Art Maker: Jeffery Gillis, painter

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    Williamsburg artist Jeffrey Gillis is seen here at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery with some of his oil paintings including "Do The Hustle," at left. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

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    Oil paintings  on canvas pieces "Do The Hustle," left, and "Night Bocce," both by artist Jeffrey Gillis, are displayed Aug. 7, 2018 at his Oxbow Gallery show in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

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    "Kings of Central Park," oil on canvas STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • “Cam at the Beach, RI,” oil painting by Jeffrey Gillis  Image courtesy of Jeffrey Gillis

  • “A View of Jupiter,” oil painting by Jeffrey Gillis  Image courtesy of Jeffrey Gillis

  • “Tea Time with Josie,” oil painting by Jeffrey Gillis Image courtesy of Jeffrey Gillis

Published: 8/16/2018 3:53:01 PM

Williamsburg painter Jeffrey Gillis boasts an unusual resume, which includes stints as a butcher, a truck driver and a security guard (the last at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City). But along the way, the Hartford, Connecticut native, who grew up in Springfield, eventually found his way to painting, working in particular from candid photographs of people and places.

“I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, like the time I quit my butchering job in NYC and moved to Ohio, ultimately to become a truck driver!” says Gillis. “Just not smart. I didn’t paint for over a year and a half and it really drove home how much I missed it.” But now he’s making up for lost time, most recently with an exhibit at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery.

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you're currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Jeffrey Gillis: I’ve been focusing on painting candid snapshots of people, recreating moments from photographs I have taken — shots that can never be recreated or posed, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. There is a story behind each painting and photograph.

I also start each of my paintings by making the stretcher bars and stretching my own linen, creating the custom frames to finish off each piece, achieving a complete and original work of art. A one of a kind, by my own two hands.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

JG: I paint simply to get better at my craft and because I love it. That’s what inspires me. I look at my paintings and I see areas in need of improvement and ultimately I am just trying to hold my own. I also enjoy digging through piles of photos and finding that shot I think would turn into a great painting. That’s where “Eureka!” comes in.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

JG: Well, by pure dumb luck, I once landed a job in security at the Met in New York. That is when my painting really got kicked into a new gear. Wanting to be able to compare myself someday to some of the greats and maybe one day get to hang in a museum like the Met. Something other than the Employee Art Show, which wasn’t open to the public — though my entry was hanging in a position to be seen from outside the gallery by the public. An unofficial best in show. From what I was told.

HL: Name an artist you admire or who has influenced your work. What about his or her art appeals to you?

JG: Severin Haines, my senior painting professor at Southeastern Massachusetts University. The cleanest of painters, and an all-around good guy. Him and Bob Ross, two of the happiest guys I knew. I was looking for that kind of happiness.

HL: What's an exhibition/concert/play/other event by another artist or group that you've attended and enjoyed?

JG: “The Firebird” by Double Edge Theatre some years back. It was our first summer out of the city. What Carlos and the group are accomplishing there on the farm! Doing it on their terms.

HL: Dream dinner party — who would you invite?

JG: A young Van Morrison, an old Ben Franklin, Kurt Vonnegut, Jimmy Valvano, Jenna Bush, Yoko Ono, David Foster Wallace, Mike Birbiglia, Bob Marley, Leonardo da Vinci, Tom Waits, Bill Watterson and my two brothers.

— Steve Pfarrer 

Jeffrey Gillis’ work, in both a solo show and as part of a group exhibit, can be seen at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, 273 Pleasant Street, through September 2.


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