Forrest Rodts likes to let his artwork do the talking. His clever titles reflect little narratives in his paintings, which are predominantly realist illustrations of typical island-inspired subjects: sailing, shorescapes, lighthouses, seagulls. Often playing with dramatic viewpoints, his compositions feel like snapshots, allowing viewers to place themselves in each scene. Standing in front of a painting, your eyes become those of the artist. His yearning matches yours.
Rodts’s knack for setting a nostalgic, romantic scene sparks a yearning for those Cape and Islands memories that we all have: enjoying a Beetle Cat cruise through a calm harbor under a rich morning sky, or lolling in the hot afternoon sand, surrounded by parents in beach chairs, and tailgates full of coolers and towels. Standing in the warm glow of one of Rodts’ paintings, the memories of perfect summer days come flooding back.
For Rodts, the goal is simply to make beautiful images. His prime inspiration is Nantucket, where his family ties go back generations and he spent every summer as a kid. “Having spent as much time on the island as I have, I like to evoke those feelings that I had as a kid and reproduce them for people,” he explains. “Nantucket is home for me, it really is. It’s a combination of a beautiful island with people I’ve spent my whole life around. It has a special place in my heart and it is where I’d rather be.” He has vivid images that remain with him still—the diesel fumes of the ferry, looking out the portal window at the first glimpse of the harbor, peering up at a nearby boat from a swim.
While Rodts was artistic as a kid—“I was the guy who was always drawing,” he says—he didn’t discover painting until college. “I had a couple of professors who let me do a lot of independent studies and let me paint what I wanted to paint,” he says. Looking back, he appreciates the guidance, but also the freedom these teachers allowed him in developing his own style as a painter. “They were very loose—I had guidance, but not in a particular style.”
Rodts relishes in the technical details of painting realistically—perhaps it is in the details that the dream becomes more fully formed. “I love the details,” he says. “I’ve tried to do some things that are more abstract or more impressionistic. I have too much fun trying to make things look realistic. I think it’s more of a testing of what I can do technically and artistically, of bringing an idea to a piece of canvas or a board.”
Driven by intuition, Rodts works on his composition and color palette in small sketches, but leaves the creative magic to happen on the final painting. “Something will hit me. I don’t like to do too many studies because I’ll put too much in the study,” he explains. “For me, it’s about that start of inspiration, and pushing myself to get it out.”
Right now, Jackie Reeves is studying her heart out. “Looking at art history is the most exciting thing to me,” she says. After recently finishing up the low residency MFA program offered through the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Reeves is still learning by examining the work of others. “I’m looking at artists that are employing the figure as an abstract element,” she explains. Reeves is concerned with the discourse of painting and where she fits. “I feel like I’m caught in the middle right now and I’ll figure it out,” she says. “I’m just kind of switching back and forth between figuration and abstraction.”
That struggle is visible in her most recent works, in which the figure seems to occupy a very different role in each piece. In some pieces, the figure is all but obliterated, and layered aggressive marks suggest spaces where it might have been. In others, the figure is almost a failed narrative placeholder, a character without a clear story. “Initially, I was really content driven—my work was really about certain things, and it tended to be about the female experience and my experience as a mother of three girls, growing up with six sisters,” she says. “Now, it’s more about surface and paint, texture, composition. I’m finding ways to express it in a more abstract language.”
Reeves’s process is instinctual and intuitive. Her works are layered combinations of drawing, painting, and collage. Gestures are active but varied—sometimes small, frenetic, and repetitive childlike scribbles, sometimes large, graceful, sweeping curves. Almost all of her work features fabricated colors—sometimes hot pinks, electric blues, or neon mustard yellows.
Visual art in some form has been a constant throughout Reeves’s life. Raised by two architect parents, Reeves’s childhood was rich in artistic expression. “Keeping a sketchbook was a natural thing,” she says. “In my leisure time, I drew.” She studied design in college and moved to the Cape in 1995. In 1998, Reeves helped found the Plymouth Community Art Center. With 900 students after its first year, the center was a success, and for seven years, when her kids were young, Reeves helped run the center.
