A native New Yorker, Ann Sullivan made her way to Cape Cod permanently in her 30s, after having spent time here earlier, when she fell in love with the Bass River area—which remains a constant subject for her, even today. A self-taught artist, she didn’t began painting as a profession until after her family moved to the Cape, although she had been doing it all along as an avocation. “I started drawing and painting as a child on my own volition,” she says. “I’ve done it all my life. It’s just something that captured and always held my interest. Paintings fascinated me as a child, and they still do. It’s a little like magic, what paint can do.”
Sullivan says the Cape was a stimulus to paint seriously. “The beauty of the Cape, the water, the boats, the light and the many artists and art associations here,” she says. “And I had great models in my children.” Her strongest inspirations are her kids and her environment, and she wants to bring peace and simplicity to the world by focusing on those subjects.
Sullivan generally starts with a photo. “Like most parents I took lots of photos,” she says. “I work mostly, but not exclusively, from my photos, and people are my favorite subject, not just the form but also the beauty and grace of movement. And when you add to that light and color, you have an infinite source of beauty,” she says.
“Generally, opening my eyes in the morning inspires me,” she relates. “I am always painting what I see, in my head if not at the easel: light, color, form, balance and mystery. There is so much I see and want to paint I would need 100 lifetimes. And I think all artists take inspiration from other artists, and that’s part of the attraction of the Cape for artists—other artists.”
When it comes to the environment, the Bass River area continues to be a spot of wonder due to its ever-changing nature. “It’s always different,” Sullivan enthuses. “Just the way a boat turns on the tide can change things. It’s how the light hits it,” she says. “I’m always fascinated by it. It’s the same, but it’s not.”
Sharing art, whether it’s her own or her love of it, is an integral aspect of Sullivan’s career as an artist. At her gallery, the Ann Sullivan Gallery of Fine Art in South Yarmouth, she gets to know her patrons, who come in and chat as she works on her next piece. “I like hearing their insights,” she says. “What people see in my work might be something I don’t see. I want my work to be open to people’s interpretations.” She also started teaching at the Von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida, concentrating on color. Teaching comes naturally to her, as she used to be a biology teacher.
Though Sullivan started as a watercolor artist, she has slowly transitioned to oil, and she never looked back. Oil painting challenged her study of color in a way that watercolor simply didn’t. On top of that, oil provides her the opportunity to create what she desires in her work. “When I paint, I am not interested in details,” she says. “They don’t create reality. I am more concerned with the painting as a whole, with creating a simplified, striking, uncluttered reality, leaving room for the viewer to complete the image and make it their own.“ She also says, “I feel that I don’t paint material things. The things I paint are metaphors that carry meaning beyond the physical.” In that way, she belives, “a painting can bring relaxation and even healing in this world of ours.”
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