Ed Schulman paints cities and seascapes with appealing simplicity

Ed Schulman with his "Mad Men" inspired painting. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

The next month and a half will be a busy time for contemporary painter Ed Schulman. Starting on September 1, his work will be the focus of three shows in three different towns, which will give Vineyarders the chance to enjoy the work of an emerging artist who has, so far, kept a pretty low profile yet certainly deserves a wider audience.

Mr. Schulman has a style that is unlike any other artist on the Vineyard, and he is easily recognizable as his own. He uses a limited palette of muted colors favoring brick tones, grayish blues, off whites, and grays. He tends to favor the linear, making good use of somewhat elongated vertical figures — people, buildings, sailboats. His style could be called primitive but, more accurately, his paintings are highly stylized yet he makes perfect sense of his subjects with limited, well-placed lines, palette knife strokes, lots of texture, and a few daubs of color or white.

He covers a range of subjects — both static and animated — but there’s similar energy in both. The cityscape is one of his staples. He manages to capture the mood and energy of a city perfectly, which is not surprising since it is a subject he knows very well. “I was born and raised in New York City where I had unlimited opportunities to visit museums, the opera, universities, and libraries,” Mr. Schulman said during a recent visit to his Vineyard Haven studio. “After a successful work career, I started painting. Cityscapes come naturally to me because I can see the city whenever I want to. I chose to paint cities because I find that a very satisfying subject.”

More recently, Mr. Schulman started painting seascapes and sailboats to reflect his current surroundings and to stretch his artistic boundaries. “In trying to school my abilities I adopted the sailboats and seascapes as a learning tool to firm up my confidence.”

His dark sails against murky blue sky and sea have a similar feel to his projecting skyscrapers and showcase His affinity for repeating images. His seascapes are more of a departure from his other work. For one thing, he is limited to the horizontal, but he manages that shift well. More impressionistic than his other works, with very few brushstrokes and just a swipe or two of white foam, the artist captures the simplicity and stark beauty of Vineyard seas in very realistic washed-out colors. The seascapes may be his most sophisticated work and are currently his most popular.

Human figures feature in much of Mr. Schulman’s work, particularly dancers, who are rendered like his other subjects in a simple yet very evocative way. “Dancers represent a kind of freedom,” he said. “Freedom of spirit that is not necessarily a part of everyone’s life. It’s something people are eliminating from their daily life because they’re too busy or too stressed.” He finds it unfortunate that more people don’t open themselves up to that sort of liberating experience. “It’s a state of mind. One of the few things that you can do where you leave your sensibility.”

Perhaps Ms. Schulman finds that sort of freedom in his work. It was pretty recently that he started painting. “Through my paintings I was, in fact, revisiting the stages of my life,” he said. His most recent series features women in St. Vincent, a Caribbean island where he has recently spent time. “My granddaughter was born in the Caribbean,” he said. The female figures are ones that he observed in the marketplace and at Carnival, but because they are reduced to pure form, the Caribbean pictures aren’t limited to a defining setting. However, the addition of a muted orange to these scenes reflects the vibrancy of the environment.

Mr. Schulman has not limited himself to depicting women. Two of his wittiest pieces feature iconic male figures. One painting called “The Fifth Beatle” shows the Fab Four along with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, who was closely associated with the band in their early days. Another work called “Mad Men” shows a repeating series of figures with a black-suited man featured prominently. Mr. Schulman recalled that his father was always dressed in the classic style favored by men in the fictional advertising agency of the popular TV show of the same name.

Mr. Schulman makes many of his own frames from unfinished rough wood that complements his pieces well. “I like design,” he said. “Coming from a background in construction, including design, making my own frames was a natural for me.” Providing his own frames is one thing that helps the artist keep his prices down. “I want my work to be affordable,” he said. Prices range from $100 for a drawing or print to around $800 for a large oil painting.

In a sense, Mr. Schulman has mined many of his experiences for his work and continues to explore new subjects while retaining his very individual style. It’s a sort of therapy for him.

“I urge anyone who would like to better understand themselves to paint,” is the advice Mr. Schulman would most like to pass along to others.

Ed Schulman’s work will be featured at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown from August 31 through September 13, at the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs starting on September 8, and at the Chilmark Library from October 5 through October 26. The artist also welcomes visitors to his studio at 2 Kelly’s Way next to the American Legion Hall in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-560-2425.