There is the light that every dawn brings, and then there is the light imbued in the work of Nantucket artist Elle Foley. Muted or clear, subtle or strong, reflected or refracted, light rays cast a lovely, gauzy net over her evocative impressionist landscapes, lending them focus, definition, and clarity. “It’s my greatest inspiration,” Foley says.
A summer resident of Nantucket, she travels extensively and considers her art “a painterly travelogue” of places in Europe, New England, and Nantucket, where she sets up easels outdoors for en plein air painting, or in a studio for more complex pieces.
The island, emblematic of our region’s sublime play of light, gives Foley limitless opportunities for expression. A first look at Summer Surf, for instance, reveals bands of blue ocean dotted with breaking waves and seabirds and offset by a swath of grass in one corner. Then the lyrical clouds come into view and finally, a light—clear and iridescent—washes over it.
One of her newer works, Red Sail, makes use of warm tones to brighten the sky over a sailing dory. “I’m always struck by the beauty of Nantucket,” says Foley.
Color, paint, and brushwork ultimately allow her to explore the natural world and sense of place in her art. “Varying the brushstrokes and layering is part of the fun of working with water and land. It adds depth and dimension,” says the artist. It also helps establish the place. “Each building, boat, hillside, or human figure is carefully painted in the context of its surroundings,” she says. “I like to keep it simple, to keep the eye moving.”
Foley has been coming to Nantucket since the 1980s, when she was a practicing architect and remodeling houses on the island. She studied painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and architecture at the Boston Architectural Center. After her architectural career, she returned to painting at the Art Students League in New York City, and began picking up awards—in New York at the Salmagundi Art Club, from the National Arts Club, and from the Nantucket Artists Association.
As both an architect and artist, Foley has an uncanny balance of an analytical mind and a creative spirit. It keeps her moving, literally and figuratively. As she says, “My energy and delight in color, light, and shape are ever changing.”
Elle Foley’s work may be seen at the Artists Association of Nantucket at 19 Washington Street and the East End Gallery at 3 Old North Wharf, both on Nantucket; Powers Gallery in Acton; Mecox Gallery in Palm Beach, Florida and at ellefoley.com. The East End Gallery hosts a one-woman show from 6 to 7 p.m. on July 27.