Reeves later found an artistic home at the Chalkboard Studios in the Old Schoolhouse in Barnstable Village. In this progressive enclave, a small group of dedicated artists is working on visual problems in a way that is most commonly associated with Provincetown and off Cape—presenting work that is a little more risky.
Reeves is currently showing her work at the Tao Water Gallery, Provincetown and at the Higgins Art Center at Cape Cod Community College in Dennis. She is excited to move on to the next phase of her career and sees art as a lifeline. “Art is a necessity for me,” she says.
Like a flower, an artist needs love and encouragement to fully bloom. Many artists face being smothered as they develop—teachers, parents, friends, and siblings echo the notion that what the artist is doing isn’t worth it, that it’s a dead-end pursuit. Watercolor painter Elizabeth Pratt was fortunate to grow up being encouraged to pursue her artistic inclinations every step of the way. “It was never squashed by my mother, my father, my husband—nobody ever said ‘this isn’t valuable’ or ‘don’t waste your time.’”
Growing up in southern Ohio, Pratt found early support for her artistic pursuits in school. “I was always encouraged to paint and draw,” remembers Pratt. “I went to a school that had art in first grade, and almost every day I could paint something.” By the time she was a senior in high school, Pratt was taking art classes at the Dayton Art Institute on a full scholarship.
Pratt cultivated a love of watercolors in high school, and 60 years and roughly 2,000 paintings later, she still gets excited using them. “I’ve never felt watercolor had to be little old ladies painting posies,” she says. “You can go the whole gamut in watercolor.” This is evident in much of her work including Coming In and Homage to Audubon, which capture a range of dynamic colors and have a lucid, aqueous appearance.
At the close of World War II, Pratt fell in love with a returning veteran and got married. “I didn’t go on to art school, but he turned out to be very good for my future,” says Pratt heartily. “He told me to go my first class and encouraged me to get featured in galleries and be in shows. He was better than any art school.”
After several years in Morocco and Washington, D.C., Pratt and her husband came to Eastham. Wanting to escape the summer heat in D.C., Pratt began devising ways to spend more and more time on the Cape. Naturally, selling some of her paintings came to mind. “You can’t sell a painting of Washington, D.C., on Cape Cod with much success, but you can sell a painting of Cape Cod in Washington, D.C., very easily,” says Pratt with a laugh.
Pratt, now 85, has never tired of working with watercolors. “I love the freedom of it,” she says. “It’s the fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I always tell my students I don’t need to play the lottery because I have the thrill of playing it every day with my watercolors. It doesn’t seem like it’s going somewhere, and suddenly there it is.”
Even as a seasoned professional, Pratt’s yearly wish is that she’ll continue to grow as a painter. “I’d like to go out thinking that the art community respected me and I hope I will be remembered happily by them. That’s all I want,” she muses. It seems a safe bet that this artist’s legacy will live on as one of mastery and longevity.
Hillary Osborn and Doug Rugh are partners in art—and in life. Married for over 10 years with two young children, they share a gallery and studio together in the Queen’s Buyway Shops in Falmouth. Not surprisingly, in person and in conversation, they bounce ideas and sentences back and forth seamlessly. But sharing art, work, and life is not without its challenges.
“You have to work at it,” says Osborn. “The fact that we have kids keeps us shuffling around and trading off a lot. It’s a juggling act.” And a successful one on all fronts. Since opening in 2008, the gallery has been strong. At the time, both artists transitioned from separate studios at the Cataumet Art Center. “We had two separate careers before,” says Rugh. “Now, often collectors will buy from the other one. So there’s overlap. Two halves make more than a whole.”
With easels set up in mid-practice, paintings stacked from floor to ceiling and covering almost every available wall space, Osborn and Rugh’s Falmouth gallery is truly a working studio. The couple organize weekly drawing and painting sessions with live models, sometimes in their studio in the winter, more on location in the summer. Osborn teaches a few students privately. “We designed this so the space could be used as a classroom,” says Rugh. “We put on cultural events here, readings, talks, that sort of thing. We want to do more of that.”
