In her representational watercolors, Heidi Gallo takes delight in the details, whether it’s the reflections off the chrome fender of a 1950s Porsche Speedster or the dappled shadows falling on cottages in Eastham. “I really like old Cape Cod—the old buildings, cabins, the old signs and the dramatic light we get right before sunset, the color of the grass in early morning. I love reflections, old cars, the curves,” she explains. Her work is decidedly and classically nostalgic, neatly fitting in to the Cape’s long artistic tradition of representational painting. Gallo sees herself as something of a documentarian, rendering perfectly iconic spots like the Lobster Pot in Provincetown. “I’m trying to capture all those little jewels on the Cape before they are gone,” she says.
Gallo grew up in central Massachusetts but often spent summers visiting relatives in coastal Maine, where she got her first taste of the ocean. “I just fell in love with the ocean. I never thought I’d live near the water, and it’s just so cool that I do now,” she says. Her path to becoming a full-time artist was not a direct or immediate one. While always acing her elementary and high school art classes, she had to work and save money for art school, where she studied commercial art and photography. After she finished, she found herself working in a bank for many years. “I always worked in banks,” she says. “Fourteen years, with no windows—I never got outside!” In 1991, she accompanied her husband to Eastham. “I ended up working as a clam farmer. Work at a bank and then end up as a clam farmer, how does that work?” muses Gallo.
In 1995, her need to tap into her artistic talents inspired her to start watercolor classes at Nauset Adult Education. She studied for nine years under both Doris DeCarlo and Kely Knowles. At that point, she was just giving her work away as gifts, then began selling them. “I approached the Strawberry Patch in Brewster and they took some of my watercolors and sold them for $40, and they were selling like crazy!” she says.
When Gallo was farming, painting usually had to be put on hold during the summer season, and she would have to settle for her camera. Having recently retired from being a clam farmer, she is looking forward to expanding her production and getting out more in the summer.
While Gallo has worked in other media, watercolors are her primary means of expression. “I always liked the look of watercolors; it’s the simplicity of it,” she says. “It can be so simple and beautiful. You really don’t have a lot of control; they take over and do their own thing. Plus, I’m kind of an impatient person—watercolors dry quickly and you can frame them!” Still, Gallo is a meticulous painter, often spending 40 to 45 hours on a piece. True to her commercial art roots, she is actively marketing her work in a variety of forms: originals, prints, greeting cards, tiles, and cutting boards. Her paintings are happy, joyous celebrations of the Cape, the place she calls home. “I really love it here,” she says. “I appreciate that there are so many beautiful places.”
Standing before one of Michael Gaillard’s outsized photographs of Nantucket—his largest are 60 inches by 72 inches—one might feel displaced as the saturating blue of a cloudless summer sky envelopes the senses. The choice to print large is not taken lightly by Gaillard. “Viewing the work at that scale, the transformation is more complete,” he explains. “The photograph becomes more atmospheric. The more physical presence it has, the more direct the relationship is. Instead of operating as a window, the photograph functions more as a space.”
Over the years, there have been thousands of photographs of Nantucket’s well-known vistas taken by professionals and amateurs alike. But Gaillard’s are not just another set of sunset photos. The goal is not only to document a beautiful place or a transcendent moment, but also to create a beautiful object in and of itself. The photographs feel like paintings. Compositions typically featuring a strong horizon give way to huge color fields, often punctuated by miniscule tropes familiar to coastal landscapes: a sailboat or a split-rail fence. With simple titles like Rope, Jetties, or Polpis, Gaillard is both emphasizing yet reinventing the local vernacular. Those familiar things become strangely new when they are flattened into simple picture plane forms. Each image is a portrait, and seems inextricably tied to the relationship between the artist and the subject.
For Gaillard, who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York—but was born and raised on Nantucket and still returns every summer—this body of work is like a love letter—a tribute to the intoxicating aesthetics of this place. “What makes it special, what makes it magnetic, are not the details that can be readily documented like the history, the architecture, the flora, and even the people,” says Gaillard. “It’s the air, the light, the sky, the wind. My goal is to make work that conjures the feelings experienced when that salt air makes its way over the dunes and through your hair.”
