Maritime artists are known for their attention to detail, their nearly scientific ability to capture the intricacies of rigging, the exact swell and line of every sail, the perfect curve of each gleaming hull. Each tiny brass fitting on a yacht’s deck is rendered with an engineer’s precision. Even nature’s bounding, messy glory is captured with photograph-like accuracy.
When you meet Julia O’Malley-Keyes, it’s hard to believe that this energetic woman with vivid blue eyes, a mass of blond hair, and abundant personal magnetism is a highly regarded maritime artist whose paintings and prints are in collections around the world. It is a little hard to imagine Julia spending weeks—sometimes months—focused on every miniscule detail found in the stunning maritime works that line the walls of her new studio in Falmouth. Yet, her paintings are perfection. There is a reason this painter’s artwork is often the centerpiece of high profile auctions for good causes on Cape Cod, fetching many thousands of dollars.
It is obvious that this artist has an intimate knowledge of boats, sailing, and New England waters. She grew up on the coast in Greenwich, CT and has been summering on Cape Cod since she was a child. She sold her first painting—ironically enough of a barn—when she was just 16 years old. Ever since, art has been Julia’s life. For many years, she had a highly successful Falmouth studio, Day Hill Fine Art, before she decided to take a hiatus to travel—and of course, paint. She lived in Panama for several years, concentrating on her figurative work. A series of paintings she did on Porella dancers are gorgeous, yet finely detailed. She is adept at capturing the stillness and beauty of the human form and the colorful imagery of intricate costumes as she is at capturing a yacht with all sails flying on a wave-tossed sea.
After five years, Julia decided it was time to come home to New England. A dear old friend was ill and needed help, she missed the Cape’s artistic community and her friends, and it was time to return to painting streamlined yachts on the Sound, colorful clouds of hydrangeas, and serene portraits of ballerinas—all of which can be seen on the walls of her recently completed gem of a studio, located on a leafy side street in Falmouth.
When she is asked what drives her to paint—and to paint such diverse subject matter with fine technique—Julia laughs. “I paint because I love it and it is a link between me and those who are kind enough to support my artistic career,” she says. “I believe that creating art, at least positive art, makes both the artist and collector more human. A piece of art that is loved and cherished can make all the difference in a person’s life.”
Julia wants her paintings to touch people’s lives—to brighten dark days with sunny summer memories on the ocean and in the garden. “There is a reason why my work is on the happy side,” she says. “ The world is full of suffering, so I’ll leave the thought-provoking paintings to other artists. My aim is to bring some small amount of happiness into the lives of those who admire, or collect, my work. My dearest wish is that I will be remembered for how I treated the people around me, whether they are collectors, friends, other artists, or those whose lives are made better through my work for local charities.”
Perhaps that is what is so appealing about Julia’s art. Beneath all that talent—that devotion to technique, to accuracy, and artistic integrity—is a compassionate generous spirit that shines through, lighting all her art with a rare glow.