Heading up: Oil painting by Harley Bartlett


Blue sky, an easy current and a light morning breeze to belly the sail on the catboat. A snug harbor is left behind as a distant horizon beckons. It’s a fine day to be at the tiller in Harley Bartlett’s Heading Up.

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Born and raised in southern New England and steeped in the waters of Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay, Bartlett draws on those early experiences to create his works. “The scenes are not always specific,” he says. “They’re more a conglomerate of a number of areas — a coastal marsh along Long Island Sound, a tree grouping, a boat coming in or going out.” Natural light and changing weather help set the mood.

“I do paint outside,” says Bartlett, 55. “It helps to see [the scene] outside with the effects of time, movement and weather. There’s a freshness, a certain amount of energy from being on the spot.”

Although Bartlett has painted many coastal scenes, he doesn’t consider himself a marine artist specifically. In fact, he’s known for his landscapes and large murals, with clients ranging from country clubs to cruise ships. “I delve into marine subjects, but I’m not a specialist,” he says. “To me, a boat may be incidental to a coastal scene.”

It’s the story within the painting that counts. He says artists can get caught up in perfectly detailed depictions of a ship or boat — “buried in exactness,” as he puts it. “You can be suggestive of details without ‘counting the rivets,’ as the railroad buffs say. A painterly mark can suggest what you see.”

Reflecting for a moment in his Rhode Island studio, Bartlett says: “I feel as if I am creating a play, a story, using nature. I offer the viewer a sense of place.”

— Steve Knauth

To view this and other works by Harley Bartlett, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.