Artist profile: Thomas Watson

Cape Cod Art  /  Annual Art 2018 / ,

Writer: John Greiner-Ferris

Thomas Watson painting

August Surf • 36” x 50” • Oil on linen

When is a painting of a landscape not a landscape? Perhaps when the painting is really a memory of your childhood. And when is a painting of a boat not just an accurate depiction of the vessel, but also a testament to your place as an artist in the community?

Cape Cod-born representational painter Thomas Watson has lived a life rooted in nature from the time he was a boy. With summers spent on the Cape and winters in Vermont, his was a life where his family made everything from their meals to their toys. When he and his siblings got bored, his father doled out paper and pencils. His home and studio are just up the road from the family homestead, where his sister still resides.

A third-generation artist—his grandfather edited “American Artist,” and his father was a painter and an illustrator—Watson is not preoccupied by the modern, technological world. “It’s the freedom I had as a kid that interests me, and painting lets me spend time with the ghosts of my past,” he explains. His mother was a driving force in his life, and her passing, as well as that of a brother and a few friends, left big holes in his life. “But I can paint the landscapes we shared,” he says. “These paintings are my attempt to capture those long ago memories and nuances.”

If Tom’s landscapes are doors to his past, then his portraits of boats are windows into his life today. He sees an element of heroism for those who fish the bay, a way of life not unlike the kind he knows from his boyhood. He’s not a lobsterman, but he’s been on the boats and he knows the captains and deckhands. He holds an admiration for them that caused him to question why he paints. He has painted more than 30 of the commercial boats that work the bay. “The boat takes on the personality of the captain,” he says.  “Some are spotless; some are messy. The captains choose the color of the boat, and give them names, often the name and last initial of their wife or child, or one that reflects the character of the captain or his boat.”

Watson’s mother and father divorced when he was a boy. His father stayed in Vermont, and Watson moved to the Cape with his mother. He has come to the notion that the purpose of his father’s life was to make his art. And Watson, an artist living in a community of mariners, has found that it is his purpose, too. “I am participating in my community in my own way, just like they are, by painting their boats,” he says. “Painting allows me to contribute to my community.”

Thomas Watson’s studio is open June through September, Tuesday and Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., at 45 Depot Road, Truro, and year-round by appointment.

John Greiner-Ferris

John Greiner-Ferris is a writer and playwright. He is the co-founder of Boston Public Works Theater Company and the founding artistic director at Alley Cat Theater. John has written many articles for Cape Cod LIFE over the years, including artist profiles for our annual Cape Cod ART issue.