Galleries : Paul Hamilton : An artist interprets the Vineyard
Since its opening 10 years ago, the Hammond Harkins Gallery in Edgartown has shown a variety of contemporary artists, both known and unknown. Gallery owner William Harkins confesses all their paintings share the power to overwhelm him - not easily accomplished. "If I discover one artist I like out of 100 submissions, that is very good. But you can't sell something if you don't have your heart in it," Mr. Harkins says.
Since its opening Memorial Day weekend, the gallery has featured paintings by artist Paul Hamilton, a landscape painter from Ohio whose new series focuses on Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Hamilton's paintings are representative of Impressionist ideals. His images, while realistic, are characterized by subtly blurred images using light as the predominant medium through which he explores nature. Mr. Hamilton mentions the American Impressionist painters Willard Metcalf, John Singer, and Edward Hopper as his main sources of inspiration.
Mr. Harkins was immediately drawn to Mr. Hamilton's paintings when he encountered them 10 years ago during the artist's first trip to the Vineyard. At that time, Mr. Hamilton had been looking to expand his market and explore new landscapes. "It just so happens that I fell in love with it there, and I have been coming back ever since in the spring and summer." He adds, "Until it gets busy." The current series at the Hammond Harkins Gallery reflects his most recent trip last year.
It seems easy for Mr. Hamilton to describe his attraction to the Vineyard. "It's the charm, the age, the history behind the old whaling houses," he says, pausing only briefly before continuing, "One of my favorite places in the world, not just in Martha's Vineyard, is Menemsha. I'm really attracted to that old and gritty landscape, but also man's influence on the landscape. When you're in Menemsha, you get the sense that nature is much bigger than man, there is a time of peace and harmony and then there is a time of chaos when the waves are crashing around the boats."
Hamilton's observations are manifested in his paintings "Sideways," and "Summer Rental," both of which juxtapose summer boats against empty docks, and lead the eye to the ephemeral aspects of light that flood the sky and sea. In these paintings, the calm and tranquility of nature is tangible. "The paintings that I do on the Vineyard always have a certain quality to them that my other paintings don't have - the richness of color, the crispness of the sky - I think the light is what makes it a good painting. I want the viewer to get the sense that the place is alive with light."
By combining his observations of natural light with his own personal sensations, Mr. Hamilton creates paintings with universal appeal, regardless of content. What appears surreal in his paintings is their evocation of a distinct time and place. As he notes, "I try to find a sense of underlying beauty that is at the [center] of seeing beautiful things. I like to produce paintings that can transport you to a particular place - if you haven't been there you might now want to go there, and if you have, the paintings will remind you of the beauty and the tone and the setting."
As a plein air painter, Mr. Hamilton works all day in the same spot, often facing sporadic weather conditions. "It's very hard to change as fast as nature changes," he admits. His solution is to remain committed to his first instinct. "Something brought me to that spot to do that painting, and that initial feeling is what I like to return to."
Photo courtesy of hammondharkins.com
Although his emotions are invested in his paintings, simply by "being there and doing it," he finds the landscape begins to dictate itself to him, telling him what to do. "I'm in no control over anything," he admits. "Like composing a piece of music, I just know what I want and I paint how I want it. I think the audience will find itself for each panting."
In the past several years, Mr. Hamilton has had successful shows in both Ohio and New York.
Paul Hamilton's Vineyard series paintings will be featured at the gallery through July 20th. The John Stobart/ Hammond Harkins Gallery is off the corner of Main Street and North Summer Street in Edgartown.
Samantha McCoy is a summer resident who attends Cornell University.