Getting to Provincetown was a long and winding road for John Clayton, but he got there. Today he is firmly ensconced in the Cape-tip artist’s haven, painting and teaching in an atmosphere that feels like home.
Clayton’s first art class was at the YMCA in Brooklyn, where he says he often heard the same cry: “Go to the Art Students League!” So he scooted to New York City, where he studied at both the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design (now the National Academy Museum & School of Fine Arts). At the Art Students League, he started hearing about Provincetown. “So I came here,” Clayton says.
He has been in Provincetown since 1994, painting prolifically and teaching art at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the Cape School of Art in Provincetown, and the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.
His first stop in Provincetown was the Cape School of Art. “I pretty much moved in,” he says. “The energy was so incredible. Provincetown is better than any college.” Everything about the Outer Cape—the incomparable light, beautiful colors, moody grays, topography, culture, creativity—spark Clayton’s eye and impressionist-style paintings.Cottage Street or Provincetown Beach in all their rich, dancing glory, are vibrant depictions of his favorite town.
In Provincetown, he also found an acceptance of his love for color. “When I was studying at the Art Students League, I would hear, ‘What is this, the fourth of July? Tune down those colors!’” On the Outer Cape, he has no color inhibitions, and he loves the colors that brighter weather brings.
“I’m really drawn to the sunny days,” Clayton says. “It’s part of who I am. I do use yellows, more colors like that. I’m trying to express the light.” He is primarily known for his landscapes and still lifes in oils. “You can do things with (oil) that you can’t do with other mediums,” he says. He also creates prints and etchings.
His philosophy is refreshingly straightforward. “I don’t take myself too seriously,” Clayton says. “I take my art seriously, but not myself.” The most difficult thing, he says, is finding the unadorned in art’s complexities. “I want the paintings to get simpler,” he says, “but it’s so hard to get simple.”