The art of Traeger di Pietro is not that easy to define. He works in various styles, rendering wildly different subjects. For the past few years, the Oak Bluffs artist has been the subject of two summer shows — one at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury, and a second at the North Water Gallery in Edgartown. His work at the latter tends toward the fairly traditional, impressionistic scenes of Island life, while the Field Gallery is the outlet for his more fanciful work, featuring animals, mysterious figures, and dream motifs, often playful, sometimes with a nod to surrealism.
However, there is one unifying factor in Di Pietro’s work. “With all of the art that I’m making, I want to create a sense of freedom and happiness,” he says. “I like the little things. That’s the goal.”
That goal extends to the artist’s two most recent projects. One is an Instagram series called “On the Warehouse Floor,” a selection of videos showing how everyday things can be transformed into works of art. The other project, which is just getting underway, is a brand based on Di Pietro’s image “The Messenger Man.” He and Ben deForest plan to create a line of clothing and other items based on the image, which was designed as the logo for deForest’s restaurant the Cardboard Box.
The Instagram series was inspired by di Pietro’s fascination with the little things that are often overlooked in everyday life. He photographs things like cracks or stains on the sidewalk, peeling paint, rust spots, clouds, seaweed, and rocks, and — using computer technology — cleverly incorporates the simple found images into people, animals, landscapes, and more.
“I want to show people that making art and creating doesn’t necessarily need to be a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture, but can just be a perspective,” he says. “It’s just kind of addictive for me. Other people are catching on to it. Before they know it they are creating something. They can step aside from everyday life and be creative.”
The “On the Warehouse Floor” videos are just a few seconds long, featuring the transformation process from simple observations to works of art. Sometimes di Pietro shows the inspiration for the work first. Other times he displays the finished picture, then the object. The viewer might be surprised to see that the drawing was based on something like a white patch of fur on a dog’s chest.
The title for the series is based on Di Pietro’s time working for a soda company, making deliveries around the Island. “My boss would be inside the office. I’d be on the warehouse floor drawing and doodling and making art.”
After 16 years, Di Pietro was finally able to retire from his day job in 2016 and focus full-time on his art. “I have more opportunities and more projects in line now,” he says.
The “Messenger Man” project is one that has been brewing for some time now. The image represents a sort of everyman. “It’s about the human race,” says Di Pietro. “There’s no hierarchy with him. It’s very positive. It’s about happiness, not money. You can go to the beach and see a rainbow, and there’s no price on it. Ben’s a poet and a writer, and will put the message into words.” The two partners hope to launch the line sometime this fall. For now, T shirts are available at the Cardboard Box or at themessengerman.com.
“The Messenger Man” is a continuation of a theme that the artist has explored throughout his career. His impressionist paintings often feature people engaged in simple activities — fishing, chatting on the beach, standing on a street corner. “For me the fisherman is a solid representative of the everyday life surrounded by water,” says Di Pietro. “I picture a little fishing village. That is more captivating than anything to me — the farmers and the landscapers, clammers and fishermen. Everyday life is inspiring to me.”
The North Water Street Gallery is currently featuring the work of Di Pietro and Brandon Newton. Examples of Di Pietro’s more contemporary work can be found among the collection at the Field Gallery. You can also find more paintings and mixed-media pieces at traegerdipietro.com.