Eileen Dawn Skretch grew up in Southampton, observing and appreciating the fields, water and sky of the East End. It’s no wonder her work is full of familiar landscapes. What’s interesting about this week’s cover art, “The Smiling Boat”—besides the fact that, like the rest of her work, it’s oil on wood—is that it’s a diptych, a painting on two panels, which can be hung at a 90-degree angle, as it is currently at William Ris Gallery in Jamesport.
Could you talk about your inspiration for this piece?
Painting is how I connect to the local landscapes of my childhood. I was born and raised in Southampton, to a farming family, and my life has been molded by the expansiveness of the fields and water. I’m inspired by the vastness of our natural surroundings, and, as open spaces on the East End have grown smaller, I’ve tapped into my memory to edit out buildings that get in the way.
“The Smiling Boat” came about as a kind of challenge to incorporate the seam of a diptych into a visual composition. I occasionally use hollow core doors as a painting surface, which I love both for their particular readymade, human-scaled dimensions and for their association as a threshold. This is my first piece to use them vertically, with the boat’s mast and its reflection occupying the central seam. As a diptych I love that it can be hung in a corner at a 90-degree angle to offer a novel perspective.
Looking through some of your work, I notice there are a lot of water scenes. What draws you to the water as a subject?
Water views always offer a play of light and color that I enjoy, but I respond most to the vastness of the locations, especially connected to preserved wetlands.
Do you paint en plein air?
Painting en plein air is an important part of my practice. I create smaller works and studies on site to quickly capture light and color, then often take photos to use as a cross-reference for larger studio pieces.
Your bio says you paint on wood. Is that, generally speaking, more difficult than working on a canvas? What are some of the benefits of painting on wood?
Wood is integral to my work. Once I have a new painting in mind I’ll search my stock of birch-veneered plywood for just the right grain pattern for my surface. I see the scene in the wood before the first brushstroke, and the paint simply continues the work the wood’s grain has started. So the grain will influence and even shift the landscapes, creating an interplay of natural forms between micro and macro.
Is there one place on the East End you go for inspiration?
I find inspiration all over the East End. Between 2014 and 2016 I actually painted sunsets exclusively, which helped me break the taboo of cliché subject matter. I embraced a vibrant palette and free flowing forms to access this very commonplace scene on my own terms.
Do you have any advice to give an aspiring artist?
Paint what you love. Your heart has to be part of the process for the artwork to succeed.
Where can we see more of your work?
I’m excited to have a new home for my paintings with Mary Cantone’s wonderful North Fork gallery, William Ris Gallery in Jamesport.
For more info on the artist visit eileendawnskretch.com Her work is currently part of an ongoing display at William Ris Gallery in Jamesport and is also on display at The Children’s Museum of the East End, in Bridgehampton, through July 4. Future exhibits include: Hamptons Plein Air Invitational, Ashawagh Hall, East Hampton, July 14-23 and The South Street Gallery, Greenport, August 3-28.