Galleries : An Artist's Process: Doug Kent
Artist Doug Kent has led an interesting life: Massachusetts born and raised, time spent in Boston, New York and Mexico, exhibits in places such as San Francisco, Australia, Europe, Tokyo, and more than 30 years in West Tisbury. Still, he seems to thrive in the quiet and solitude of Martha's Vineyard.
He studio is a converted barn in West Tisbury, on an isolated plot of land where his only company in the off-season is a couple of horses and a cat. Although his creative talent takes him in many directions, his work reflects his centeredness.
Mr. Kent's style evolved quietly from animal studies, reminiscent of folk art. His latest series of mixed-media, gestural landscapes contains the symmetry that has remained a consistent element in his designs, as well as the use of a stabilizing arc that reoccurs throughout much of his work.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
His animal series depicts dreamlike scenes with creatures of the woods and farmyard, posed serenely atop gently undulating hills in soft landscapes. The scenes are mystical and almost fable-like.
Mr. Kent has moved on from his paintings of animals, although he still produces many of the popular figures on large Asian wooden bowls available at Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. He admits that the pieces keep him afloat financially, and allow him to continue experimenting with other styles.
Says the artist. "For me, the important thing is the application of the paint. It really doesn't matter to me so much about the subject matter - that kind of just happens. The references are landscapes, but I've expanded them into becoming something else. Whatever drives that, drives that."
His artistic motivation remains fresh. "It doesn't make sense to keep painting the pig in different colors." He continues, "If you play the piano, you can keep playing all kinds of things, but you want to keep playing better and keep on challenging and pushing yourself."
The metaphor is appropriate, as it combines Mr. Kent's love of music and art. As a student at the Worcester Art Museum School in the 1960s, he was hired to create posters for rock shows in Boston at the famed 60s rock venue, Boston Tea Party, artwork he describes as psychedelic. His work was successful enough to generate an offer to do similar work in New York City, but he turned it down in favor of coming to the Vineyard.
He started spending summers on the Vineyard after visiting here with a former instructor. "There was an extraordinary group of people here," he recalls. Through the manual labor jobs he took to support himself as an artist, Mr. Kent says, "I got to know all the real Islanders."
It was while he was delivering freight for Carroll's Trucking that he also got to know a lot of the out of the way places on Martha's Vineyard that he still references in his work. "I think it's a special light here," Mr. Kent says.
He recalls his first day on Island. He was walking around Oak Bluffs during a foggy morning and chanced upon the Campgrounds. "I thought I'd walked into another century," he says. "I was expecting to see Elmer Gantry."
Although you might not be able to pin down the exact Island location in Mr. Kent's work, the mystical quality of the Vineyard is certainly there, and the special light that the artist describes is often the defining element.
He employs a unique, rather untraditional technique that layers watercolors, oils and acrylics. In Mr. Kent's current Reed Series, inspired by the view of Great Pond seen through a curtain of tall grasses, he uses acrylic paints in earthy colors, creating a softness to the lines of the reeds. He creates an ethereal central light by using linear applications of white oil paint.
Mr. Kent says, "The exciting part is coming in here day to day not really knowing. With a series like this, the variations and the doors that open are endless."
The latest paintings in the Reed Series are quite a departure from their impressionistic predecessors. In "First Garden," the lines are still there, but they have been transformed into individual representations of trees and grasses in bold colors. Mr. Kent's defining arc has been inverted to represent the land almost as an embracing bowl holding the natural elements.
"I try to work as much as I can," says Mr. Kent, whose large studio space is surprisingly immaculate and orderly. A perfectionist, the artist confesses to being his own harshest critic. "You can work on something for seven or eight hours, then you can come in the next day and think 'What did I do yesterday?' There's no one to tell you you didn't do a good job. You're on your own."
His critical judgments extend to his finished pieces. "I have a hard time hanging my own work," says Mr. Kent. "I always want to fiddle with it. Once it's in someone's hands, I still feel the same way, but I don't say anything. I keep my mouth shut."
During the summers, he exhibits his work in his gallery nearby. "It's great when you can just really work." he says, "I love getting up and reading for a while and then coming in and working. Maybe going to eat and then working as late as I want. It's not like 'Oh, it's six o'clock - we're closing.' It doesn't shut down."