Combining the gallery with the studio allows for direct interaction with customers and collectors, something that artists rarely get to do. “It’s great to engage in thoughtful discussions about art with customers,” says Osborn. “When you walk into the studio, you’re going to learn something. You participate with the person who is creating these objects. It’s kind of an unusual experience. We’re hopefully giving our visitors something.”
This dynamic interaction is an added benefit. “Lots of people come in here without any art background,” says Rugh. “They know what they like but they don’t know why. So if you teach them a little bit or show them a little bit about composition, they love it!”
While both Rugh and Osborn are representational in style, you would never mistake one artist’s work for the other. Rugh works very much in the style of classical realism, having been trained at Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore. “It’s one of these ateliers where you do the old master thing—grind your own paint,” describes Rugh. He delights equally in the technical side of painting and in the primacy of painting from life whenever possible. “The landscape changes. It moves while you’re out there. Water shifts, clouds change. It’s fluid,” says Rugh. “It keeps it interesting. Artists have to adapt. We don’t want a frozen world to paint. We want life—slices of life.”
With Richard Diebenkorn and Fairfield Porter as some of her heroes, Osborn takes a slightly more contemporary approach; some of her landscapes become quite abstract in their composition and celebration of form and color. With her background as a sculptor, Osborn made the transition to painting as she realized that, once she left school, a foundry would be hard to come by. “Working with color really got me excited,” she remembers. “Translating objects in my world—I realized that painting could solve my artistic dilemmas.”
With two artists married and under one roof, they inevitably inspire one another. Their connection can bring on the uncanny—to the point where they have even, on occasion, gone out to paint from the same spot on the same day, unbeknownst to each other.
Says Osborn, “One day, we were so in sync, we sat in the same spot. We didn’t even know it had happened. I must have had this feeling; oh, this is where Doug was!” Adds Rugh, “But she always paints the other way. She tends to paint the big, open vista and I take the detailed view. We’re influenced by each other. We come in every morning to see what the other has done. But I don’t want her to paint the way I do.”
Brad Nelson often thinks about his Southern Baptist upbringing in a small town outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Those beliefs cast shadows that Nelson still sees. “For me, it comes back to religion,” he says. “Growing up, that was truth. It was something I couldn’t see, but I believed. It’s faith . . .that something is right, or something is good. You have to have faith regardless of what you believe in.”
Nelson puts his faith in painting, investigating the difference between artifice and truth. In graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, his work, which often intertwines sculpture and painting, circled around ideas of truth, mainly through representational painting. In 2005, his thesis exhibition featured carved and painted sculptures that mimicked gallery features: an electrical outlet, a wooden stool, a piece of lined paper. Only upon close inspection was it clear that each item was a construction—a canvas or a piece of carved insulation foam, painted with oils. It is still an object, just not the object that one was expecting.
“Paint has so many faces,” says Nelson. In his recent series of paintings, titled “Even Mountains Cast Shadows,” Nelson uses nature as a jumping off point to talk about intangibles. “The mountain pieces were more about the beliefs that I have and how I affect people,” says Nelson. “We all create these things that other people have to contend with. Symbolically, that’s the mountain.”
After graduate school, Nelson spent three years teaching art in Sedona, Arizona. Influenced by the beauty around him, Nelson wasn’t interested in landscape painting. “There’s no way I could sit down in front of a vista and paint it and do it justice,” he says. “It’s too grand. I started making these models, and I began to understand the vastness—what I enjoyed about those vistas. It was more the light and how it hits those shapes and rocks. The models were the rock formations.” Nelson’s models are small dioramas made from piles of crumbling, raw pigments placed on paper surfaces. Nelson constructs the walls and then lights the scene, then paints from observation with the model as his subject. The paintings resemble strange, otherworldly landscapes. “The viewer has a role to play,” Nelson says. “They are confronted by these things that are realistic and believable.” Or unrealistic and unbelievable. Nelson is after ambiguity.
