Steven Slosberg: Local architecture, in crisp perfection

Steven Slosberg: Local architecture, in crisp perfection


During a recent visit to the Newport Art Museum I wandered by chance into a room of showstopping, perfectionist watercolors by Peter Hussey. What I soon learned, because the artist happened to be at the museum that day and we began chatting, was that I was looking at fetching renderings of Stonington Borough, Watch Hill and Weekapaug, among other places.

Hussey’s signature is work in watercolor that is architecturally cropped and angled, rigidly and realistically precise and bright and brilliantly vivid. His art, in a way, is a reflection of his bearing, since he is engaging by nature and erect in posture and lean in build. Likely a facile assessment, but what I do know is that in his execution and interpretation of detail and light, I find serenity.

Hussey, who lives in Portsmouth, R.I., produces images of shingled and historic New England. Besides the watercolors of scenes here, the Newport show, which ended Aug. 6, featured studies in Williamstown and Deerfield, and coastal Westport, in Massachusetts, as well as Portsmouth. One of his Newport watercolors, “Christmas in July,” was selected for the 61st Annual Regional Exhibit currently on display at the Mystic Art Museum.

He is an elected artist member of the Mystic museum, where he has won two watercolor awards in previous juried shows. He is on the governance committee of the Art League of Rhode Island. And remarkably, except for one painting course under David Dewey at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, he is essentially self-taught.

Early on in Hussey’s professional career, for some 17 years, he was as a fundraiser for schools, universities and hospitals. He has a bachelor’s in history from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Babson College. He found his gift as a watercolorist, or, at least, began devoting himself full time to it, in the 1990s.

“My orientation down your way is mostly Weekapaug, where I was married and baptized my two kids,” he wrote in an email. “I’ve been coming to Weekapaug since I was 5 years old and have been cycling in coastal communities there ever since... I had an exhibit with Jane Buffum (Avondale) 20 years ago.”

Besides the Mystic Art Museum, five of his paintings, at last count, are at the Charlestown Gallery in Charlestown, including a superbly detailed study of a terra cotta urn on stone steps in Stonington village.

The way people from away, particularly artists and writers, look at the local landscape and life is ever curious. Viewing Hussey’s large-scale watercolors of fencing and roses at 168 Water St. in the Borough, or the colors of an arched door and porch at 15 Water St., gives pause, a most-pleasing pause. Another of his works, an angled view of the light atop the Old Lighthouse Museum, now belonging to a private collector in Stonington, is readily recognizable, but likely not often viewed from such a perspective.

In a statement about his art that he sent along, Hussey wrote, in the third person, that his watercolors “focus on architectural detail. His paintings are beautifully crisp images of doorways, rooftops, cupolas, turrets and their attendant surfaces that when handled in the different light of day, are endless in their richness and variety. His work, though not photorealist, is firmly rooted in 20th Century Realism.”

His statement continued: “Peter’s paintings are meant to be pleasing to look at, and, at the same time, intellectually stimulating. For some, they are what they are — a window, a roofline, a door ajar. For others, owing a large degree to his use of close perspective, they are thoughtful abstractions of lines and surfaces caught in the push and pull between what’s near and what’s far away. He elevates the simplicity of his subjects, but invited his viewers to reach their own conclusions.”

I cannot disagree.

To be sure, other fine artists here are similarly articulate, but the fact is I did wander into Peter Hussey, heretofore unknown to me, at the Newport Art Museum and, obviously, was struck by what I saw as well as the artist himself.

Few, I’d venture, would not be similarly absorbed.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at:

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