Gaillard first discovered photography as a student at Nantucket High School. He uses a large format, eight-by-ten view camera, a tool favored by such 20th century master photographers as Walker Evans and Edward Weston. Images do not come easy. It is an exacting, time-consuming, technical process, but the trade-off comes in the quality of the image and the richness of the details captured. “I think it is a common misconception that the artistic process is a pleasant one,“ says Gaillard. “In fact, I am full of adrenaline, racing the light and wrestling with a composition. I sometimes spend a half an hour subtly adjusting, only to walk away without a shot. But then there are times when I know it immediately and take the shot without hesitation.”
This summer, Gaillard will be teaching a travel photography and writing seminar through Columbia University, where he received his MFA, and their affiliate in Jordan. His goal is to keep teaching at the collegiate level. “I owe my professors an immeasurable debt,” he says, “and the only way I can imagine repaying them is to do the same thing they did for me for someone else.”
Whether it’s the majestic canyons of New Mexico or the quiet harbors of Cape Cod, painter and Falmouth resident Herb Edwards captures the beauty of his surroundings. Despite the distinct differences in geography, the dramatic light and natural beauty in both regions has inspired Edwards for decades.
Born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Edwards grew up in a home where his father, who had a great appreciation for the arts, encouraged his son’s creativity. He found early inspiration at home, where impressionist reproductions hung on the wall and Stevan Dohanos, a famed Saturday Evening Post illustrator and friend of his parents, was often a guest.
Edwards’s childhood inspirations led him to the University of New Mexico where he studied painting, photography, and graphic design under the tutelage of Taos art colony members. Once he had received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1963, he worked in commercial graphic design before going on to receive his Master of Fine Arts in painting and photography from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The academic world consumed Edwards for the next 20 years of his life until he retired from a professorship at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey to devote himself to his art. “I wanted to try my hand at working with galleries and getting involved in the art field full-time,” says Edwards.
While many painters devote themselves to a single medium, Edwards finds merit in both oil and acrylic. “Oils are a traditional medium with their own qualities. You can build them up and work them—they’re very malleable—while acrylic is a fast-drying artificial material,” explains Edwards. “I use them in very different ways. I paint spontaneously in one sitting with acrylics and build up the oils over time.” His diverse paintings in both mediums have a lightness of touch and simplicity of line reflecting the natural, uncluttered beauty of New England and America’s far west. From impressionistic pieces like Sunny Afternoon, to more austere, Hopper-like works with bare renderings of line and color such as Inner Harbor, Edwards’s paintings reflect the simple beauty and symmetry of natural surroundings that have always been his source of inspiration.
Edwards recognizes that he is in a league among many talented, yet diverse painters in New Mexico and Cape Cod. As he sees it, “The difference between artists is how they see the subject and how they apply the paint, and within that are a million subtleties.” His own subtleties are the result of a clear artistic vision.
Bill Davis has spent his life around boats. “I’ve always had an interest in the maritime,” he says. “Even as a little kid, I was drawing steamboats.” As a child, he began taking lessons at the Hyannisport Yacht Club. Later on, in the 1980s, Davis began painting his way around Hyannis Harbor. “I had a pretty good feel about all the boats in Hyannis Harbor, so that was what I started with, Beetle Cats and such. Everybody in the whole harbor—I think I did everyone’s boat!”
Since then, Davis has steadily built a sterling reputation, broadening his range along the way. He has shown maritime, landscape, and, most recently, still-life paintings around New England and the country. Davis’s work is firmly rooted in the realist tradition and he credits both the Hudson River School painters (of which he is often considered a descendant) and the Tonalists of the late 19th century as strong influences. “I have a kindred feeling to those painters, the same outlook,” he says. “They wanted to show off the beauty. They would argue whether to put man in or not. I like to put man back in, make the figures really small and insignificant. It makes nature seem huge by showing how small we really are.”
