 6 and 7, I too begin with a hedge of flora at the base of the picture plane (along the ground plane). The image then fractures into a field of water covered with flora which slowly dissolves across the distance. The high horizon is isolated by bands of light, both above and below the far line of distant trees.

Example 5. Walter Tyndale watercolor, 1870s.

Example 6. Step one of my lake side landscape, 36×36, oil on laminated aluminum.

Example 7.Step two, present state of the lake side landscape.


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Acadia in Mist

A couple of hours south of Maine’s Acadia National Park lies Prouts Neck, Maine. Here was Winslow Homer’s last home, studio and subject. Living on the Maine coast insures many hours of fog bound imagery.  Fog simplifies forms and dissolves their edges.  For Homer, fog was a compositional asset and aid. In example 1, an 1894 painting of his studio in an afternoon fog we see how Homer elegantly exploited the unifying and simplifying effects of fog.

Example 1. Winslow Homer’s Studio in Fog in 1894.

Frederic Church painted the foggy Otter cliffs along Acadia’s Eastern shore. In example 2 see how he too use the fog to simplify the shape of the cliffs  and create an aura of mystery.

Example 2. F. Church painting of fog along Acadia’s shoreline cliffs.

James Whistler used a mystery infusing fog  to blurr and simplify his subjects as seen in his painting from the 1870s (example3).

Example 3. James Whistler fog painting (in oil) 1870s.

As I revisited the Maine coastal locations of Homer’s studio and Church’s Acadian cliffs I also discovered a mysterious cloaking fog. To create the effect of foggy  uncertainty  I began example 5 (oil on aluminum) using an inverted older painting as a substrate.  This substrate (example 4) would give me opportunities for building textured richness and finding small luminous surprises as I scraped into my overlaying paint. The edges of the tree tops and receding rocks would all succumb to the dissolving effects of the fog.

Example 4. Step one, the substrate image before inverting.

Example 5. Step two, the present state of the painting, Fog at Otter Cliffs, an oil on aluminum.

With Example 6, an oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum I tried an unusual use of violet in the upper area to contrast with the light warmer toned shoreline. The luminous obscuring mystery of fog can be found along the upper horizon but also resides in the sky-reflecting water in this image of low tide at Otter Cove.

Example 6. Low Tide at Otter’s Cove, oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum.

Examples 7, 8, and 9 presents a misty landscape of Acadia within the island. The three steps represent the sequential development of the image. Here the fog descends from above hovering over the distant mountain. It resumes is obfuscating effects within the reflecting water below.

Example 7. Step one, the blocking in of the design.

Example 8. Step two, a texturing within a monochromatic grisaille.

Example 9. Step three, the painting in its present state.


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City Perspectives

Merge linear perspective to atmospheric perspective for an emotionally persuasive experience. Why? Because linear perspective’s feeling for measurable depth coupled to atmospheric perspective’s sensation of indefinite space will stimulate an emotion of space, movement and infinity. This brief post plans to demonstrate this.

Consider the diagram in example 1. Here is an eye level line with two vanishing points, one to the left and one to the right. In the following painting examples you will find various demonstrations of this diagram.  Observe that diagonal receding lines above the eye-level line descend to a vanishing point on the right while those below the eye-level line ascend to the same vanishing point on the right.

Example 1. Perspective Diagram.

This two vanishing point system is easily observed in example 2. Example 3 presents the same image after overlaying an obscuring blue atmosphere. Here you can determine if the atmospheric addition offers a stronger emotional mood but with less edge legibility.

Example 2.  Step one, City with two point perspective (Midtown Lexington Corners,36×36).

Example 3. Step two, Same image with obscuring atmosphere overlay.

A more abstracted two vanishing point image can be found in example 4.

Example 4, Abstracting Midtown, 36×36, oil on laminated aluminum.

Example 5 provides the same two point perspective program but uses a series of receding figures to the left vanishing point while most of the architecture recedes to the right vanishing point.

Example 5. Times Square Lovers, oil on aluminum, 18×18.

Example 6 uses the two point vanishing plan more covertly.  The street, cab and many of the buildings appear to all converge to the left vanishing point. Look more closely and observe that the tall buildings have one side receding to the right vanishing point.

Example 6, Speeding Toward Infinity, oil on laminated aluminum, 24×24.

Even more covertly notice how I used the two point system in Examples 7 and 8. The street recedes toward the right vanishing point but, the front of the buses and some buildings recede to the left. I give two examples here to demonstrate how an image subtly changes while working.  In example 7 I felt I over-exaggerated the narrowness of the front of the buses as well as creating too much shadow beneath them. Example 8 addresses those problems and adds further reflectance and atmospheric noise.

