I haven’t written about the art of Brad Betts for a very long time. I realized this when I was at his Down East Gallery to interview Cilla Alden about her featured show there.
Brad’s paintings are the kind that will take you on adventures on the sea … on sailboats, schooners, skiffs; coastlines and beaches … He does lovely paintings of woodland scenes, gardens, marshes; as well as the working waterfront. I love his brush strokes and his seascapes. Brad has this way of painting the sea that has always captivated me. I love the sea – the way it moves, the shades of blue to green and gray; the sound of the sea, of the waves crashing on the rocks at Ocean Point … the sizzling-like sound as the water pulls back from the shore the tide brought it in on …
Before I get into Brad’s new works, particularly the series painted in Santa Barbara, late November 2020 through February, there’s a painting entitled “Wave” that I just love. It’s on the gallery’s website. The palette is what I call dreamy … light to medium blues, pale greens, whites. The cresting wave is so inviting (I can’t swim in real life, but when I look at paintings like this one – I just allow myself to move in rhythm with it).
Another sea painting, “Fishing Off the Coast,” illustrates one of the darker sides of the sea. It’s choppy. The dark blues and black of this sea probably have the people on the schooner poised for action – but not in a “perfect storm” kind of way. But, it’s the possibility of danger, the knowing of the power of the sea (a mighty potent force if ever there was one!) and how situations can change in moments that captures my attention in this painting.
I just so enjoy the way Brad captures the moods of the sea. Maybe I love the sea so much because, astrologically speaking, I’m a water sign? Or, maybe because the sea is so beguiling; yet restorative to the soul, body and mind, as is the salt in the air it releases. So, bottom line: If the sea is the subject of a painting, I will be standing in front of it, creating a mini-adventure between the strokes.
As I’ve mentioned in other art-centered columns, the arrival of, and continuing existence of, COVID affected artists differently; some continued making art, while others found themselves just too overwhelmed to hear their muse. Brad was one of the former. He and wife Danielle went out to Santa Barbara for 2.5 months to see their son Ben who’s playing steel drums out there. Brad packed 8” x 10” canvases and his oils and away they went.
“I painted 45 times while we were there, and that’s a lot of painting! I didn’t have the gallery to think about, repairs that needed to be done,” he said. “I could still go outside. I could still be a painter. When you’re painting, you don’t think about what’s going on in the world; you’re focusing on the present moment.”
Brad and Danielle walked or biked every day. They got to know Santa Barbara, the way the mountains hugged the sea … and the light. “You stand in front of something for a while and you get to know it; know every part of it. The way the light is hitting it, the way the shadows fall.”
Brad, who’s also “into” water, went to the shore there. “But I could turn around and see the mountains. That’s not something I’m used to. When you see the light behind the buildings and then the mountains behind the buildings … the light and the dark.”
A few of the Santa Barbara paintings that really struck me are the Santa Barbara Evening Studies, in particular the one with all of the oranges and yellows cast on the water as the sun is setting behind the mountains. The large group of seabirds flying just above the water ... fishing, perhaps? The quiet, calm lapping of the ocean on the shore ... Yeah, I could stay in that painting for a while – and I actually did on my computer screen! Another, also with a different palette, is of the skimmers flying, or hovering, over an inlet as the sun is rising behind the mountains of blues, purples and black that grow lighter at their tops where the sun is hitting them. There are palm trees in the forefront and homes in the distance. The water is dark and shadowy accented by light that pools within it.
And, finally, there is Leadbetter Beach. The waves are gorgeous! Active, rolling toward driftwood and seaweed dotted beach. A few of the trees on top of some cliffs look as though it’s a bit windy which would explain how active the water is. Waves crash against those cliffs – and you can hear them ... what fun! Yeah, I plan to “hang out” there more via my computer ... and with my imagination transport myself back into the painting. How sweet mind travel can be!
Down East Gallery encompasses two buildings: a 1906 farmhouse with art on two floors and the 1904 post and beam barn with a curated collection of sculpture, paintings, tapestries, marine folk art, pottery and mixed media art.
The gallery, at 146 Boothbay Road/Route 27 in Edgecomb, is open by chance or appointment although Brad says he’s usually there working on Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it’s always good to call: 207-318-3282. He plans to keep the gallery open through the fall season.
Not in Maine? Visit www.downeastgallery.com to check out a lot of his work and that of the other artists with work there: Dick Alden, Andreas von Huene, Cilla Alden, Andre Benoit, Susan Bennett, Jay “J-Bone” Sawyer, Cynthia Stroud, Stephen Porter, Dan Ucci, John Bowdren, David Allen, Sam Betts and Gabriel Greenlaw. The Gallery also houses the Mike Lewis Museum, a private collection of Mike’s folk and art forms influenced by the South, Meso and Northwestern American Indians. None of these are for sale, mind you, but they sure are fun to check out.