"Swim Buddies," by Harry N. Seymour. Photo courtesy of the artist
"Swim Buddies," by Harry N. Seymour. Photo courtesy of the artist

East meets West

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - September 7, 2006

Gallery openings are more about seeing people than art. These celebratory gatherings are often crowded, sometimes loud, and usually lots of fun. If the large crowd that packed the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs last Saturday would like to experience the works of artists Don Sibley and Harry N. Seymour, they should come back for another visit.

Don Sibley of West Tisbury described himself as Linda's husband, but those who follow the Island art scene know him as a fine artist. You may remember his many shows at the On The Vineyard Gallery on State Road at the end of Lower Lambert's Cove Road, or perhaps you've admired his work in the atrium of the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school. The Dragonfly show is his first in a few years.

Mr. Sibley is a fine arts professor at the School of the Museum of Arts in Boston. He teaches painting as well as a course for upper level students called Terra Incognita.

"Meditation Dance #1," acrylic on wood by Don Sibley. Photo courtesy of the artist

There is a peaceful, Eastern aesthetic in Mr. Sibley's work that cut through the crowded opening reception. Three bonsai trees were placed in the gallery's large front window and a video of Mytoi Garden was being shown on a sleek television set in the corner. Mr. Sibley said, "I wanted to show the complete package," referring to his love of bonsai and the Japanese garden on Chappaquiddick.

His paintings have wonderful texture that plays with the changing light. From mixing sand with paint to using objects like steel nails, pins, and pieces of wood, the artist knows the appeal of dimension on the eye.

Don't be fooled by the seemingly tranquil, spare work. A single object like a rock or a tree can draw you into the frame with the intensity of electricity. Even when the rock is anchored down with hundreds of tiny steel tacks, you feel as though it could escape. It is these delicate and often tenuous balances that make his paintings remarkable.

Mr. Seymour captures the fun of summer on the Vineyard in his bright paintings. Oak Bluffs cottages, sunbathers, buckets and shovels, and beach umbrellas relax on his canvases, evoking lazy summer afternoons. I felt like pulling up a beach chair and sipping cool lemonade.

Working from photos that he downloads to his computer, Mr. Seymour constructs the basic outline for his paintings. In "Swim Buddies," two boys who were actually on different beaches forever play together in the painting.

Mr. Seymour's love of his subject matter is obvious and his colors, although bright, are cooled down like a misty memory. In "Beach Shade," the artist said he wasn't happy with the painting so he painted the canvas black and then wiped it off. The black clung to the texture of the casein paint below it, creating just enough detail to keep the work bright and yet somehow subdued.

Mr. Seymour is retired from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he was the chair of the department of communication and speech disorders. Since his retirement four years ago, he has been able to spend more time doing what he loves - painting.

Now that there is a calm after the opening-night storm, you should visit the Dragonfly Gallery to see the work of both these artists. Stand back from Mr. Sibley's paintings and feel yourself being pulled in and then jump into Mr. Seymour's world with both feet. You will enjoy the ride.