Example 7, Midtown Buses, step one, 24×24.

Example 8, Midtown Buses, step two, 24×24.

Landscapes too can rely on the persuasive power of combining linear and atmospheric perspectives. Example 9 demonstrates a mat of reeds and shore grass following vanishing points on the left while the entire image slowly acquires more edge obscuring atmosphere as the space recedes.

Example 9. Shoreline Matrix, oil on laminated aluminum, 24×24.

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NEW Online and DVD Painting Seas and Shorelines Workshop

NEW Online and DVD Painting Workshop
Painting Seas and Shorelines with David Dunlop
Online Version Now Available – DVDs available in 2 weeks
This Painting Seas and Shoreline Workshop has 4 programs and 3.8 hours of programming:
– Sea and Shoreline Introduction in the Studio (25 minutes)
– Painting Waves at the Shore – Studio Demonstration (97 minutes)
– The Sea and Rocky Coast at Prouts Neck, Maine (51 minutes)
– Rocks and Seagrass at the Shore – Studio Demonstration (56 minutes)

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Light Waves

Isaac Newton puzzled over light’s substance. Was it composed of particles (photons) or waves? In the 19th century scientists like Mathew Young determined light was composed of both, particles and waves. Our eyes receive light as electromagnetic touches which are transduced electro-chemically to the brain. We perceive color as a manufactured product of our brain.  We marvel that electro-magnetic wave patterns can appear as visible color to us.

Colored light hits our chromatic receptors (essentially three: blue, green and red; the red and green generate a sense of yellow). The more contrast in the colors (hue) and in the value of the colors (light vs. dark) the more vivid is our experience. By attending to color and value contrast we can make paintings appear brighter or duller, or sparkly, or luminously glowing. Our perceptions are keenest when dark areas are contrasted against light areas. Color contrast also arrests our attention but, not as much as the value contrast which explains why some of us do not realize we are color blind until early adulthood.  We operate very well just discriminating values.

Colors that are brighter like yellow have more stimulating contrast with their opponent or complementary color like ultramarine blue deep than other complementary color combinations because, their value contrast is strongest. I have three examples here which illustrate value and color contrast.  Example 1 presents a metaphorical wave pattern as well as literal ocean waves sliding over a shallow rocky plane. The contrast here is principally light vs. dark.

Example 1. Waves sliding over rocks, oil on dibond aluminum, 36×36,

Examples two and three present yellow in contrast with other colors. In example two there is area in the upper half of the painting in which the value contrast between bright yellow and pale blue and violet is small but, the color contrast is high.  Here the edges are more difficult to discern and painting appears to glow.

Example 2. Peonies in Yellow, blue and violet, oil on dibond,

In example three the upper third shares a close bright value and lots of yellow. As the viewer lowers their gaze the contrast between dark and light becomes heightened along with the color contrasts. Notice how the similar bright value and color (yellow) of the upper third appears to glow vs. the lower area which has more contrast with clearer edge discrimination.

Example 3. Bright Yellow Marshland, oil on dibond,

Until June 17 please visit an exhibition of my (40) paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.

Join me for a viewing of selected new works at the Adam Cave Gallery in Raleigh, NC on the evening of Sunday June 25th from 5 to 7pm at 2009 Progress Court. 919-838-6692.

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Oceanic Vessels

As a child I watched as Jacques Cousteau discovered ancient amphora on the seafloor of the Mediterranean. I would imagine their history, their shipwreck, their spoiled contents, and the slow corrosive work of the sea on their aging appearance. Cousteau had interrupted the infinite sleep of these amphoras. Far above their seabed resting place the Mediterranean had splashed and undulated for millennia.  I thought I might return the experience of the sea to these ancient forms.

Example 1 shows a design/legibility error.  There is a light colored bar circled in red on the right side of the jar. This shape needed to be changed. It gave an erroneous and uncomfortable design experience.  It appeared disconnected to the meandering surface waves within the rest of the space.  In example two I reintegrated that area with the rest of the surface by introducing a rising meander  of waves.   This meander is also reminiscent of dragon and pine tree forms on ancient Chinese jars. This gesture further helped  reinforce the illusion of volume in the jar’s form.  The blurring of the base and outside edges further developed a realistic illusion of volume.

Example 1. Painting with circled problem area.

Example 2. Painting after introducing a rising meandering wave pattern.

Last week I presented example 3, another oceanic vessel. I saw that I should give more illusory volume to the form by softening, lightening, and blending some of the edges of the design form.  Both examples 2 and 3 are painted on 24×24 white enameled laminated aluminum panels.

Example 3, Oceanic Vessel, Rising Tide, oil on laminated aluminum.

