David Tierney
David Tierney at work outside his home and studio in Vineyard Haven. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

No off-season for David Tierney

By Brooks Robards - November 2, 2006

After a long period of not feeling ready for galleries - in part because he thought he didn't have enough work to show, painter David Tierney of Vineyard Haven is on a roll. His summer show at E'kaya Gallery in Tisbury was successful enough to be held over for several weeks, and he sold so much of his work he ended up hanging seven new paintings. Out of 31 pieces on exhibit, 17 sold.

With E'Kaya closed for the season, Mr. Tierney's paintings can now be seen up the hill on the walls of the Scottish Bakehouse. The work covers a broad range of styles, from lyrical and realistic landscapes to powerful abstracts with textured surfaces.

One large painting on display looks like an underwater scene. Another, an abstract, has bright red 3-D "plugs" that look as if they've been created from the caps of paint tubes.

"I think it's interesting," Mr. Tierney says of his eclecticism. "Repetition doesn't necessarily keep the interest of the viewer." People who tell him they don't particularly like abstract painting end up saying they do like his. Those kinds of comments give him boost his energy and encourage him up to paint more.

Mr. Tierney has a number of new projects mapped out for this winter. Some of his latest work uses a process that he says he kind of stumbled upon. An artist who helps to support himself through carpentry, he put a series of small paintings on unfinished wood blocks.

David Tierney
Peaceful nature scenes like this one, now hanging at the Scottish Bakehouse, are one of Mr. Tierney's specialties. Photo by Ralph Stewart

The wood picks up lines during its passage through a planer, and when it is painted that contributes to the effect. He plans to start putting these paintings together into a larger work. "I really like texture," he says, an understandable feeling for an artist who is also a carpenter.

In one case, he simplified a series of small landscapes into horizons with different colors representing land or water. After figuring out his color scheme with sketches, Mr. Tierney combined the smaller paintings into one large one.

"Time is irrelevant," he says, explaining that sometimes his paintings take years to finish. He likes to work on several paintings at the same time, and he is not big on deadlines.

His abstracts "just happen and evolve." One couple who came to his E'Kaya show one half-hour before it opened spent time trying to decide whether they wanted a Tierney abstract or a landscape. They were leaving on the next boat, and they had never spent that much money on art before. They chose the abstract and had it shipped to their home in Maryland.

"I try to have affordable art, to be fair," Mr. Tierney says. A "home-growner," he started studying art at the Philadelphia Art Institute in the mid-1980s. After a year in a graphic and commercial art program, he shifted to the Art Institute of Boston and spent three years there studying fine art.

David Tierney
The versatile David Tierney is also known for his striking abstract work. Photo by Ralph Stewart

Early in October, Mr. Tierney traveled to Mendocino, Calif., for a retreat called "The Awakening Path." While there, he camped out and attended small-group workshops. One of the highlights of his stay turned out to be spending time in a sweat lodge.

"It was pretty intense," he says. He describes the retreat as a chance to get in touch with reality, appreciate the planet we're living on, and gain perspective on the negativity around us caused by war and environmental degradation.

Part of Mr. Tierney's artistic flowering this summer involved joining with E'kaya Gallery's founder Tanya Augoustino to run the operation as co-director.

"For me it was nice," Mr. Tierney says. "I would not normally have done that." He did help run a small cooperative gallery, Made Here, several years ago in Vineyard Haven.

He and Ms. Augoustinos plan to make improvements in the gallery, which doesn't have electricity or heat. They will install a computer station and place sculpture in the field across from the building. Mr. Tierney will remove some superfluous windows to create a cleaner interior look.

One of his customers invited him to donate a painting for a fundraiser at an Oktoberfest in New Jersey on Friday, Oct. 27. "Why not?" he thought and decided to go. The money will help former welfare clients.

This solitary artist, who likes to live alone and doesn't have a computer or a cell phone, is branching out.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.