Since boyhood, painter Mike Rooney had dreamed of being an artist. But there were no art fellowships, ateliers, or scholarly art classes waiting for him. “I always wanted to paint fine art,” Rooney says. But life came at him hard and fast. After dropping out of college to support his family, he had a long stint in the military, where he painted designs under airplane cockpits. “It’s tough,” he says. “Life can get in the way sometimes.”
But no matter the twists and turns, Rooney has always kept his focus. “I’ve been a lifetime student,” he says. “You can work at a supermarket, but be thinking about painting every minute.” Now his childhood dream is coming true: the Harwich summer resident has found his niche, traveling throughout the East Coast teaching and painting, and creating in Key West for the winter months.
Rooney’s oil paintings are celebrations of the natural world, inspired by his favorite places on the East Coast, one of which is Cape Cod. Many of his paintings—with names like From Corn Hill to Roseville, Nauset Beach, and Cape Cod Morning—exude a tangible sense of the Cape’s light, air, and gently shifting shapes. The Virginia native’s paintings and travel choices reflect the coast for a reason: “It’s the way the light and the air comingle,” he notes. And almost always, he paints outside, going inside only, he says, “under duress.”
Rooney’s childhood and time in the military were followed by an income earned through professional sign painting. “It wasn’t the best time, but I just got out there and did it,” he says. When the business changed with the advent of computer graphics and his last child left for college—despite nerves about leaving a secure income—he made the leap to fine art. He still seems surprised at how his career has taken off. Today he paints and teaches, traveling among his favorite eastern locales. Showing at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery in Orleans has been a perfect fit. Owner Elizabeth Rowley, he says, “understands art and understands the artist.”
Rooney muses about his roundabout introduction to fine art and the drudgework he did that endured up to it. Now, he sees his experience through a lens of serendipity. “The thing that I was never able to do was what bailed me out,” Rooney says. “Art allowed me to reinvent myself.”
Mike Rooney’s work may be seen at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery at 84 Route 6A in Orleans, and at elizabethrowleygallery.com. He will teach a painting workshop at the Elizabeth Rowley Gallery on the weekend of September 15-16, from 9a.m. to 4p.m.