Davis’s discovery of painting happened slowly. After school, he first followed his father into the construction trade. While it gave him a foundation in the pragmatic details of running a business, it left him intellectually unsatisfied. “I couldn’t envision myself doing it forever,” he says. “I didn’t mind it and I worked hard, but I just thought, ‘Is this it?’ My mind needed more challenge.” Davis would work during the day and paint at night.
Entirely self-taught, Davis’s teachers were the works of artists he admired; his textbooks were the 19th century paintings that he collected. He developed his skills through close study, observation, and trial and error. “The way I paint is a collage of tons of artists, paintings I saw in antiques magazines, and paintings I saw in museums and auctions,” he says. Gradually, he began selling his paintings—first a few, then many.
After 30 years, Davis is still inspired by the intellectual challenge that painting provides. “I never get bored, and I feel like my quality has increased. Now, I can sit down and do a painting that a few years ago was really difficult for me,” he says. In his current work, Davis balances plein air painting with his studio practice. Whether historical maritime paintings or traditional landscapes, his studio pieces almost always spring from his vivid imagination. As idealized visions, Davis’s paintings capture another century and another time—one without power lines, speedboats, or electric lights. An appreciation for another world is alive in the artist himself—and his splendid paintings could pass as 19th century masterpieces.
Daphne Confar crafts characters. “I make the story up in my head,” she says. “I love making a painting of someone and feeling how their life must be from the darkness of the room, the way they’re sitting, the way they’re looking nervous, or how stoic they are.” She has been painting what she has dubbed “quirky portraits” for over 15 years, exhibiting her work every year at the William Scott Gallery in Provincetown.
While Confar liked to draw as a child, it wasn’t until she finished school, traveled, and worked, and ended up at the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach in the mid-1990s that she knew she wanted to be a painter. It was there that she indulged her love of portraiture. “When I was in California, one of my grandmothers passed away. I started making paintings of her from snapshots I had,” she says. “By painting her, I felt like I was getting to know her in a way that I hadn’t. It really gave me a glimpse into who she was—just through the way she was sitting, the way she would glance at something.” Daphne got her MFA from Boston University and settled in Milton, close to her family and where she grew up as a child.
Confar’s portraits are intimate affairs, whether small (her smallest pieces are done on woodblocks, around four by four inches) or large, up to 30” x 40” works on canvas. Each portrait is an individual looking out from the picture plane, usually meeting your gaze. Confar uses old photos. “I usually find snapshots of people that I don’t know. I’ve exhausted family photos by now,” she says. “I figure out who they are. That is what really excites me about painting is just finding these interesting people.” The final portraits are completely her own—inventions of her imagination.
Confar’s paintings are exercises in story making—how much you can infer with a minimal amount of information. While she cherishes the details in her paintings, she is deliberate about what gets in. “I like to just focus in on something—not have a lot of other things in the way,” she says. With often only a blank wall, a single item on a piece of furniture, or a horizon line, Confar invites us to fill the space and create the story from the wrinkles in a shirt, the body language of the subject, or their facial expressions.
The artist does give us additional hints in her titles. “I open up books and look to be inspired by a word. I do like it when there is this little nugget of a sentence. It inspires a story,” she says. “People love the titles—it’s a big part of the painting.” The titles feel like a line of conversation, as if we have settled in for a cup of tea, cookies, and the latest gossip from a favorite aunt.
When the artist has invented the subject, the traditional conversations between painting and viewer and between subject and artist become mixed up. Confar leaves us with the delicious proposition that the subject may be a reflection of herself, of us, or maybe some combination of both.
Kimberlee Alemian spent much of her childhood abroad in an environment that placed a high value on art. In Thailand, where even the act of folding napkins has artistic merit, and Germany, where she saw some of the world’s great works of art, Alemian cultivated her creative muse and laid the groundwork for her future.