Nelson has recently looked to the Cape, where he lives in West Falmouth, as fodder for his work. “I’m starting to think about connection to place,” he says. “Taking ideas of the beach and the water and the sky and how they are extremely abstract things in a certain context.” Nelson and his wife, who has deep Nantucket roots, felt drawn to the region. They have settled into life here, both developing careers as painters, raising young children and teaching—Lucy at Falmouth Academy and Brad at Rising Tide Charter School in Plymouth. “It feels like home,” says Nelson. “I think this is where the new series of work is coming from. Finding balance. A new perspective.”
For Heather Neill, Martha’s Vineyard has always been a constant amid a life of changes. “I moved every two years of my life, but I always went back to Martha’s Vineyard,” she says.
Neill has been visiting the Vineyard since the 1980s. “I used to rent this little cottage in Chilmark. The Vineyard very quickly became a home for me, a refuge, and also a source of income,” she says. As a lover of history, in her visits to the Vineyard every year, she has become captivated by this place where time stops.
She gets excited over a recent project in which she explored a marine hospital built on the island in 1895, abandoned and privately owned until last year, when it was bought by the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Museum. “It literally looks like the patients and the nurses just walked out and left,” she says. “Long hallways with stairways, the tiles half way up the wall. The transoms above the windows, the way the light goes through the architecture—you get this crumbling, cracking patina of the lives in these rooms.”
That description also fits Neill’s paintings. There are often open doors or windows that create a feeling of anticipation and of movement—that something has happened, someone just left the room, or that something is about to happen. The specificity of the light in her work is also a trademark. Realist in style and technique, Neill’s work feels whimsical and symbolist in content. “History is important in the props that I use. I like to take those things and tell new stories,” she says. Neill constructs vignettes of seemingly unrelated items that tempt the viewer to create a back story. The objects she chooses almost seem like modern allegories, symbols from her own life. “I’m not telling a specific story and I don’t have one in mind when I’m painting,” she says. “It’s synesthesia—things coming together.”
Neill’s own personal history is one of trying new things. “I always wanted to be an artist. All through high school, I had a fantastic teacher who was very inspiring,” she says. While she knew she loved art, it took her a long time to commit herself to painting. At Connecticut College, she majored in both art and psychology. Along the way she farmed, worked as a framer, and became an expert chair maker, selling her hand-built Shaker-style chairs at places like the Smithsonian gift shop.
In 2001, she finally decided to focus on painting. “I thought, if you don’t try it now, when are you going to try it? I really didn’t start doing this until I was in my 40s. I’m telling stories in a way that’s probably a little different than someone just coming out of art school,” she says. “I’m very conscious of that and how a mature artist approaches subjects. As I move forward, I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life. And what will the paintings look like 20 years from now?”
Vermont has served artist Craig Mooney well. After growing up in New York City, he traveled, worked in the film industry in London and New York, and considered being a doctor, searching to find his way. Art was the last place he looked. “I did every possible thing to avoid being an artist,” he says. “If I had gotten into med school, I probably wouldn’t have ever shown my work.”
A job in a medical lab brought him to Burlington, Vermont, as he was waiting to get into medical school. He entered an employee art show at another hospital. “I brought in a few paintings. I caught the eye of the PR person,” he remembers. “They wanted me to do paintings for a new hospital. This came just as I was getting rejected from medical school.” Mooney took it as a sign. “I wasn’t a great scientist,” he says.
Despite the fact that Mooney had been painting for a while, he was unsure of how to be a full-time artist. He was accepted into the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, and spent more than four months on his first commission, working day jobs and painting on the side. “It was probably the scariest thing I ever did,” he recalls. “Everyone in New York said I was crazy and that I would starve. And I did starve, but I was happy! Little by little, I found my way. I started to get recognition. I got into a couple of galleries in Vermont, which led to Boston, Atlanta—and then it became something I could do full-time.” Today, Mooney completes up to 150 paintings a year to keep up with the 16 different galleries that represent him, everywhere from London to Martha’s Vineyard.
