“It looks so real, I thought it was a photograph.” “I can’t believe this is a painting, there is such detail.” Exclamations such as these are commonplace in response to Julia O’Malley-Keyes’ work. The enigmatic, fine art oil painter depicts landscapes, marine, and portraits in the classic style of realism. An avid international traveler, whose journey in her twenties had pit stops in artistic enclaves like Provincetown and Greenwich Village, she was committed to a life creating art. Today, five decades later, she is still a student of life and art.
“I’ve lived all over the world, but I keep coming back to the Cape,” she states. When asked why, she credits the people, an unexpected answer given her proclivity for deftly capturing the quintessential coastal scene—classic Herreshof 12.5’s bobbing on moorings, rose hips speckled dunes that hug a length of shoreline, a bouffant bouquet of hydrangea blossoms—these are all the dutiful subjects of O’Malley-Keyes’ inimitable touch. But O’Malley-Keyes’ answer reveals a bit of the fuel that drives her pursuits; it is the warm and deep connection she nurtures with those in her circle, including a network of 17 different charities, that gives her a secure foundation of peace so that she can spend eight to ten hours each day in her studio, working on as many as six paintings at a time.
O’Malley-Keyes Fine Art is her third gallery on the Cape and is only steps from her studio, making for an intimate and informative experience for visitors to her gallery. Inside the welcoming, cozy gallery, velvet couches and oriental rugs greet guests while the walls captivate with an unexpected range of fine art. Portraits of pollera dancers from her time spent living in Panama beguile with the masterful execution of movement and layers of ruffles O’Malley-Keyes is able to coax from a humble canvas with a simple brush and some expertly applied strokes of color. A portrait of Harry Connick, Jr. leans against a wall with the same casual air the subject might exude in person. Distinguished lighthouses from the region stand tall in their majestic strength that the artist has brilliantly captured, while never neglecting the soft, natural details that exist in the surrounding landscape. And triumphant classic yachts strain against the wind in their rigs, as they smash through oncoming swells, with contenders in their wake. If O’Malley-Keyes can imagine it, she can paint it, perhaps like few others.
“I study. I study anything I can. I am hungry for knowledge, I always have been,” she explains. “My feeling is if you can see it you can paint it. That is probably why I am so diversified.” Clearly she has been a good student, which is evidenced by the repeated reactions to her work. “Most artists excel at one style, and paint one thing…classic marine, figurative, floral, you name it,” she continues. “I would get bored stiff. Creating different kinds of paintings is a sort of replacement for my gypsy life.” Her sojourn of creativity is not without challenges however. O’Malley-Keyes talks about a blank canvas that sits, untouched, on an easel in her studio as producing the kind of trepidation and fear one might encounter at a hostile international border. Given the body of work the prolific artist has produced, it is likely she speaks the language of most border agents and will be creating some lucky client’s future heirloom in no time.
The smallest of details differentiate her work, as she explains, “Since I did a lot of portraiture, when I have sailors on the rail in one of my paintings, each and every one of them have distinguishing features on their face, and in their gear. It is important to me to get it right.”
Getting it right doesn’t seem to be the problem for Julia O’Malley-Keyes, finding the time to refuel her foundation of strength derived from her close friends on the Cape; that may be a different challenge. – Julie Craven Wagner
Julia O’Malley-Keyes’ work can found exclusively at O’Malley-Keyes Fine Art, 143 Maravista Avenue, Teaticket and at capecodartgallery.com