If you spend time in Vineyard Haven, you may very well have seen Alan Byron Hampshire around town, painting various scenes. For the past nine months, Mr. Hampshire has documented the town with a series of watercolor paintings. This month, he will unveil the fruits of his labors with a show at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Hampshire is an accomplished artist who has been painting his entire life. He has enjoyed a successful career in New York and elsewhere, showing his work in galleries all across the country. Although he is primarily an oil artist, Mr. Hampshire started experimenting with watercolors about nine years ago.
“A friend of mine gave me a little watercolor set from MOMA [New York’s Museum of Modern Art],” Mr. Hampshire said. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this toy?’ When I started playing around with it, I loved the clear colors. And it’s so portable.” Mr. Hampshire still uses a kids’ watercolor set, to great effect.
“I use my watercolors very much like pastels,” he said. “I try to keep the colors very fresh and crisp.”
Born and raised in the Midwest, Mr. Hampshire spent his adult life living in various cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. In 1982, the artist moved to New York City, where he won second place in a contest sponsored by the Pastel Society of America. He used that prize, along with two other scholarships, to study at the Art Students League in New York.
Mr. Hampshire had only just begun using pastels when he won the scholarship: “I went to the Metropolitan and studied Degas a lot. His pastels influenced me. I like keeping it very clean, not muddy.”
This love of vivid color and clearly defined lines is apparent in the work currently hanging in Mocha Mott’s. The show includes images of many of the iconic sights of the town, including the businesses around Five Corners, such as the bike shop and the Black Dog.
“I went from Five Points in New York to Five Corners,” quips Mr. Hampshire, who laughs and jokes easily in describing his former and current life.
His résumé is both varied and impressive. In the 1980s, he earned artwork commissions from a number of the most well-known nightclubs of the day, including Limelight, Palladium, and Area. He was among the group of outsider artists that encompassed Keith Haring and Basquiat.
A colorful character himself, Mr. Hampshire pursued a number of art-related careers in his life. He worked variously as an art dealer, a food stylist for Macy’s, and a jewelry designer. He created accessories for Patricia Field, and worked in publishing.
The artist first visited the Vineyard in 1990, when he was invited as a guest of Walter Cronkite’s daughter Nancy. He describes himself as part of the Cronkite family “entourage.” “I was sort of the court fool,” Mr. Hampshire said, “the favorite artist clown.” After years of splitting his time between the Vineyard and New York, he finally settled here permanently in 2007. “I went back to New York the day before 9/11,” he said. “I went back to the city crying, because I didn’t want to leave. I’ve never felt the same about New York since then.”
For the past nine years, Mr. Hampshire has been living off and on his racing sloop, the Bora, which he refers to as “an old retired racehorse.” His roommate is a crippled blind cat named Admiral Dewey.
After the death of a friend, the artist found some solace in painting. Inspired by the sight of the magnificent cherry tree in full bloom outside Educomp, Mr. Hampshire embarked on his current series. “I started painting almost daily around Vineyard Haven,” he said. “When you don’t know what else to do, paint.”
Working on his watercolors around town, the friendly and energetic artist has made a lot of friends. “Everywhere I go, people call me the painter,” he says. He has no difficulty carrying on a conversation while working. “The right side paints. The left side talks.”
“I hear music in my head when I’m painting,” Mr. Hampshire said. “I don’t think it’s me that’s painting. All my favorite artists play me like a harp — Mozart, Dalí, Keith Haring.”
Recently, Mr. Hampshire undertook a project documenting the little house that was recently torn down next to the Vineyard Haven Stop and Shop. He is working on putting together a book called “Gladys McGee’s House.” “When [Ms. McGee] sold the house, I had this vision that people would start graffiti-bombing it,” Mr. Hampshire said. That proved to be the case, and Mr. Hampshire enjoyed capturing the house through all of its colorful stages.
Although he’s still in the process of painting around Vineyard Haven, Mr. Hampshire does plan to move on to other subjects at some point. He said: “Once I conquer Vineyard Haven, I’ll go on to Oak Bluffs.”