Without training or an art school education, Mooney considers himself an art world outsider—like his father, an amateur artist who never showed his work. “My father never exhibited, although I think he certainly could have,” he says. That independent streak is alive in Mooney, who sees his lack of formal training as a benefit. “I’m not hung up on technique. I’m not constrained. I’m sure I do everything incorrectly,” he says. “I learned everything on my own. I developed my own technique and it works for my process.”
Mooney’s work, while representational, bursts with expressive brushwork and color. The subjects, whether landscape, cityscape, or figures, are really just ways to explore paint. Like dreams, his paintings have an air of the familiar, yet lack specificity. Idealized and a bit fantastical, they are landscape as an escape. “It could be whatever you want it to be—it’s mutually inclusive,” he says. “I compare it to listening to a song and you make up the lyrics, then you see the liner notes and you’re a little disappointed. I don’t want to deny people enjoyment of the paintings.” Mooney’s paintings are like beautiful daydreams. Who wouldn’t want to join him in his reveries?
Mimi McPartlan is just starting her career—although you would never know it from her work, which sings with the singular vision and technical strength of a mature artist.
McPartlan was born and raised in Brewster. While she says she was more “crafty than arty” growing up, McPartlan took a ceramics class at Nauset High School almost by mistake. “I was late signing up for classes and got stuck with wheel throwing and painting,” she says. The pottery wheel captivated her, and she has been working in clay ever since. She participated in the Cape Cod Museum of Art’s school to careers program where she was paired with Matt Kemp of Kemp Pottery. “He was really, really awesome,” she says of Kemp. “I made the best pieces in my portfolio with those guys, Matt and Steve Kemp. They are two people who are really making it work—creating functional pottery and making a living doing it.”
McPartlan’s most recent work is slip-cast porcelain functional ware. Her forms are fleshy, round, and bulbous. “I have been calling the sides of my forms the love handles. There’s a tension in the fullness—like the feeling when you squeeze a balloon,” McPartlan explains. “I want to make something that I want to use and touch. When you’re carrying it, it should feel comfortable.” The soft white of the porcelain and the delicious candy hues of her glazes—reminiscent of a strip of candy dots—make her pieces distinctly alluring. They draw you in to touch and cradle in your hands.
McPartlan has been making functional—and sometimes dysfunctional—pieces: A matching tray, jar, and spoon for eating Nerds (the candy); a ceramic sippy cup. “I like ridiculous ideas and parts that fit together,” she says.
Of her colors, McPartlan says her friends and teachers would joke because she was always thinking of candy. “I started to see how the colors people use are similar to the way they dress—a reflection of themselves,” she says. For her, it was candy and sweets. “I have a picture in my studio of an old Friendly’s ad. It looks like a mountain, but it’s just scoops of sherbet. I had a really big palette and then I narrowed it down to what I would call my citrus sherbet colors.”
After graduating in 2012 from Alfred University, which has one of the country’s well regarded ceramics programs, McPartlan started her professional journey with a stint in New York City, working as an assistant for KleinReid, a ceramic design studio. This past spring, she spent four weeks in an artist residency in Germany. While she is currently on the move, she is looking forward to reconnecting with some old studio mates who share her passion for creating beautiful, functional work. “I love things that have a use. I love using handmade things. It’s such a cool feeling—I can make something out of clay that I can use everyday, it will be mine, and I can make it just the way I want it,” she says. She is equally enthralled with the idea of being able to share her work with others. “Making functional ceramics is a very genuine thing,” she says. “I really love creating an experience for someone.”
Intense, choreographed dances of reflecting, pop-colored forms and patterns, Carl Lopes’s paintings don’t match any of the traditional art categories. A Lopes painting is a celebration—a visual feast. Like a piece of music, it is masterfully balanced with moments of rest as significant as the busier fast-moving shapes. His paintings, which combine woodworking, painting, drawing, and collage, are distinctly modern. Large, curved forms skip from one side
to the other. Every edge of a form is trimmed with tiny, repeated patterns that pull the eye from one element to the next.
