David Kelley has never been hesitant to push the envelope, whether he’s working in the corporate world as an illustrator or painting an ethereal Cape Cod landscape. His multifaceted background has taught him to stretch the boundaries. “I’m always evolving,” he says.
His career path has veered off in many directions through the past five decades. He worked as a medical illustrator and graphic designer for advertising agencies, insurance companies, and book publishers. He designed a reading program for elementary schoolchildren. He was a printmaker. But he never lost his love for painting. “I find that lots of artists start off as graphic designers or illustrators and paint on the side,” he says. “Their passion is painting. Anyone who gets into it (as a career) is very lucky. Lots of people have the potential, but have their desires squashed.”
After graduating from Providence College, he enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was at RISD that he first began exploring the limitless bounds of creativity. “That was a major factor behind my design work. If I was having problems, I’d think what other artists would do and I’d refuse to be limited by restrictions,” he says.
After stints as a photo re-toucher for an advertising firm, a designer for Aetna Life Insurance, art director at Houghton Mifflin, and a freelance sports photographer, Kelley relocated to Cape Cod in 1991 and, inspired by an eight-week oil painting course, began focusing on painting during the past decade. “I didn’t want to design anymore,” he says. “I just wanted to be free and loose. I wanted to develop a spontaneous approach. I had worked on the computer (creating illustrations and collages) since 1987, but I wanted to get away from the tightness of all that.”
Distinctive shapes and evocative shadows have always intrigued David Kelley. He initially worked in acrylic and oils, but eventually shifted entirely to pastels because of that medium’s versatility. A former president of the Falmouth Artists Guild, he is now a member of the Pastels Painters Society of Cape Cod. Determined not to have his work pigeonholed, his paintings range from landscapes and wildlife scenes to portraits to the occasional sports piece.
“I just react to the situation. I like the excitement of a situation that is changing,” he says. “Doing different kinds of work and different disciplines has helped keep things natural and exciting.”
Multimedia sculptor Benton Jones of Brewster sees life as malleable and transformative, much like his art process. Jones’s glass sculptures, like clusters of light, seem to change before your eyes, pulsing with energy in a happy marriage of color and form.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Fine Arts, Jones says he learned the real craft of sculpting at the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture in Trenton, New Jersey. Of the experience, in which he studied alongside sculptors such as Claes Oldenburg and George Segal, Jones simply says, “It was quite a steep learning curve.” Today he operates three kilns at Millstone Gallery in Brewster, his workspace and sculpture gallery, attracting worldwide collectors that include the musician Eric Clapton.
One of the kilns represents the genesis of Jones’s glasswork. He was working only with metal when his mentor, the late Donald Beaulieu, left Jones his glass-fusing kiln and instructional books. Beaulieu, in fact, helped Jones complete his first large commission, a sculpture of two winged lions holding a clock, which stood at South and Main Streets in Hyannis for a decade.
Much of Jones’s work is themed around water, and there is almost always an environmental message. The brilliant ice-like sculptures in his Melting Hemispheres Series, such as Receding Glacier, are based on reclaimed glass flotation spheres that were used in climate change research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The series is a comment on the world’s “very shortsighted views on climate change,” Jones says. “”I have great passion and love for nature, maybe less for the people who have been ruining it.” He also creates monuments to the local culture, such as Cape Cod Basket, a 17-inch-diameter glass vessel that is interwoven with copper and brass strips. “It’s reinventing the Nantucket basket in a modern way,” Jones says.
Jones is teaching sculpture this summer in Prague, through North Carolina State University, traveling there with his Czech-born wife, Jana Jones, and their five-year-old son, Elliot. “The Czech Republic is the predominant glass-casting country in the world and the predominant country working on a monumental scale,” says Jones, sounding dazzled by the upcoming opportunity. “All the stars have aligned.”
If you’re one of the many people trying to catch Randy Hudson, Godspeed and good luck. The Nantucket painter, businessman, soccer coach, husband, and father, is known over the island for his deep involvement with family and community, and his schedule reads like a rush-hour commuter train.
Fortunately, Hudson finds time to devote to his art, a serious endeavor for him for the past several years. In spirit, artistic pursuits have been with him his whole life. “Art has always been something I’ve been around,” Hudson says. After attending school for landscape architecture, he moved to Nantucket and began drawing, painting, and printmaking; then, he says, “I got too busy with life and put it (art) away for 15 years.”
