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Heather Neill, detail of Anchored in Autumn, oil on canvas, 48 x 74 inches.

9.1.18

Piece of Work: Heather Neill

“Painting, and color, and light bounced into my studio about twenty years ago…It was a giant leap from my mostly black and white world of drawing and printmaking and I never looked back.”

Painting, and color, and light bounced into my studio about twenty years ago…and I never looked back.

Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you will get an unfiltered answer. For Heather Neill, her response was an artist or a doctor. “The creative muses won out,” she said.

In the 1970s, Neill earned an art degree focused on drawing and printmaking from Connecticut College. Years later, painting came into her life when an artist drafted her to help on a commission. “When she fell behind, I scrambled to teach myself enough about oil paints and color to complete most of the project for her,” Neill said. Since then, painting has been her main medium.

Her way to the Island came in the 1980s when a roommate brought Neill to her family’s summer camp in Chilmark. She fell in love. Over the course of about forty years, she and her own family have been regular fall renters, making the trek from Manchester, Pennsylvania, to a changing roster of rentals, always up-Island.

During one of those visits Neill screwed up her courage and went to see Chris Morse, owner of the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury, to show him some oil paintings. She has been represented by the gallery ever since. “From that day forward [the Island] has become the main source of inspiration for my life’s work: art.”

Neill’s work often captures iconic Island scenes, from landscapes of the Gay Head Light and Menemsha Basin down to South Beach in Katama. Last fall, when Ann Vose invited her to sit on the porch of her well-known Edgartown boathouse, the inspiration to paint a panorama of the harbor ignited.

“The vantage point of [the Vose boathouse] in the harbor provides spectacular views,” said Neill. After spending time studying the pace of fall days on the harbor, she returned to her home studio armed with a sketchbook full of notes and thousands of reference photos.

Once the general light (“mid-morning ended up being best”) was decided upon, she created a master sketch, transferred it to a panel, and dug out her tiniest brushes. She had expected the horizon filled with buildings to be difficult, “but those docks on the left snuck up on me,” she admitted. With perseverance, and numerous twelve-hour days spent at the easel, Neill was able to create a painting that gives the viewer a sense of enjoyment of the scene in Edgartown Harbor from the same perch she did.

“This boathouse glows with the patina of well-loved use,” she said. “And I hope people will find a moment to join me on that porch, pull up a rocking chair, and feel the crisp autumn air and enjoy the view.” 

Neill’s work can be seen at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.