Recalling the imagery of Chinese and Japanese antique jar/vases I decided to create a soft marsh landscape with reeds and leaves that appeared to climb and embrace the vase. I used a traditional Claudian landscape design with a distant visual goal (the far meadow) which I curved to help with support the illusion of the jar’s curvature. Example 4 demonstrates the result to this point.

Example 4. Oil on white enameled aluminum, 24×24, “Marsh with Infinite Meadow”.

Next I departed from my ancient vessel theme to try an illusory sphere. This sphere would hold an appearance of an aerial view of Manhattan which floats over a distant Manhattan below. I hoped for a fun and fanciful experience.  You can see how this image is developing in Examples 5 and 6. I plan to give a more glistening spheroid experience by later adding and blurring the paint. But, the process requires that I allow the paint to dry before continuing.  If this unrealized third step looks interesting I will present it in a later blogpost or instagram post.

Example 5. Step one, Floating Spherical Manhattan.

Example 6. Step two, Floating Spherical Manhattan in present state.

Example 7. Step three, unavailable and forthcoming…

Until June 17 please visit an exhibition of my (40) paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Join me for a viewing of new works at the Adam Cave Gallery in Raleigh Durham, NC on the evening of Sunday June 25th.

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Ancient Vessels

Returning to ancient sources offers opportunities for re-invention and discovery. The enigmatic imagery and classical forms of ancient civilizations tantalize with their indecipherable mysteries.  Borrowing two thousand year old shapes and merging them with contemporary landscape images took art history in a new direction for me.

Visiting museums I collect images of urns, bowls, plates and other antiques.  I found many of these ancient forms in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.  My first image which is a less modeled form (example 2) begins with a 2200 year old Chinese vessel (example 1).  I superimpose photos of flora from a nearby nature preserve. Next I scratched, deleted and patterned the painting surface but, kept the rough form of the Chinese vessel.

Example 1. Ancient Chinese vessel.

Example 2. Painting referring to the vessel for a base design.

Photographing 2500 year old Greek urns, amphora, and craters gave me a repertoire of forms for re-invention.  The painting in example 7 begins with a terracotta jar from the Meidias painter from 410 BCE (example 3). I then layered a photo of a forest’s understory onto the terracotta jar (example 4).  For me, finding imagery which suited the vessel shape is a compelling part of the process.  There were many mismatches before the image you see.  Next, I looked for a painting which could serve as an appropriate substrate for my new layered image (example 5). Example 6 presents the image before applying light-modeling effects. Example 7 is the image with highlights and blended light modeling.

Example 3. Terracotta jar, Greek, 410 BCE.

Example 4.  Same jar with layered flora imagery.

Example 5. Under-painting to offer additional layers.

Example 6. Painting without many light modeling effects.

Example 7. Painting in present state, 24×24, oil on dibond.

In London’s Victoria and Albert Museum I found an arresting vase (example 8). I thought it needed trimming. I removed the two top side-florets to simplify the form. I applied strong complementary color contrast for the neck against the colors in the lower meadow.  The cerulean neck colors  were re-introduced as glowing reflected lights for the sides of the vessel as you can see in example 9.

Example 8. Vase in Victoria and Albert museum.

Example 9. My painting using the vase form, oil on dibond, 24×24.

In 1876 the renowned ceramicist, Josiah Wedgewood created a complex vase with swans ornamenting its top and supporting its bottom. It rests in the Metropolitan Museum.  I pruned the swans away to preserve the classical form (example 10). I shortened the form to fit into a square format. I considered how the marbling effects of foamy wave patterns might animate the surface of the Wedgwood vase. I also considered how to give a feeling of deep space across the upper area of the vase.  The result are my wave patterns swimming on the transfigured Wedgewood form (example 11).

Example 9.  Reduced and Pruned Wedgewood vase.

Example 10. My wave-vase painting, oil on dibond aluminum, 24×24.

Until June 17 please visit an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203 318 0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” At the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860 231 8019 to register or visit their website at  go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description.

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a 3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop”.  Call 919 838 8580 or register online by visiting

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The Cat’s Tail, and Other Abstractions

In early childhood we learn to attach words to pictures. In later adulthood we continue to conceive of images through schematic pictographs whether we are photographing, sketching, doodling or painting.  Examining how we begin and advance this process allows me to introduce you to two watercolors by my 3 year old granddaughter, Iris and then, to followthe process through into adult abstraction.

