Peter Hussey's Watercolors find the art in architecture at Harrison Gallery
WILLIAMSTOWN -- From the time he was in the fifth grade, Peter Hussey wanted to be an architect. But that never worked out -- so he made fine art out of what architects design.
Hussey finds immense beauty in the architectural details of old New England buildings, and he paints them with accuracy and sensitivity. His precise paintings of well-crafted front doors, weather-weary wooden cupolas or stately stone stairways speak of old-time craftsmanship and show Hussy's considerable skill at painting realistic images of textures -- wood, stone, glass, shingles, brick and marble.
But seeing Hussey's paintings -- on exhibition at the Harrison Gallery in Williamstown starting this Saturday -- makes clear there's more to his art than realism. At first glance, the paintings please the eye with their composition, color, balance and perspective. But for Hussey, that's not enough.
"I want people to look at my paintings and think," he said. "My architectural detail paintings are provocative for the questions they leave unanswered. They invite viewers to use their imagination, to reflect on what the rest of a building looks like, for example, or where that stairway goes or what time of day or season of the year it is."
An intriguing painting called "Hooky" with a girl's bike abandoned by a farm gate on an isolated country lane begs the question, "Where did the girl go?"
Hussey paints with such precision and detail with watercolor, his work almost defies the limitations of the medium and attracts a lot of attention for its exactness.
After seeing a Peter Hussey exhibition, Bill van Siclen, arts writer for the Providence Journal, wrote that "Peter Hussey's architectural studies will have watercolor enthusiasts shaking their heads in admiration."
Many of Hussey's paintings show elaborate stonework.
"I build these walls much like a stonemason," he said, "painting each rock as a separate portrait and building the wall one stone at a time. It's tedious work, and it takes me about a month to finish each painting."
The paintings in the exhibition are all the more remarkable for being done by an unschooled artist.
"When I started painting," Hussey said, "I was adamant about not taking lessons because I didn't want to end up painting like my teacher or anyone else. I wanted to explore the techniques of art by myself, making my own mistakes and my own discoveries. I learned through trial and error and studying the masters."
His approach seems to have paid off, because his paintings at the Harrison Gallery have the unmistakable stamp of freshness and originality.
Jo Ellen Harrison, owner of the gallery, said she's watched Peter develop his sense of light, composition and wit for the past 10 years, and it has been a remarkable journey.
"He's so adept in his medium now," Harrison said, "that viewers forget his scenes are painted and just enjoy the proposition he puts forth."
Gallery goers will notice Hussey's clever, multi-dimensional treatment of windows. Often viewers can see through sets of windows to the landscape on the other side of the building, while seeing what's behind them in the reflection of the glass. One new painting with a floppy cornered, torn screen gives the viewer's eye yet another layer to look through on its journey through the building.
For someone who paints so delicately, Hussey's colors are bold, not only in brightness but in the daring way he puts them together. His shadows are soft. They float lightly across a porch wall or a picket fence in the early morning sun, so real they appear to move gently in the breeze.
That same picket fence, like many of Hussey's paintings, can be seen for what it is, a realistic fence of densely packed pickets moving in lockstep across a yard, or as an abstract pattern of posts that in themselves make a dramatic and forceful composition.
Hussey, whose home and studio is in Portsmouth, R.I., didn't get started as a full time artist until after he had worked for 17 years as a corporate fundraiser -- about as far from being a freelance artist as he could get. His extensive education, with a bachelors degree in history from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Babson College, was decidedly unartistic.
"I never had youthful aspirations to become an artist," he said, "and I never considered it seriously until the mid 1990s, when at age 41 I picked up a brush and became committed to a life of fine art. And now I'm still learning and making up for lost time."
If you go ...
What: Watercolor paintings of Peter Hussey, recent winner of the Edith Cowles award for the best watercolor painting at the Mystic Art Center and many Newport Art Museum honors
Where: Harrison Gallery, 39 Spring St., Williamstown
When: Sept. 6 through Sept. 30.
Hussey will attend an opening of the show 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6
Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Information: (413) 458-1700, theharrisongallery.com.
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