These February days can be gray and gloomy, but Alexis Russillo’s luminous landscapes at the West Tisbury library offer a revitalizing burst of light and sunshine. It’s beginning to look a lot like summer in the library’s community room, where Russillo’s 18 paintings hang this month.
Each one is resplendent, skies bright and glowing, water sparkling with reflections, trees and grass softly caressed by sunlight. Russillo’s exhibit offers what feels like an Island tour, from beaches to meadows, the Menemsha dock, a sun-kissed farm field, a lush woodland, a shadowed secret garden, leafy green and full of promise. Russillo welcomes the viewer to her favorite places, and shows us the Island through her loving painter’s eyes.
The artist revels in the deliciousness of color and light. Her paintings are exuberant, almost playful, as they celebrate nature.
“Royal Blue Katama Bay” is a super-saturated, deepest indigo, so blue we want to dive right in. In “Ladies Night Out,” a group of cows take their sweet time meandering through a vast green meadow, an even vaster sky spread out above, shot with brilliant rays of sun. Perky little Rosa rugosa blossoms wink from dune grass, echoing the pink of the sky and its reflection in the water below. Trees rise tall, green, bursting with the richness of summer; we can almost feel the warm, still air as the sky gleams above. Blue waves tumble, inlets lie peaceful, the sea shines silver far beyond a meadow.
“Love does!” said Russillo simply, when asked what inspires her to paint. “And gratitude for the people that I share the moments with, and for nature.”
It’s little wonder that these scenes feel so intimate and familiar, for Russillo grew up in West Tisbury, wandering the Island, finding the special places, happily at home in nature.
Her parents supported their children’s creative aspirations. Artistic talent runs in this family, from her mother Karen, an imaginative seamstress and designer, and four siblings pursuing creative endeavors. Russillo was drawn to art as a youngster, finding it easier and more natural for her than academics. “I had extreme dyslexia. Art was where I was most comfortable,” she remembers.
She studied with Janice Frame and Scott Campbell, both talented and nurturing art teachers — “two of my most favorite people.” She did as much art as possible in school, and tried many forms but always returned to painting, her favorite medium.
Art moved to the back burner when Russillo enrolled at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire with a lacrosse scholarship. College was cut short when she broke her leg and ankle during Christmas break. It would be several years before the artwork that she loved called her back, this time to stay.
After a long recovery at home, Russillo spent a year at the School of Fashion Design in Boston. “I learned to sew impeccably,” she laughs. But it was not the direction she wanted to go.
For the next few years she worked construction with her father, and established a caretaking business.
Art resurfaced in her life unplanned when she painted a landscape for her then boyfriend — “my first real love.”
“It just flowed, how I conveyed my love for him was through the painting. The relationship didn’t last, but my love for painting has. It rebirthed my passion for painting!”
Russillo began painting on her own until 2011, when she entered the Florence Academy of Art, which she terms “the Harvard of figurative painting.”
Immersed in long days of rigorous art instruction and surrounded by the Italian culture she loved, Russillo recalls it as “one of the most inspirational experiences, just incredible.”
The demanding curriculum required painstaking drawing practice and anatomy study. Although Russillo’s goal was landscape painting, she was sure this learning would be useful: “I knew if I could master the body I could master trees.”
Back home in 2013, Russillo began painting full-time, gradually got her work out in public, hanging in shops, exhibiting at community events, selling to friends.
Today Russillo is a member of Edgartown’s Old Sculpin Gallery, with a group show each summer, and had her first solo exhibition last August. She has been featured at outdoor fundraising socials where she creates a plein air painting during the event as an auction item.
Russillo has begun teaching painting at Kyleen Keenan’s health and wellness retreats in Tuscany. In time she dreams of developing her own painting retreats, and would love to have her own gallery.
Along with gallery shows and commissions, Russillo sells through her website. She also offers unique, hand-welded solid brass frames for her paintings.
Russillo paints on canvas and wood panel using oils, the medium she favors because of the color she can achieve and the fact the paint is made from natural elements. “If I’m going to paint nature, I should use natural materials,” she explains.
Russillo is an avid surfer and skateboarder, sports that keep her outside in the nature she loves and represents.
Although her landscapes convey a marvelous sense that she has just spontaneously strolled into a meadow or onto a beach, pulled out brushes and began to paint, not all Russillo’s work is done outdoors; much is from memory.
“I’ll take a picture with my mind and then paint it,” she says. She may do a quick drawing in the sketchbook she always carries — “it’s your blueprint” — and sometimes takes a photo for color reference.
Light seems to emanate from Russillo’s landscapes, and even just talking about it, she becomes energized.
“There is something special about Vineyard light,” she says. “Maybe it’s because we are surrounded by water. Even as a little girl I appreciated the light of sunset and sunrise,” she says. “The transparency of light and the saturation of color are what inspire me, and trying to convey nature with oil paint. The light makes everything possible!”