Galleries : Scott Terry: The Artist in Winter
Sitting on the patio of Granary Gallery, his long legs in well-worn and faded jeans stretched out in front of him, the artist Scott Terry squints in the bright October sunlight. It's unseasonably warm and winter seems a distant possibility.
"Winter is when I paint, but I guess I've always been a winter person," he says. "I love snow and the way it looks when lights reflects off of it. There is nothing more stark and distinctive then the way light and shadow set on snow."
The chilly scenes of an Island winter are the subject of many of Mr. Terry's paintings, although he is quick to point out that for him, subject doesn't matter. "I can translate a concept to any subject," he says. "My art work is about light, shadow, the time of day or night, hot air, cold air."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Mr. Terry's detailed and realistic paintings, usually oil on board, are set in a world of heightened realism, with an intense focus on light and shadow. Indeed, many of the pieces seem lit from within.
Granary Gallery owner Chris Morse, who has worked with and featured Mr. Terry for over 20 years, agrees. "One of the things that Scott does better than many artists is give warmth to cold scenes," he says. "He often works with two or three different light sources. For example, outside light casting certain shadows and then an inside, separate light source with a different quality. He is very skilled at that effect."
Winter is the focus almost by default, because Mr. Terry works as a commercial fisherman all summer, then paints during the fall and winter. "In the summer I'm so exhausted from the long hours involved in fishing that when I'm not fishing, or catching bait, or unloading fish, I just sleep," he admits.
Mr. Terry always waited for winter on Martha's Vineyard with great anticipation, not only to get back to the studio, but because he loved being able to drive around Martha's Vineyard without seeing another car. He acknowledges that the off-season atmosphere and population has changed since he moved to Martha's Vineyard full-time in 1978. He moved off-Island in 2005, and currently lives in Cotuit, although he continues to paint in a studio on Christiantown Road.
Studying the wall of Scott Terry's paintings at the Granary, it's easy to see a parallel between his scenes of isolated buildings, great empty oceans, and the sense of quiet and solitude he so appreciates. "In my work, there aren't many people, but there is a house with a light on inside, a sense of loneliness," he says. "Paintings should all tell a story, but not blatantly hit you in the face. It should be your story, not mine."
Mr. Terry leans forward in the chair, his face is long and serious as he discusses his work and his relationship with Martha's Vineyard. Growing up in Rhode Island, he often came to Martha's Vineyard as a young boy. While he was studying at Swain School of Design in New Bedford, he worked summers fishing the waters of Martha's Vineyard on a commercial fishing boat.
"The isolation - that's part of the beauty of this place," Mr. Terry says, "beauty that is gone every time another trophy house goes up. As a hunter, I've been through every inch of wood and briar patch and see the changes to the land."
The staff of Granary Gallery joked that the artist might show up for his photo dressed in camouflage and carrying a hunting bow. "Living on this Island, it's all tied together: hunting, fishing, being an artist - I see it as all connected," Mr. Terry says. "I slide easily from one thing to the next. It's all creative. When I'm fishing, I see stuff, and it goes into the catalogue, or I'm painting, and I'm reminded of a day out fishing. What influences my painting the most is my fishing. You're out at sunrise and sunset. The colors in the sky in my paintings some might say are unreal, that they don't exist in nature. But they do. For a few minutes that sky exists. I've seen that sky fishing."
Photos courtesy of granarygallery.com
Scott Terry embraces his dual life of artist and fisherman. "I didn't grow up thinking I was going to be an artist," he says. "In the 1960s young people were pushed by their parents to have a career that was practical. When I was about to start college, my parents told me 'You love fishing and the ocean. You should be an oceanographer,' but I didn't like the science. I was a hippie, and dropped out of school after a year and started traveling and living in Asia. I was very interested in the art there. I studied batik and printmaking. One day I was sitting on a beach in Bali and it literally hit me like a bolt of lightning: Art - this is what I'll do with my life. Does it happen that way for everyone? Probably not. I think plenty of people go through their whole life not doing something they care about."
When Mr. Terry returned to the U.S. he enrolled at the Swain School of Design where he earned a degree in printmaking. Then, even though Swain had no graduate program, he remained to study painting for an additional two years.
Mr. Terry recalls his painting teacher stressing minimal brushstrokes. "He used to come into my studio and take every small brush I had and break them," he says. "I still think of what he said when I paint."
Although both Martha's Vineyard and the commercial fishing industry are rapidly changing, Mr. Terry knows he'll be creating art for the long haul. "As an artist, the more important issue is creating a painting, not making a living, although both can be a terrible struggle. I'm never happy with any of my paintings, but I wouldn't want it not to be a struggle. I hope the last painting I ever do is the best one, and the second to last I still learn something from. I don't have to worry about retirement because I don't plan to retire. I'll do this until I die."
Elissa Lash is a freelance writer living in Vineyard Haven.