Published May 21. 2013 4:00AM
Painter Peter Devine presents works inspired by Nova Scotia
Artists obviously rely on inspiration, and sometimes it's damned hard work to find it.
Other times, The Muse taps you on the shoulder when you're not even thinking about such things.
So it was 20 years ago when, acting on the casual vacation suggestion of a friend, painter Peter Devine and his wife Nancy visited northern Nova Scotia.
"We're not great planners," Devine says. "All we knew was it sounded like a pristine place frozen in time. We didn't even look at a travelogue until we were on the ferry and read something about the town of Mavillette on St. Mary's Bay. It sounded like a place no one would go to. We spent our entire vacation there and, at the end, saw a little house for sale. Surprisingly, they sold it to us!"
Since then, the couple has divided their time between Mavillette and New York City, and Devine says Nova Scotia has proven to be a vibrantly inspirational place.
On Thursday in New London's Gallery at Firehouse Square, Devine will deliver a lecture on his work and a show currently on exhibition there called "Northern Moods: Paintings of Nova Scotia."
The exhibit, which runs through Saturday, features both watercolor and oil landscapes and reflects decades of Devine's wandering and exploring the shoreline and countryside of northern Nova Scotia - frequently capturing in vibrant but often melancholy fashion vistas unspoiled by civilization.
The Gallery at Firehouse appearance is a homecoming for Devine. He was born in New London, graduated from Waterford High School and the University of Connecticut, and taught art for three years at Mitchell College. Plus, he and Nancy love the opportunity to visit their eldest daughter and grandchildren, who live in Stonington.
Growing up in the area, Devine says he has always been infatuated with the sea and the shoreline. In that sense, the cottage in Mavillette, 50 feet from the water at high tide, certainly offers a familiar maritime feel. At the same time, the isolated geography and culture are decidedly different aspects - all of which feed into the Devine's creative impulses.
"When we first moved there, I remember thinking, everything looks like a painting," Devine says. "As an artist, that's an extraordinary thing. All the homes are really bright colors because it's so foggy there people need to be able to find their way home. And everything's stark and simple; homes grow by attrition. If you have another child, you just tack on a shed and eventually the structure rambles across the yard. And the homes all cluster in a small area - and then there will be a great expanse of open land by the sea."
Devine started out as an abstract painter but was eventually drawn to the representational works of artists like John Singer Sargent, Édouard Manet and, in particular, Winslow Homer.
As for his choice of watercolor as a medium, Devine is aware that, for many laypersons, there's a vague association of watercolors with simplicity - in the context that it's a process employed by grade-school teachers or beginning art classes.
"Well, watercolor is easy in a way," Devine says. "And they're certainly faster than working in oils. I love both mediums, but watercolor is closer to actual drawing and that appeals to me."
Devine says he doesn't work from photographs. He'll be at the easel for hours, observing light and how things might change over the course of a session.
"Because they are quick, watercolor offers the possibility of quick improvisation," he says. "When you're depicting something, you can just copy it - which is mechanical - or you can depict it as a way of description, and it become manipulative interpretation. It can all happen very quickly."
Obviously, this sort of technique goes way beyond the concept of watercolor simplicity.
"Yeah, the more you do it, the more you learn about the possibilities and intricacies," Devine says. "I can study Homer's paintings for hours and hours: the washes, the colors and the clarity and reflection of the light. There are just an incredible variety of techniques - and I just did them over and over until I figured it out."