On exhibit: Darcie Lee Hanaway’s paintings in Vineyard Haven


It’s a popular come-and-go Main Street coffee shop, Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven: small, dimly lit, and busy with customers who huddle at the limited tables and booths resolving their own and world situations.

It’s not a likely art gallery — there is not much wall space — but there they are: eight paintings by West Tisbury artist Darcie Lee Hanaway, sending creative energy into the relaxed environment.

As assured and confident as her work is, there is a rawness to the unframed paintings — a controlled, but unself-conscious spontaneity that results from what Ms. Hanaway describes as being “a process-driven painter.”

“The Blue Moon Mokanna,” painted on wood, depicts a pale nude figure at water’s edge, blocked out in lines like a sketch, against a textured background. Nature is suggested in swathes, drips, and dots of color. As with all her paintings, it has an immediacy that adds to its dynamic.

“Cardiac Abstract” and “The Posterior View” were inspired by pictures in an anatomy book. The artist says she was drawn to it because of its shape, energy, and “the dynamic of being a moving body part.”

“Posterior View” is a long vertical painting of a calf muscle, that succeeds as an abstract — a large red elongated oval scored with bold black lines and topped with twists in shades of ochre.

“When I look at these things I can see the paint that was thrown, where the brush was laid, or what was carried on, I can feel the energy. It feels more alive.”

She paints on all manner of canvases including salvaged wood (“I’ll paint on anything that’s in front of me”), and builds up her surfaces with enamels, markers, spray paints, glossy acrylic medium, oils, and a final surface coat in varnish or an acrylic medium: “When the colors get flat or matte I find that they’re not as strong.”

As calm and easy-going as is her manner, there is an intensity and focus as she talks about her art. She says, “I sketch everywhere I go and take pictures that I bring home and play with. Everywhere I go becomes what I’m drawing. The subject matter changes, but it’s all about my relationship to these things, and where I’ve been and what I’ve done.”

Included in the exhibit are paintings from her trip to Seattle: A street lamp arching over a mountain making a strong abstract design, and, also abstract in its appearance, the trunk of a redwood tree, a long vertical shape in blues with touches of red and gold that becomes narrower as it sweeps up the canvas.

She works fast, getting things on the canvas quickly, working on as many as six paintings at a time (“I get in a zone where I paint for hours”), and leaving the ghosts of false starts in her finished pieces, to add texture of the background.

“Not everything works out the way I want it to, so if it hangs around the studio for long enough, it becomes something else,” she says. “I really enjoy the layering of things. The paintings have multiple lives at some point.”

In her mission statement she writes, “I put it on, take it off, paint over it, white it out, draw on top of it, spray paint it, bathe it in spirits and watch it melt away, just to do it all over again. Some pieces have taken years to build while others were complete in one quick nonstop session.”

A Rhode Island native, Ms. Hanaway trained as an artist at Rhode Island Design Institute, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rhode Island College. An organic gardener, she came to the Island from California four years ago to find summer work, and — determining this was a good place to focus on painting — stayed.

The 29-year-old artist has had several shows at Mocha Mott’s, and has had some success selling her paintings, priced between $150 and just over $1,000.

“They might sell better at a gallery,” she says, “but I enjoy sharing my work with people. These images want to be seen. They don’t want to be stuck in a closet somewhere.”

To see more paintings by Darcie Lee Hanaway, visit Darcielee.com.