By Olivia Hull
Traeger di Pietro first started painting for love. He was 15; she was artsy and he was a jock, a baseball player. He knew her ex-boyfriend had painted her things and he wanted to impress her too. His first paintings were small still lifes of flowers and roses.
“I never stopped, I just kept going and going,” he said. Now he’s a full-fledged member of the Island arts scene, and has received acclaim from art collectors and artists alike.
Mr. di Pietro moved to Martha’s Vineyard 12 years ago to be surrounded by beautiful things to paint. “For the sunsets, the sunrises and the fisheries,” he said.
He initially drove a Coca-Cola truck for his day job, and now he drives a Pepsi truck. He paints at night.
“It keeps me humble,” he said of his delivery job. “I get to see the Island, get inspired by the sociology of the Island, the behind the scenes.”
This year is Mr. di Pietro’s first Edgartown Arts stroll, he said, though he’s participated in the Oak Bluffs stroll in past years. The stroll takes place on North Water street, this Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m., and will feature artists from four Edgartown galleries. Mr. di Pietro will show his work at North Water Gallery.
“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of people and talking about my art,” he said. “It’s very flattering to be hanging next to the other artists,” he added.
Currently, the other artists at North Water Gallery include Ken Otsuka with his Zen costal landscape paintings and Jim Holland, who will present his crisp, Edward Hopper-esque oils.
Mr. di Pietro said he is pleased the North Water Gallery and its sister gallery the Field Gallery in West Tisbury, where his work is also on display, are representing both of his styles of paintings: impressionist oil landscapes and mixed media.
“I don’t like to typecast myself. They’re not scared to show both.” He enjoys working in different media, with a wide range of subject matter. “I like being able to bounce around,” he said.
Strewn about his studio in Vineyard Haven is a landscape painting of the Farm Institute property, a half-finished portrait of a monkey (“Bobby”) and a large mixed media work of a boat, among others. Some of the works he painted in plein-air, allowing him to incorporate the energy from outdoor elements into the paintings. Mr. di Pietro uses large and imprecise brushstrokes to capture the raw emotion of the subject.
“One brushstroke can be used to define a coat, a face, a leg or a boat,” he said.
Mr. di Pietro’s work at the North Water Gallery, 20 paintings in total, focuses on fishermen.
“The show is more or less about the fishermen in the ocean. The diligent man, going out and fishing.”
The scenes are inspired by empathy, he said. “I put myself in their shoes, and feel sadness or whatever they’re feeling. I put myself in the boat. I see through the boat, through the person.”
He compares the process of painting to acting.
“I’m not just painting the man. I’m being the man in the boat, trying to capture the essence of the person.”
Due to his rough impressionist style, many of the human figures in his paintings could appear to be male or female.
[My art] is not about one specific human being or group,” he explained. “It’s about everyone as a whole.”
When asked what inspires him, he answered in noncommittal terms.
“The question is really what doesn’t inspire me. When I make a painting, I get really excited about the subject. When someone is interested in the paintings, they felt what I was feeling while I was painting.”
Eisenhauer Gallery is also participating in the stroll. Their opening features artist Rebecca Kinkaid’s playful children, Fred Calleri’s whimsical wide-eyed figures and David Konigsberg’s blurred landscapes and blustery clouds.
Elizabeth Eisenhauer, owner of the gallery, said the stroll generates sales, because customers feel an urgency to purchase something before it’s seen by a couple of hundred people.
“The stroll brings together the Edgartown art community in a way that boosts sales and interest,” she said. “Anytime we collaborate on something, there’s more energy involved.”
In the past, Ms. Eisenhauer has served alcohol in the gallery, but now she serves refreshments in the courtyard, along with live music.
“It brings more people to Edgartown,” added Christina Cook, who owns Christina Gallery. “It makes more people aware of what we’re doing here in Edgartown with the arts.” Upstairs in the gallery, staff will serve cheese and crackers and wine.
Compared to the Arts Stroll held in August, “July is a quieter scene,” Ms. Cook said, allowing gallery staff and artists to converse with patrons more comfortably. Christina Gallery is showing a collection of art from four generations of Pissarros — including grandfather Camille Pissarro, the famous impressionist painter. The opening also features Lloyd Kelly’s paintings of Provence.
“The Art Stroll is a wonderful opportunity for people to celebrate art,” said Robin Nagle, director of the North Water Gallery. “I think it’s a nice sense of community with the other galleries.”
The art stroll on Thursday, July 12, is from 6 to 8 p.m. The next stroll takes place on August 9. Participating galleries include Willoughby Fine Art Gallery, Eisenhauer Gallery, Christina Gallery and North Water Gallery.