There have been a lot of instances of synchronicity in the life of artist Rick Fleury. One of those events brought him to the Vineyard for his first extended stay in 1984. The most recent one has brought him together with Louisa Gould, who featured his work at her “Spring Into Summer” group show, opening last weekend.
“I rarely seek out an artist, but I’ve always loved Rick’s work,” says Ms. Gould. “I’d seen his work at a gallery in Newburyport. I had a JPEG of one of his paintings on my desktop for years.”
It turns out that when the gallery owner contacted him, Mr. Fleury was already thinking about showing on the Vineyard.
“It’s been on my mind for a long time,” says the Maine-based artist. “It felt like a great fit. As soon as we spoke on the phone, it was obvious that we were on the same page.”
Ms. Gould represents dozens of artists working in a variety of styles, but, as a photographer specializing in boat races, Ms. Gould has a certain fondness for ocean scenes. Mr. Fleury’s luminous seascapes in oil perfectly capture the timelessness of the New England coast. With minimal brushstrokes and the perfect rendering of filtered light in his expanses of sky, the artist imparts the mystique that has drawn visitors to the Cape and Islands for generations.
“His paintings really evoke an emotion,” says Ms. Gould. “The words that come to mind are calm, expansive, flow. There’s a feeling that you’re on a beach on a sort of overcast day that just puts you at ease somehow. Anytime you get a feeling when you look at a piece is a very special experience.”
Perhaps what sets him apart from other artists working in the same subject area is that Mr. Fleury is entirely self-taught. “I think it’s helped me to create my own way of painting,” he says. “I found ways of self-teaching that have pushed me into ways of thinking where I wouldn’t have gone otherwise.” A natural draftsman, Mr. Fleury has honed his style by immersing himself in the work of renowned artists. He conducts what he refers to as “dialogues.” Describing one such dialogue with abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, he says, “I basically pretend that I’m working alongside Rothko. How might he influence me in my work?”
Mr. Fleury has conducted similar experiments with the Dutch Masters and the Hudson River artists, with whom he feels an affinity. “They were all about raising the landscape to that place of almost sacredness,” says Mr. Fleury. “They were trying to bring attention to the landscape so that it wouldn’t get destroyed by coal mines and steel. When I got into landscape painting, it felt right to me. It was about the beauty of open space, and the solitude and the preciousness of that. To me, especially on Cape Cod and the Islands, I feel how important open space is. I feel like I’m bringing attention to that. I always thought I was going to do that with words — as a journalist. It’s something that I’ve been doing much, much more effectively with my paintings.”
Mr. Fleury started out in life as a writer. While studying journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder, he spent a summer on the Vineyard working for Island Windsurfing in Edgartown. Back at school, Mr. Fleury chose to write his senior thesis on the Vineyard Gazette. He sent the paper to Dick Reston, then editor of the Gazette, hoping to secure a job with the newspaper. There were no openings at the time, so Mr. Fleury headed to New York City, where he established himself in the world of public relations. Eventually a position opened up at the Gazette, and Mr. Reston contacted the now successful professional and offered him a job. “I said, ‘I’m on Madison Avenue, working as an account executive. I just have to say no,’” Mr. Fleury recalls. “Immediately after hanging up the phone, I thought, ‘What did I do?’” He hopped on a flight the next day, and wrote for the Gazette for the next two years, 1984 and 1985.
The next step for Mr. Fleury was a move to Paris. “As a young writer, I wanted to be in Paris in my 20s,” he says. “I felt like it was my rite of passage.” While at the Louvre for an exposition on Life magazine, Mr. Fleury spotted a familiar face. Interviewed for a video that was part of the exhibit was Ralph Graves, an old acquaintance from the Vineyard. “It turns out that he was the former managing editor of Life magazine,” says Mr. Fleury. “He had always said that he would help me out if I wanted.”
Mr. Fleury returned to New York, and went back into the world of public relations and advertising, making frequent visits to the Vineyard. Eventually he established his own ad agency — Fleury Communications — working on the Island and in Boston. At the same time he was writing for publications, including the Cape Cod Times and the Boston Globe. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Adweek’s Brandweek, and the Village Voice.
Despite his success as a writer, Mr. Fleury found himself drawn to the visual arts. In 1990 he moved to Sarasota, Fla., to be with his mother, who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He stayed in Florida until her death two and a half years later. While there, he started sketching local scenes, a habit he had picked up while in Paris. A gallery owner saw his work, and asked if he could show some of the hand-tinted sketches. The samples sold out, launching Mr. Fleury into a new career.
Returning North, Mr. Fleury wound up in Boston. He had switched to watercolors, and was working in photorealism. Once again he was discovered, and offered a show in the South End, which met with success similar to that he had enjoyed in Florida. Mr. Fleury applied to the Cambridge Art Association, and was accepted. At that point, his fate was sealed. “I thought, ‘My God, what is going on? Maybe I should try this. I’m not committed to a job or an apartment right now. I’m footloose and fancy-free. Before I go back to New York, maybe I’ll see if I’m an artist.”
Settling in Provincetown, Mr. Fleury met an established New York artist who convinced him to switch to oils. “One night this guy said to me, ‘You’re an oil painter. The acrylics are holding you back. Here are my oils — use them.’ I painted all night.” The next day a woman spotted one of his first efforts, and was impressed enough to buy it. “As soon as I touched oils, it was like a fish finding water,” says Mr. Fleury. “I was just in my element. So I never went back. I left the hyperrealism behind too.”
Now living in Liberty, Maine, Mr. Fleury has shown his landscapes at galleries and institutions all over New England, including at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, where he was given a solo show in 2006. He also shows in Naples, Fla., and Jackson Hole, Wyo. The artist and writer often uses his work as a platform to speak on the issues of conservation, preservation, and environmental awareness.
Showing his work at the Louisa Gould Gallery, Mr. Fleury feels like he’s come full circle, back to his starting point as a writer. He has already done a number of Vineyard seascapes, and looks forward to rediscovering some of the Island’s beautiful spots that he was so familiar with in the past. “The Memorial Day show was a really nice, warming introduction back to the Vineyard,” he says.