Allen Whiting: Marking the occasions

The artist stands in front of one of his latest canvasses at Davis House Gallery in West Tisbury. — Photo by Lynne Whiting

Landscape painter Allen Whiting has much to celebrate this summer: his 65th birthday, his 40th year as a professional artist, and his 30th year as proprietor of Davis House Gallery on State Road in West Tisbury.And so it seems ironic that this, of all years, is the one that marks the end of his gala annual late June art opening, a party that has attracted over 400 enthusiastic patrons each summer. “I’m trying to simplify,” he says by way of explanation. “I’m turning 65 and I’ve earned the right to do what I want. I want to spend more time painting.”

The fete, he says, required the mobilization of his whole family (and a traffic officer, he adds), as well as giving up the month of June to preparations. With a gallery that doubles as the family home, the openings were, he says, “like hosting a huge wedding every summer.”

This June will instead find Mr. Whiting tending to his working farm and doing what he enjoys most: painting on location and spending time with his family. While he says that the turnout for his openings was extremely flattering, the crowded conditions “weren’t the best way to see the paintings.”

In lieu of an opening gala, Mr. Whiting will extend his season. The Davis House Gallery will open this Saturday, May 28, and after September 2 (Labor Day) will remain open weekends through September 25.

“I hope that people will come and see me throughout the summer,” he says, and flashing his well-known smile adds, “But I could end up wearing a sandwich board if it backfires.”

In addition to showing his new body of approximately 40 paintings at his own gallery, Featherstone Center for the Arts will host a retrospective of Mr. Whiting’s work from July 3 to July 21. (A reception is scheduled at Featherstone on Sunday, July 3, from 4 pm to 6 pm.)

Spanning the last four decades, the show will feature 25 to 30 paintings culled primarily from the artist’s own collection, “things people haven’t seen,” he promises. While they are not being offered for sale, Mr. Whiting, a wry note in his voice, suggests that he might part with the works “if plied with money.”

Born into more than a dozen generations of an Island farming family, Mr. Whiting says that he feels fortunate to live and work on the Vineyard. “I’ve never been in a position to paint all day,” he says. “There are those who say I waste my time digging manure, but I think people marginalize the things that make life go. I try to divide each day into thirds: on family, art, and the farm. And I consider my situation a gift.”

He explains that although his career as a professional artist began 40 years ago, it is only in the past 10 to 15 years that he has been able to, as he puts it, “make a living.” As a young man, help from his family came in the form of funds, a car, or a place to live, “all just in the nick of time.” In more recent years, he credits his wife Lynne and daughter Bea for their help in making his work and gallery a success.

“My business is so simple,” he says, in the self-effacing style he’s known for. “I worked hard. I love landscape. People like what I do. It reminds them of this wonderful place.”

While he might downplay his achievements, few others concur. A new generation of young artists has sprung up on the Island, most of whom mention Mr. Whiting’s name with a note of awe in their voices. But as for being a mentor, he minimizes his role.

“I’m not a good teacher,” he admits. “I am loathe to tell anyone what to do. But I’m happy to talk to younger artists when I’m outside. I hope people receive what I have to give by looking at my work.”

A self-described “mature artist,” Mr. Whiting says he now feels he has command of his craft. He works most often in oils but makes occasional forays into watercolors, a process he enjoys. “They’re loosening up my oils as well,” he explains.

While he doesn’t often work side-by-side with younger artists, he offers this advice: “Take your paint box out into the world. Gather information from primary sources. I like to work from sketches or studies, not photographs. And I try to make paintings that I like myself.”

Mr. Whiting’s new body of work will undoubtedly please his long-time admirers as well as enticing new ones. He describes it as reminiscent in tone with “no radical changes” — landscapes inspired by both the Vineyard and the small, private island of Naushon, where, much to his delight, he recently spent a week painting.

As for the future, there is a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “I don’t know. I’m always wondering if I shouldn’t be doing something different. More figurative work? I’ve said it 10,000 times, but I’m not good at working with people. I like to get in my truck, go to the beach, feel the wind in my hair, and paint.”

Now, with one less major party to plan, we can view his latest painterly achievements in leisure in the rather serene setting of the artist’s home gallery.

The Davis House Gallery, 985 State Rd., West TIsbury, open Thursdays through Sundays, 1 pm to 6 pm, beginning this Saturday May 28 through September 2. The gallery will remain open on weekends through September 25. Also open by appointment: 508-693-4691.