No dapper felines or environmentally conscious patas monkeys star in My Many Colored Days, a children’s book by Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).
Published posthumously in 1996 with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, the book explores the full spectrum of human emotion and its connection to color. In surprisingly sparse, un-Seussian stanzas, Geisel writes of brown days when he feels “low, low down” and others that are “happy pink.” There are bright blue days, purple days, and green days, too, but the most bewildering days occur when the pigments blur. “Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. And wham! I don’t know who or what I am,” writes Geisel.
Years ago, contemporary abstract painter Dawn Winter would read My Many Colored Days to her children. The kids are all grown up now — ages 19 and 24 — but Winter still applauds how Dr. Seuss used color to embody feeling. It’s much like what she does today at Warehouse Studios in the River Arts District.
“Intuitively, I respond to color.” Whether “comforting and jarring,” she says, “color can be used to reflect my temperament and moods.”
Needless to say, Winter thinks a lot about different pigments and hues. She thinks about her brother’s matchbox cars racing — or drowning, really — in the yellow-orange shag carpet of her childhood home. She thinks about when she traveled to the Greek island of Kos during college and willed herself not to swim in the frothing, deep navy waves of the Aegean Sea. She thinks about sitting in the backseat of a wood-paneled station wagon, driving to her grandparents’ home in eastern Indiana and watching the verdant countryside stream by.
Since Winter’s abstract paintings are influenced by what she sees, they can be deceptively simple. Ocean, for instance, blends sapphire and cobalt blues with a golden suggestion of sand. Low Country Hills is awash in the mossy greens and peachy pinks of South Carolina. But Winter’s paintings are also influenced by what she feels — frustration, sadness, nostalgia, joy. And, as Dr. Seuss suggests, these raw emotions imbue complexity.
Persistence, a nuanced piece with varying shades of seafoam and honeydew, embodies Winter’s reinvention of self. For much of her life, minus a short stint as a stay-at-home mom, the Indiana native worked in the nonprofit sector. But in 2005, during a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, she visited an art gallery and felt a spark.
“When people talk about being moved by art, that’s what happened. I had an emotional response to these abstract, colorful pieces,” says Winter. “There was a depth to them.”
She returned to her home in Austin, Texas, and started painting. Three years later, in 2008, she sold her first piece at Quack’s, a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse. Her work has since debuted in homes featured on HGTV. Several pieces have also been picked up by clothing-and-home-goods retailer Anthropologie.
Last June, Winter moved to Flat Rock to continue her art career closer to family. Having lived in Western North Carolina from 1989 to 1993, she considers her return to Appalachia to be something like a homecoming.
“Since moving, my paintings are muted and not quite as vibrant. My edges are softer; there is a sense of peacefulness,” says Winter. “I am allowing the artistic process —the blending of colors — to dictate the outcomes.”
Dawn Winter, Flat Rock. Winter works out of Warehouse Studios (170 Lyman Street, Asheville). For more information about the artist, visit dawnwinterart.com.