After he had knee surgery several years ago, his wife Wendy Hudson, the owner of Nantucket Bookworks, signed him up for lessons at the Artists Association of Nantucket. Now, art is as vital a part of Hudson’s life as the rest of his myriad roles. “It’s an outlet for me,” he simply states.
Hudson’s canvases—whether landscapes, still lifes, or abstracts—are powerfully engaging, compelling viewers to look, and look again. Hudson says his art has no particular message, but he does concede that he is fascinated by the idea of connection: “how everything in an environment affects how we perceive the rest of the environment, and vice versa.” It makes sense, considering the important role of community in his life.
Hudson’s latest turn in art—toward abstract style—is exciting news for many of his fans. As he explains, the personal impact of painting abstracts, such as Ullage, is a powerful tonic. “The emotional aspect of painting—not from life but almost from the heart—is like letting something take hold of you and use you as a medium. When I can achieve that, it feels so much more rewarding than, say, rendering a glass or a flower. It’s something that’s beautiful, that has a connection; it’s almost like it came from nowhere.”
Meredith Howard is in a bit of conflict. For 10 years, her pastel landscapes brought her the satisfaction of an artist who had found her medium and a way to make a living. Then, three years ago, encaustic entered her life. Something about the sculptural qualities of the ancient method—mixing pigment with beeswax and fixing it with heat—moved her deeply. “I love encaustic’s abstract sensual quality, its three-dimensional aspect,” Howard says. “It’s very immediate.”
An artist advised Howard, a West Falmouth resident, to develop one medium. But, Howard says a little sheepishly, “I don’t want to settle on one thing. Maybe it’s immature of me.”
If working in pastels and encaustic means Howard is immature, she might reconsider the value of growing up. In Howard’s hands, both mediums are celebrations of color, shape, and form. She is the first to admit that her encaustic work, such as her three-piece “Joy Series,” can be almost childlike. But the pieces are more than the unaffected whimsy of youth. “In the series, I strived to express that we as humans are similar yet different,” she says. “As we come together in life we can stay close yet be separate, and shine individually or as a group.” In different combinations, the shapes in each piece morph from mood to mood, light and dark—the full range of human emotion.
Howard’s landscapes represent the other side of her nature. Lush renderings of Cape Cod settings, they are cloaked in an aura of the region’s misty air, nature’s mysteries interwoven with unspoiled beauty. Howard credits her mother, West Falmouth watercolorist Phyllis Kendrick Howard, for inspiring her love of painting landscapes en plein air. “She taught me a lot,” Howard says of her late mother. “It’s because of her that I do art.”
Howard eventually attended art school in Boston, but then she questioned her path and chose work in carpet restoration. She still has beautiful carpet patterns taped on the walls around her art studio. Howard went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America. At one time, she was the personal chef to the Kennedy family in Hyannisport.
As often happens, intentions of creating artwork called to her. “All those years, I wanted to get back to my art,” she says. She began attending classes at the Creative Arts Center in Chatham and thrived. Now, she has found her real passion. “I really dug into it,” Howard says. “It was full circle, a fulfillment.”
The deep nostalgia in Judy Harmon’s paintings is no accident. One of the artist’s strongest girlhood memories is of the day her family pulled up stakes in Needham and moved to the Midwest. “I was devastated,” Harmon says. “It was so flat.” Drawing as a child helped her to express those emotions, and it was a happy day when, as an adult, she returned to the place where she had spent her youth. “The New England landscape drew me back,” she says.
Whether it is a Wellfleet church steeple framed by hardwood trees, as in Main Street, or the painter and skiff in Summer on the Cove, Harmon’s images ring with light and color. “I love glows of light,” she says. “The light effects in New England are luminous.”
Although she sometimes has to fight the region’s blue haze, Harmon revels in Cape Cod’s famous diffused light, especially the way it plays on water. She recalls following her artist’s instinct one late afternoon, looking for that certain light. “I was going down Commercial Street in Wellfleet at sunset, approaching the harbor,” she relates. “I saw this glow, a beautiful glow of light illuminating the marsh.” Suddenly, what had been a dead brown was, as Harmon says, “covered with a brilliant peach, late-day light.” Almost indescribable in words, she translated the scene’s deep effect through her painting Winter Marsh.
Harmon is also adept at creating patterns, which goes back to her college days, when she was a fine arts major. “I was bored in one class,” she recalls, “and then I created a pattern and liked it.” After graduation she worked for an art director in Manhattan and, as she simply relates, “he pushed.” Today, she says, “I love patterns.”