Lopes takes his most direct cues from early African art. “I’ve always liked ancient art especially from Africa,” Lopes says. “I collect masks. I always liked the fact that the faces had character and personality even though the forms were abstracted. To take simple forms and put them together to represent a face and have that face represent a feeling—I thought that was pretty powerful.” Lopes uses the masks—of which he has many examples—as his own starting point, translating it through what he calls a “geometric style,” that he developed over many years.
“My ethnic background is Cape Verdean,” he says. “I feel I need to use content representing African nations that is regal in a sense.” Time spent living on Cape Cod has also influenced Lopes. “I am an avid fisherman. I noticed one day that when you pull a fish up on to the deck of a boat, you see all these iridescent colors in the scales,” he says. The changes in scale and the glossiness of the surfaces make Lopes’s paintings engrossing. From a distance, the large forms grab you; up close, the smaller patterns are mazes. “I try to represent what I do in a positive fashion,” he says. “People look at my paintings and they smile.”
Lopes is Art Director at Barnstable High School, where he has been teaching since 1978. With classes ranging from fashion design to cartooning and film/video, the arts program at Barnstable is one of the most vibrant on the Cape. Lopes worked for five years to create a gallery at the school, which finally became a reality in 2009. He runs it and shows a combination of both student and professional work. Lopes often comes home after a full day of teaching to spend hours in his studio. “I’m a better artist because of being an arts educator,” he says.
Lopes has used his experience as a teacher to become one of the Cape’s best advocates for arts outreach. He was the first Arts Educator of the Year, chosen in 2007 by the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. Through it all, he is committed to education. “I say to myself, ‘What good do I want to bring out?’ That’s why I’m a teacher,” he says. “I try to teach my students that the art world is not full of artists that are starving and miserable. There is a whole other side.”
Yingzhao Liu’s remarkable talent for painting endured despite a life that began with deprivation, struggle, and uncertainty. Liu, born in China in 1956, lived through Mao’s oppressive regime until his early twenties.
“When I was a child, I liked to draw and paint,” says Liu. “My family was very poor, but I loved to draw so much that I even drew pictures on the ground because we had no money to buy paper.” Liu recalls that his father, an engineer, used to hide his technical books to keep the young artist from drawing on the pages.
After five years on a collectivist farm when he could not paint at all because of state mandated laws, Liu finally received formal artistic training, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in oil painting from the Harbin Normal University and an M.A. from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. For many years, he worked as a professor for Tianjian Academy of Fine Arts and in the mid-1990s, as the result of his growing reputation as a painter, he traveled to America.
Realizing that the U.S. offered more opportunities, Liu emigrated here in 2001. From the start, he says he wanted to come to Cape Cod. “I knew this was a place with a lot of galleries and antique shops,” says Liu, who eventually embarked on a cross-country drive alone from Los Angeles to Cape Cod in 2005.
“After 20 days across the country, I finally drove onto Cape Cod,” says Liu. “The beauty, scenery, and artistic atmosphere really attracted me and gave me the idea to open my own gallery here.” In 2012, Liu opened the doors to LLD Fine Art in Brewster. “I think Chinese artists will understand western culture by coming here and will love Cape Cod, one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Liu, noting that he hopes his gallery will become a “paradise for art lovers.”
Liu’s exquisite oil paintings display a skill and a mastery of vivid detail so fine that it is hard to believe that you are not looking at a photograph. The intricate details of an engraved silver plate beneath a plate of lobster, the individual bumps on a lemon’s skin, and the ruffled fragility of each petal in a peony blossom, pull the viewer in for introspection. Yet there is a vivid freshness, a Western flair for color and composition in Liu’s superb still lifes and portraits that keep the paintings from looking overly academic. Like Andrew Wyeth, one of his heroes, Liu infuses his paintings with an awareness of light and shadow that give the paintings an emotional impact often not found in the realist vernacular. Combined with his mastery of classical elements, including flawless brushwork and his Eastern appreciation for beauty, it is easy to see why Liu’s paintings are sold to collectors worldwide.
Despite his considerable success, this international artist is determined to keep his gallery on Cape Cod for a long time. “Cape Cod is a beautiful place and a place that will always bring me inspiration,” says Liu.