Knowing Iris was coming to visit I purchased glitter pens, a set of watercolors, varieties of paper,  a booklet of stickers, and a collection of colored markers.  While water-coloring Iris proposed a few subjects. They occurred  to her as she painted.  She said she enjoyed mixing colors which she layered in a quasi circle. As she examined her circle she recognized an opportunity for a picture. By adding a wide brownish strip she re-identified her form as a tree.  Feeling newly confident in her tree making skills and wishing to further mix colors she constructed two more tree pictographs (example 1).  Remember her intention to picture followed her initial shape and coloring. The tree did not come first. It came last.  Here is a clear example of looking into the paint and following the paint as recommended by Picasso.

Example 1.  Watercolor tree forms by Iris.

Later she decided to print her name vertically within the image. She began with the first letter and then climbed vertically to make the forms symbolizing her name. She created each letter from the bottom-up.

Example 2 presents Iris’s cat. The Iris again begins with a circular form made from circular strokes then, Iris recognizes an ideogram.  In the case of example 2 she recognized the beginnings of a face in her circle.  All faces whether animal or human begin as circles and have the same components: eyes and mouth.  What differentiates them depends upon the foremost characteristic that Iris perceives for her motif for example, Iris only needed to add ears and whiskers to transform a potential person into a cat.  For Iris, cats and people are the same except that cats begin (like people) as a circle to which later cat-whisker and ear shapes are added. Finally, like  the tree, Iris adds a dark stripe which she calls a tail.  This addition certifies the image as a completed cat!

Example 2.  Watercolor cat by Iris.

I proceed in a manner like Iris.  Except, I begin with a broader menu of schema.  I too like mixing colors. I lay-in a schematic foundation or, I borrow a pre-existing one by over-painting an older image. With example 3 I begin with a photo which I deliberately blurred and a substrate. Example 3 is the older image substrate.

Example 3. Substrate for later abstracted meadow flowers.

Next, I cover the substrate image with varieties of vertical smears which run in counterpoint to the more horizontal marks of the substrate.  I want to show you how I previously experimented with this subject.  Example 4 presents a small incomplete studio demonstration of the subject.  Example 5 presents an alternate exploration of similar subject matter on brushed gold laminated aluminum, 24×24.

Example 4, Quick unfinished studio demonstration of techniques.

Example 5. Related image on brushed gold laminated aluminum.

One of the photos I referred to is example 6. The photo was altered to present a color-boosted  and cropped image. In example 7 I abstracted my meadow flowers by vertically blurring the color shapes. They cling tentatively to any sense of legibility in step 3, example 7.  Further changes are introduced in example 8.

Example  6. The  altered photo.

Example  7. Step 2, blurred image.

Example  8. Step 3, blurred image with a few articulated modifications to improve mental anchorage through greater legibility and edge enhancements.

Examples 9 and 10 present the substrate and its subsequent overlaying image.  The final image also began with vertical blurring and selected deletions  revealing snippets of the substrate.  Like Iris I referred to my foundation schema (leaf, branch and petal forms and, leaf, branch, petal and sky coded colors).  I used other learned art historical principles like overlapping, open-closed forms, and shifting focal edges. Like Iris, I looked at the paint and let it suggest a direction for me.

Example 9. The older image serving as a substrate.

Example 10. Image of Abstracted Dogwoods in their present state.

For the next few weeks I have an exhibition of my paintings at Susan Powell Fine Arts in Madison, Ct at 679 Boston Post Road, 203-318-0616.

Saturday and Sunday June 17 and 18 from 9 am to 4 pm, I am giving a two-day in studio workshop, “Natural Elements: Learn to Paint Nature from Historic and Contemporary Techniques” at the West Hartford Art League.  Call them (Elisabeth McBrien) at 860-231- 8019 to register or visit their website at (go to “school” then to “workshops”  then to “spring 2017 workshops” for a fuller description).

Nicole’s Art Gallery, in Raleigh Durham, NC. will host me for a  3-Day workshop, Monday – Wednesday, June 26-28. My workshop is “Painting with the Masters, Old and New Techniques with David Dunlop.”  Call 919-838-8580 or register online by visiting

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David’s Living Art Award from Silvermine and Gallery Opening

Last weekend David was honored with a Living Art Award from Silvermine Arts Center in CT, where he has taught for many years.  He was honored along with Legacy Award recipient Ann Weiner and Guild of Artists Award recipients Alberta Cifolelli and Bonnie Woit.  Congratulations to everyone!

The benefit celebrates “preeminent thought leaders in art education who have reached thousands through their teaching, philanthropy and lectures, and whose lifelong educational efforts exemplify a dedication to living art.”

David’s exciting exhibition, Travels in Light, opens at Susan Powell Fine Art this Friday, May 19th,  from 5-8:00pm.   David will also give a demonstration/lecture  at 3-4:00pm the next day, May 20th.
Susan Powell Fine Art  
679 Boston Post Road
Madison, CT 06443
T: 203-318-0616,

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