The magical world of artist Traeger di Pietro

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In a world filled with 24/7 news cycles and economic and societal strife, taking time to admire Traeger di Pietro’s art is a must. If nothing else, it will make you smile and serve as a creative distraction.

Di Pietro told the Times last week that he first considered art seriously when he was a teenager growing up in Swampscott, looking to impress a girlfriend who was an artist. I asked him if it worked: “It did work, yeah, I think it did.” Di Pietro has been creating ever since.

The artist has around 20 mixed-media paintings hanging at the Field Gallery now, a place he’s exhibited at for years. The show runs through August 19, and also includes work by photographer Michael Stimola. The gallery’s lawn filled with sculptures is every bit as playful as the artwork inside.

Di Pietro’s work is filled with whimsy — a swan floating atop a grandfather clock in “The Mermaids Clock,” a huge gorilla wearing virtual reality goggles in “Fake Stars,” and his familiar Messenger Man sharing a rainbow-colored lollipop with a bear in “Lunch Date.” As fanciful as the work is, di Pietro explains the meaning behind the pieces.

“The gorilla’s in a room with fake stars with a virtual reality mask. He’s seeing the world, maybe back home where the other gorillas are, but he’s really sitting in that room,” the artist explains. “The swan standing on a grandfather clock floating … It’s fun to see beautiful swans in the water, but imagine it’s standing on a clock and beneath the water there’s a mermaid and a world underneath him, and it becomes an invitation to a bigger story.”

He creates each exhibit so that the work is always new and fresh.

“It’s all happy and whimsical and carefree,” di Pietro says. “I want to make it so when people see these paintings they smile. There’s so much going on in the world right now and I just want people to feel some happiness or enjoyment from it.”

Lately his artistic endeavors have carried over into a cause close to his heart — the Island Autism Group. A friend asked if he would donate some artwork for a fundraiser for the organization some years ago and di Pietro took it a step further and began creating artwork with the young people who are autistic. One young man, Connor McGrath, has a fascination with trains and has created much artwork around the theme. He’s become friends with di Pietro and they’ve worked together to design fun T-shirts with sales benefitting the IAG.

“We did it and they came out great and I became friends with Connor, his dad, Kevin, and his mom, Cyn. I thought we should hang out and make art together and one day Connor was wearing a T-shirt with a whale on it and I said, ‘Hey Connor, I like your T-shirt. Is that Moby Dick?’ and he said, ‘Yes, it’s Moby bad word.’ So then I was like we need to raise more money so why not do other animals with a different ‘bad word.’”

Currently for sale is a T-shirt with a drawing of a sweet blue donkey, and underneath it says Jack (bad word). Though the T-shirts have been a fun project, di Pietro really hopes to create a solid body of work with the autism community that can then be exhibited. “We were sort of on the verge of this when COVID happened,” di Pietro explained. He deepened his commitment to the Island’s autism project by also joining the IAG’s board of directors. The IAG is currently working to raise funds to continue building the Island Autism Center on land it acquired a couple of years ago. Their garden area is now in full swing, and hopefully the other buildings will follow before too long.

For now, di Pietro said he’s learning to better juggle work and play during Island summers. He’s busy in his studio and busy trying to raise funds for the IAG, and still trying to balance his home life. “You have to pick time to create and also time to live,” he says. “I’m getting better at it.”

Traeger di Pietro exhibit at the Field Gallery through August 19. Visit fieldgallery.com for more information. To purchase a T-shirt to benefit the Island Autism Group, visit bit.ly/iagbadwor. To find out more about the Island Autism Group, visit islandautism.org.