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.”