In the depths of winter, when temperatures dip into the 20s, even hardy Cape Codders don’t want to spend too much time outside. That’s not the case for artist Philip Bergson; he is invigorated by it. If he stumbles upon a landscape—even on a frigid coastal day—that intrigues him, he’ll set up his easel and get to work.
“I’ll paint in all different kinds of weather,” Bergson says. In the winter, he’ll dress for warmth and spend an hour or so getting down his design. Snowy scenes rank high on his list of beautiful landscapes to paint. “Artists appreciate snow scenes maybe more than the general public,” Bergson says. “Snow simplifies the subject matter.”
The Orleans resident’s oil paintings are mostly done en plein air, the artist choosing to focus on how the light plays on his chosen subject matter as well as how the surroundings affect him emotionally. Painting on location, he says, allows him to capture the true colors and light of the scenery much more than a photograph can.
“A camera doesn’t give the same sense of color as your eyes do,” the painter explains. “I want to have that emotional reaction to the scene as I paint.”
Bergson’s love of the outdoors has been a constant in his life. Working as a carpenter and custom home builder until retiring in 2007, he spent most days working outside. But painting was not always part of his life. He credits an evening class at Nauset Middle School with getting him over the “intimidation factor” that keeps many away from artistic endeavors as well as giving him a good handle on the mechanics of painting. It didn’t take long, he says, before he “fell in love with oil painting.”
Before and after work—when the light is often best for artistic pursuits—he began to paint. Largely self-taught, Bergson explored his creative passion through trial and error. In retirement, painting has become his full-time pursuit, and he built an art studio—a traditional post-and-beam structure—at his home in East Orleans.
As someone who has lived on the Cape for most of his adult life (and spent summers here as a child), Bergson seeks out the “off the beaten path” parts of the Cape. “I steer away from the obvious Cape scenery,” he says, “and I try to capture what excites me. It’s not necessarily the picturesque; I’m drawn to the simple, everyday scenes.”
He often looks for glimpses of the “old Cape” of his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s. “I look for those antique Cape houses, wooden skiffs, trees in a pasture, a stone wall and, if the light is capturing the scene in an intriguing way, I’ll stop and start painting,” Bergson says. Finding such iconic Cape sites is not always easy. “It’s become harder and harder to find those classic places.”
A trip out to Truro or Wellfleet—and the Cape Cod National Seashore—often yields the type of vista this painter yearns for, as painting in the tranquility and solitude of nature is often a therapeutic experience.
“Painting is a journey,” Bergson says. “I’m always learning a new technique, or even something about myself in my emotional response to a subject.”