Alemian always had a talent for drawing, but studying under George Nick at the Massachusetts College of Art led her to pursue painting. After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts, she received a full scholarship to the Master’s program in painting at Boston University, where she studied with David Aronson and Graham Nickson. She continued studying with Nickson at the New York Studio School after completing her Master’s program.
“That was a very important and engaging experience for me,” says Alemian. “I was totally immersed in the art. You’re kind of isolated in a capsule living as an artist. It was a blossoming experience. I still get excited about it today.”
At Boston University, Alemian was introduced to Bay Area Figurative Artists like Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and Elmer Bischoff. “The way they applied the paint was very energetic. You could see all of the strokes,” she says. “I love the way the paint was applied and the way the light affected their paints. Prior to being introduced to them, I worked very tightly. This really freed me up.” The influence of these painters can be seen in her work today. The authoritative strokes in Iris Emergence and radiance of the flowers in Forsythia Fruit Bowl highlight these pivotal influences as well as showcasing her own unique light, yet painterly, touch.
Alemian was introduced to oil early on in her schooling, but has since worked with a number of different mediums. She eventually settled on oils, which possessed a quality that she couldn’t find elsewhere. “The luminosity is key,” she notes.
Alemian’s vivid, emotionally immediate paintings are nevertheless works of evolution. “It’s about painting, scraping, sanding, and going back into it, sort of like a palimpsest,” she says of her method. In addition to oils, charcoal and pastels are drawn into her paintings and leave traces, showing the history of the painting.
Like her work, Alemian’s influences are constantly evolving. On a trip to Marseille with her husband several years ago, she noticed something that stuck with her. “In the harbor they painted the bottom of their boats and slapped the remaining paint on the concrete wall of the harbor, which dripped down the wall creating its own work of art,” she recalls. “That was when I said, ‘This is what I want: the freedom to let the paint do what it does.’”
About 20 years ago, Eric Abrecht traveled on an African safari. He thought he was going to see the animals, but instead, he was struck by the colors around him. “I could not get over the landscape,” he remembers. “We drove six to eight hours and you could really see how everything changed as you drove. It could be almost like a desert with a little bit of green, and the next thing you know, you’re in the mountains.” The purple skies and neon green grass haunted him. When Abrecht got home, he took the still-life painting he had been working on and wiped it away. “I started doing these long, like sixty-inch-by-six-inch, wooden boxes,” he says. He has been painting these unusual landscapes ever since.
After a high school experience rich in the visual arts, Abrecht attended the Maryland Institute of Art and knew he had found his home. “Once I got to college, everything just sort of fell into place. Even the English class was geared towards art,” he says. “I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing.” It was all painting, all the time, and his professors changed the way he thought about the medium.
After graduation, he committed himself to becoming a painter, knowing that it would be a struggle. Luckily, the discipline that he had developed in high school paid off. He “pounded the pavement,” he says—walking into galleries, presenting his work, and eventually gathering enough representation to make a living. “I paint seven nights a week. Treating it like a business is not bad at all,” he says. “I do the work because it’s my job, but it’s a job that I absolutely love doing.”
Abrecht’s landscapes are not about place. While his work is rooted in the technical machinations of representational painting—there are horizon lines, swaths of sky, and clumps of trees—he is more interested in discovering what the paint can do. His current work has a muted, dirty palette. The paintings are powerful, but not pretty. Some have disintegrated to the point that all we see on canvas are stretches of raw, layered, dripping paint, and all that is left of the landscape is the palette and a scraggy line of cerulean blue in the place where the horizon might have been.
Abrecht uses landscape as a departure point. “For me, the landscape is just being used as a vehicle for the paint application to play around with the colors and movement,” he says. “It is a good home base to start from—there’s a lot of different directions I could take.” He presents the idea of a landscape and encourages his viewers to be transported. These are hazy, unspecific places of the imagination. “No one has ever asked, ‘Where is this?’ I don’t want it to look like I was outside painting somewhere.” For Abrecht, the imagining is the fun part. “I want people to know it’s a landscape, but when they see it up close, it takes their imagination away.”