Brushstroke by brushstroke

Artist Dave Grey finds a sense of place in the Island's landmark scenes.


The brush in his hand, the art paper taped to a backing on his easel, the palette of paints and the water ready to be mixed — the creative juices are flowing as he sits to paint a landmark Island scene.

“[The Island scenes] give me a good feeling of the place I have come to and the places I will be going,” says Dave Grey, watercolor artist.

Dave seeks to share with others the inspiration he feels from an Island coastline, the townships along the waters, harbors and lighthouses, shanties and sailboats, the rigors of weather. His wish in his art is to take folks to the place of hope and encouragement, the place of believing that he finds through his paintings.

His paintings are his contribution to the community dialogue.

The water, for instance, can be very gratifying. “If you study the water long enough, you begin to learn what it communicates and what exactly it is doing there … to me the water communicates a kind of loving kindness of nature,” he says.

Dave, in his late 50s, has been painting since he was a child. He sold his first painting in 2005 or 2006. Most recently, he launched a website called Vineyard Insights ( Painting does wonders for his spirit. “It nourishes me when I go back and look at something again, and maybe I have a new idea about it,” he says. It allows self-acceptance and understanding.

Dave is most at ease in his art. “I think that communicating things in paint is sometimes better than communicating things in words … the colors bring out feeling, and the detail of the work can bring out more feeling,” Dave says.

He likes the media of watercolor over other artforms for its simplicity. Watercolor, Dave says, brings out the simple things: water, foliage, land. And, he says, he likes to paint scenes of nature because “nature never leads us astray.”

The process of watercolor painting — the connection he makes with the windswept beach grasses on a sand dune, the wavelets in the harbor, the branches of a tree, the blue in the sky — helps to guide his own feelings.

The key to the great artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt, according to Dave, was to keep things simple. A simple idea, he says, can be “very, very becoming.” Dave seeks to find that simple idea in the Island scenes he paints. What does this scene communicate, he asks?

Life has not been easy for Dave. He suffers from schizophrenia. He was dealt a blow by the severe and debilitating illness during his junior year in high school in Vermont. He was given medication, and placed in a hospital. He looked forward, he said, to a time when he could resume the life he had. This time did not come. He was hospitalized for three years.

Schizophrenia is an “awful unpleasant” illness, he says. The illness has made tasks of daily living, such as making a bed, shaving and dressing, and preparing meals confusing and difficult. The illness can be treated, but there is no cure. It is a barrier he faces day in and day out. Yet the barriers come down when he paints.

Watercolor art goes “hand in hand” with his schizophrenia, he says. Painting allows him to communicate in a way the illness prevents. He works with his brushes and paints to convey what he sees and feels. The inner workings of his mind shine when he paints.

A drawn rock in a stone wall provides hope. A skiff pulled up onto the marshy shore of a salt pond conveys peace. One can see in a lighthouse the beam of light providing safety to a ship at sea. The child within us is captured by the Red Rose undersail in fair winds.

We all harbor feelings of a Menemsha shanty. “We are confronting change right now. [A shanty is a] simple reminder that we have a whole world out there ahead of us, and we cannot give up and let our low tendencies get the better of us,” says Dave.

The simplicity and the positivity of a shanty — the idea of a fisherman at sea that the shanty conveys — enable what Dave calls our “high tendencies.” These high tendencies help when we are confronted with confusing or scary challenges.

Also, says Dave, intrigue and excitement exist in the shanty. One may look at one of his paintings of a shanty and think of a fisherman on a rolling sea, working his lines and pots.

Dave has found an endless array of paintings in the Island’s landmark scenes.

Again and again, he has returned to the Black Dog, Gannon & Benjamin boatyard, Morning Glory Farm, and the Ag Hall. Again and again he has returned to the harbors and the ponds and meadows and rural farmland. The steamship leaving the dock, a sunset, and an Edgartown church all are grist for his brush, his paper, and his paints.

For more information on Dave’s work or to purchase his paintings and cards, visit, or email