Artist Peter Vey creates a world of bright light, tropical breezes, and an intense sense of place as only a boater can.
He's always on the lookout, and so when artist Peter Vey comes across a scene that stops him in his tracks, he makes a sketch or snaps a photograph. Later, at his home studio in West Palm Beach, Florida, he'll crop it, decide on a size for the finished work, then stretch the linen canvas on wooden bars and apply a primer of tinted gesso. Next, he transfers his simple sketch by freehand onto the canvas with a small brush and some raw umber oil paint.
Vey applies his signature thick, luscious strokes of saturated tropical colors in oil paint with a palette knife. He doesn't try to capture every detail and nuance at first, rather he lets his 40 years of experience guide him in what he calls "a meditative dance on canvas." His painting knife is broad, what most artists call a mixing knife, and he wields it like a laser sword. All of the paint applied to the canvas is mixed and remixed, adjusting color nuances with the same knife with which he paints.
"I'll start somewhere in the middle and always on the darkest color," he explains. "The palette knife technique requires a wet-on-wet application of paint, so I usually finish one part, then move on so the paint never really has a chance to get tacky or dry while working."
On his large canvases, tropical foliage and local boats mingle in vivid colors with Key West "conch" cottages and wildlife as the sun sets or rises on a vibrant beach community that prides itself on being the southernmost place in America.
"Boating has been in my life forever," says Vey, whose grandparents had a series of wooden boats. During the Depression, they'd head offshore to pick up liquor transfers and bring them back to Palm Beach. "During World War II, they volunteered for the Coast Guard, searching for German submarines, as did Hemingway. They inspired me, and I've always owned a boat."
These days, Vey and his partner live near the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, in a pretty 1923 Mediterranean revival with a lush garden. But for many years, he lived and painted in his beloved Key West, which is still the inspiration for much of his work and where he still keeps his boat. "It's an easy-breezy Mako — great for cruising, finding inspiration, and photographing or sketching the islands. More than anything, I come down here often and use it for relaxing and cloud watching."
Q: You grew up in the New York Metro area, but made your home in Florida. What drew you?
A: I spent summers in Florida with my grandparents, where both of my parents grew up. They collected art and introduced me to artists. That inspired me. The light here is mesmerizing, and so are the vivid colors of the water. I really love the waterfront and the tropical foliage, especially palms, orchids, all the vegetation. Key West was where I settled first, for many years of extraordinary inspiration. The diversity of the community, the fishing, the camaraderie. It holds me still, and I paint how that makes me feel.
Q: Which artists most influenced your style?
A: Subject-wise, Winslow Homer. Technique-wise, Nicola Simbari, an Italian palette-knife painter from the '60s. Howard Schafer, my longtime friend, an illustrator-turned-fine-artist, convinced me to try the knife. Once I tried it, I was hooked.
Q: With all the beauty around you, how do you decide on the scene you want to paint?
A: That's the hard part! Something specific has to strike me, maybe the way the light hits the leaves and how I'm feeling at the moment. Light has everything to do with it. Something that I wouldn't consider today may be beautiful tomorrow in another light. My favorite time is when the sun is low in the sky, which intensifies all the colors in a scene. Morning or evening is most special.
Q: What feelings and emotions do you hope your paintings evoke in people?
A: Nostalgia. Playfulness. A sense of joy from the simple visual beauty all around us. In some paintings I'm trying to evoke the utter excitement of a boat or a fish slicing through clear water. We often overlook such pure beauty, or we forget about it in our busy lives. I hope my paintings make people stop, get lost in the image, and feel uplifted. My objective with each work is to celebrate life.
Peter Vey's paintings are represented exclusively by The Gallery On Greene in Key West.