Artists bloom in winter
Short days, dim light, quiet roads, and grey skies - a prescription for productivity or a recipe for creative inertia? Five accomplished Vineyard artists took a break from their work recently to describe how they cope with the long "off-season."
For many, summer is a whirlwind of work, gallery openings, visitors, and general chaos. It's fun, they say, but exhausting. Winter - with its often-bleak weather and accompanying solitude - can be viewed as either the reward for surviving the summer frenzy or as the downside of living on a remote New England island.
"I love it," says Traeger di Pietro, an emerging artist whose work is shown at Dragonfly Gallery and PIKNIK Art & Apparel in Oak Bluffs. With two distinctly different bodies of work - his landscapes and still life paintings represented by Dragonfly, his more abstract mixed media pieces and urban scenes by PIKNIK - Mr. di Pietro views winter as an opportunity to embrace seclusion.
"I appreciate the loneliness," he explains. "You truly get to grasp onto what's going on in your life. The city would be too stimulating. I'd always be out looking for ideas. Here, ideas find me."
A native of Swampscott, he has lived on the Island full-time since 2000 and had his first gallery show five years ago. He finds that the serenity of winter enhances his productivity and his enjoyment of friends and travel. "Living here in the winter makes me appreciate my friends and the community, and the city, too, when I get a chance to visit it."
Two long-time Vineyard painters, Andrew Moore and Wendy Weldon, share Mr. di Pietro's enthusiasm for the Island's winter charms. Mr. Moore, a highly lauded realist painter, began living on the Island year-round in 1985. He operates his own gallery adjacent to his Oak Bluffs home in Harthaven, a showcase for his distinctive oil and watercolor renditions of landscapes and wildlife.
"The worse the weather, the better my concentration," Mr. Moore says, sounding positively gleeful at the prospect of an impending storm. "I'm at my most productive from about January 2 through late May. That's when my wife and I socially retract and all my favorite distractions - fishing, hunting, surfing, sailing, and soccer coaching - are dormant."
Mr. Moore's typical winter day begins at 7 am and ends by midnight. He fits painting in around shuttling his two children to and from activities. "My main social interaction in winter is getting my cup of coffee each morning at Mocha Mott's. I'm always at work by 8:30 am. I knock off for dinner at 6:30 or 7 and go back to work after that until exhaustion - usually by midnight." The season's long uninterrupted hours allow him to concentrate on intensive, large paintings, capitalizing on what he calls "lots of unclaimed time."
A huge fan of "ice-based things," Mr. Moore plays in the men's senior hockey league and, when he can escape, is apt to be found sledding down hills or skating with his kids on frigid winter afternoons. "I love winter on the Island," he says. "There's a peacefulness, the freedom to move around and the feeing of a smaller, rural town."
Ms. Weldon, a Chilmark painter best known for her abstracted barn imagery in acrylic and metal leaf, has spent the past 11 years living full-time on the Island but began summering here in 1955. Her work has been represented by Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven for the past eight years.
Winter, according to Ms. Weldon, can be an artist's best friend. "It's my favorite time of year," she says. "And my most productive. I take walks down to the pond and do as much trespassing as possible. It's a great opportunity to check out places you can't see in the summer."
A creature of habit, Ms. Weldon hits the gym most mornings, has breakfast, then works in her studio until dinner. "It's my regular boring routine," she admits, "but winter gives me a chance to fine-tune the business aspects of what I do as well as to paint."
Unlike their peers who sing winter's praises, fine art photographer Jeffrey Serusa of Vineyard Haven and Chilmark painter Marjorie Mason are more measured in their assessments.
"I'm usually in the Caribbean for a couple of months," Mr. Serusa says, sounding somewhat mournful. "This winter I've got so much going on I may not get away." The owner of Seaworthy Gallery in Vineyard Haven, he just purchased a new printer that's he says is far more complex than any he's used before. "I'll stay busy with that and with the launch of my new website." The site, he says, is already generating new business - another reason to stay on the Island. When he's not planning or shooting images of Vineyard settings, Mr. Serusa is putting in long days printing and framing his images for his own gallery, as well as Edgartown's North Water Gallery, The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury, and the Longwood Art Gallery in Philadelphia.
A painter of quintessential Island landscapes and geometric abstracts, Ms. Mason relishes the season's calmer, more focused hours. With larger blocks of uninterrupted time, the off-season is an ideal time for her work on larger images. But with the slower pace comes a lack of light that she finds detrimental to her landscape painting. "There's so much less light now with our shorter days," she explains, "that I'd prefer not to do landscapes. I can focus on monotypes and on my abstract work, explore different markets and experiment with work that's unrelated to the Vineyard."
Represented by The Christina Gallery of Edgartown, Ms. Mason also participates in special shows at PIKNIK Art & Apparel and at Dragonfly Gallery. Although she relishes the downtime of the slower season and says she feels "you've earned the right to have those quiet winter times," Ms. Mason is planning to head south for an extended trip later this winter. "It's a first," she says. "I'm anxious to work in a place with longer days, warmer temperatures, and more light."
Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.