Harmon, of Harwichport, began her serious artwork in watercolors and continued with the medium for 40 years. About 12 years ago, she switched to oils and loved it and its application, the way “you push the paint.” Her style of loose realism is very studied, though it may not appear that way at first.
Harmon’s art pulls at the hearts of her viewers, especially those who have a deep attachment to the New England landscape. “I respond emotionally to the visual world around me,” Harmon says. “I’m driven to record it and share the impressions.”
Jack Goldsmith boils his words down to their essence. He credits his polished verbal skills to his 40 years of art direction and design in Manhattan. What he doesn’t take credit for is how he gets to the heart of the matter of ethereal subjects in spot-on fashion, whether he is expressing them in words or acrylics.
“Once I come upon an image I want to paint, I like to attack it and do it quickly,” Goldsmith says. “I refuse to labor over a painting.”
Goldsmith’s canvases are vibrant glimpses of life in all its nuances of light, color, and feel. Perhaps owing to his early career in art direction, the Osterville resident speaks frequently of “staging” his art. The Kite Flyers features one of his favorite subjects, Cape Cod’s ocean edge. “I like to paint children on the beach,” he says. “I also like to paint the beach with nobody around. It all becomes kind of a stage.” All of his pieces, including his still lifes, are arranged almost like choreography, to render a very natural experience.
Goldsmith was trained in the 1940s at the Syracuse University School of Fine Arts and the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Art and Design, before starting his career in art direction and teaching at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan. As Goldsmith succinctly says, “My life has always been holding a pencil or a brush.”
Finally, he came home to a life of fine art when he and his wife moved to Osterville in 1993, drawn by good friends and the Cape’s renowned light. Among his influences are the 19th-century Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla and the late Cape Cod artist Charles Sovek, as well as members of the French Impressionist School.
Although his paintings are filled with highlights, shadows, and other subtleties, for Goldsmith it all goes back to first blocking the painting with brush on canvas. “It’s the most crucial part of the painting for me,” he says. “If you don’t design it well, you’ll struggle.”
Betty Carroll Fuller believes that paintings are not simply to be viewed; they are to be experienced. As she says, “I try to capture the essence, not the image.”
Fuller’s paintings testify to life’s moments—good coffee, a colorful weed, an unexpected storm—in vivid abstract strokes. She primarily works in oil, but often laces her art with materials such as gold leaf, glitter, and found objects. The Falmouth resident also works in acrylics, which she applies to birch panels, sometimes cutting them to shape.
Her colors are seductive and strong, hues meaty enough to carry a particular feeling or emotion. As Fuller says, “Something might look blue but feel yellow to me.” She often uses poetic or musical metaphors to describe painting; she particularly loves a quote from the writer Kofi Natambu, who described jazz musician Miles Davis as “blowing blue holes through a red sky.”
Behind the emotion is a studied work style. “I try to combine good draftsmanship and technical skill with abstraction,” Fuller says. The language of her canvas may be a bit esoteric for some, but her many fans have no trouble interpreting it. The soft colors and shapes of Spring Thaw perfectly bespeak the experience of
seeing nature’s annual awakening. Perfect Summer Day captures that exquisite peak of color and form in the high season on Cape Cod.
Fuller once tried working in a different style, which lasted one painting. “People say ‘you don’t do realism,’” she remarks. “I did one of lilies and I felt so dead. My daughter really liked lilies, so I wanted to do one for her. It didn’t feel real. You can’t understand a lily unless you know how it smells.”
When Fuller is not painting, she teaches art at Cape Cod Community College and is the director and curator of the college’s Higgins Art Gallery. But for Fuller, painting is not a choice—it’s a given. “For artists, it’s like breathing,” she says. “You get lost in it. You have this need to go to that space and make things; it’s an empirical demand to make things.”
Life is an experiential feast for painter Traeger di Pietro. He has a particularly sharp eye for people and their quirks, and doesn’t hesitate to say his full-time job of driving a truck melds perfectly with his life as an artist.
“I drive a truck 50 hours a week,” says di Pietro, of Vineyard Haven. “It’s perfect for what I do.” Besides being great fodder for people watching, he also unearths objects for his mixed-media pieces, such as a red tag for his new work, Price Check, a painting of a zebra in a fancy room wrapped in a fur coat. “The fur is obviously from another animal,” di Pietro says. The fur is painted, but the red tag is real.
The beauty of mixed media, di Pietro says, is “having the freedom to create whatever I want, with whatever I can get my hands on—crayons, charcoal, paint, found objects, archival paper.” In Dressed to Impress, a swan in a red tie ruffles its feathers in a hierarchal show of power, against a vivid backdrop of paint, newsprint, and glitter. The swan represents di Pietro’s stance on social status and possessions. “It’s not about money,” he says. “I couldn’t pay enough for the (treasures) I’ve found on the beach.”
The artist also works in impressionistic oils, inspired by his daily life on the Vineyard.Draggin’ is a moody rendering of a fisherman on a workboat, moving through his day on an unsettled ocean. The gulls alongside are an important part of di Pietro’s sensibilities. “There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of a bird,” he says.
He is fascinated by people, their possessions, and their relationship with nature. A neighbor of his childhood home in Swampscott was a lobsterman who left a deep impression on young di Pietro. The simplest things were stored in the artist’s memory bank: the man’s calluses, what he looked like unloading traps from his truck. “In a weird way,” di Pietro says, “I think the details of life have been training me all along.”
Until eight years ago, Ross Coppelman’s jewelry designs had the aura of ancient Egyptian artifacts: stylized lines and the richness of precious stones and high-carat gold. It was most definitely not traditional Cape Cod jewelry. In fact, Coppelman says, “I took this sort of wrong-headed pride that I wasn’t inspired by Cape Cod. I was inspired more by very old archeological design and imagery.”
Coppelman’s almost subconscious draw toward Egyptian jewelry worked well for the goldsmith, who has been creating jewelry for more than 40 years. Then, several years ago, he and his family moved to a spot near the Great Marsh in Dennis, and something strange happened: The Cape’s natural lines and contours began appearing in his rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Coppelman had changed deep inside, and his art jewelry changed with it.
“I was working on a curve (in a piece of jewelry) and suddenly it turned into a wave. I went, ‘What’s going on?’ I had never done anything even mildly representational before,” he says. “My work took a complete change.” Suddenly, inspiration was not in the decorative pieces worn by ancient Egyptian pharaohs, but in the quiet beauty of the marsh. As Coppelman says, “There was no traffic, no noise; there was water, birds, and sunset. Suddenly, nature took over in terms of what’s inspiring.”
After his metamorphosis, Coppelman designed a series of polished silver and gold jewelry in a wave and sunset motif, and then, he says, “I got restless again.” He upped the energy of his thematic development and did a series based on the Dennis tidal flats, with a “sandy” effect imparted by high-carat gold dust infused into the metal.
Not that anything ever gets too literal in the Coppelman studio. His new “Landscape Series” features a ring and cuff bracelet with a sterling silver background that has been oxidized to turn grey-black to contrast with the gold, its pattern calling on the lines in the marsh sand. Each piece features one beautiful opal, offset with a small diamond underneath.
Today, Coppelman ponders the new direction that his art jewelry has taken. “What I didn’t know is that there’s more than one way to be inspired by the Cape,” he says. “I had to get out of the way and let it evolve.” But there may be yet another fork in Coppelman’s road. “I tend to get into a style for two or three years, then I get bored and restless,” he reflects. “I’m feeling it now—big time. I don’t know what will come out of it.”
Deborah T. Colter’s unique sense of place gives her work a rare perspective. “My mind constantly takes in everything,” she says. “Then I try to turn it off and see what happens.”
The names of her mixed media works are fascinating clues, but Colter’s paintings hold much unknown territory. “I love color; I love textures, those elements of finding the mystery of what we see every day, when we look down from an airplane, or through the fog,” she says. “Even open space has a lot going on.”
Growing up with an architect father, Colter was introduced to graphic design and geometric elements early on. “That was always part of my being,” she says. She sharpened her skills at the Rhode Island School of Design. On her summers off from RISD, she waited tables on Martha’s Vineyard, where she met her husband, Richard Colter. The parents of two sons, the Edgartown couple has been on the island now for 30 years.
In Colter’s work, even circles, lines, and squares are mysterious things. Bolstering the effect is her technical working style: a collage-like process of building layers of acrylic paint with paper and other materials, sanding the surface, scratching it, and building again. “I love building texture and patterns and making them speak their own tongues, talk to each other,” she says. Her challenge is nailing the relationship among them and the surrounding space: “There has to be order among chaos, a balance of energy, something that is alive, in motion, and yet motionless at the same time.”
Ultimately, Colter says, a painting needs to have a life, and achieving that is the ultimate gratification. “A painting is a world of its own,” she says. “Creating something out of nothing—it’s just magical to be able to do that.”