The rectangular shapes of the stone wharf and its gray-clad buildings stand out against the formless grandeur of a sunlit sky, a layer of light clouds softening the colors in this oil painting by William Duffy. It’s evening at the American Yacht Club in Rye, New York, as the small boats tied up at the dock fade into irregular shapes in the dying light.
“I was intrigued by the pattern of buildings and the light and atmosphere,” the 68-year-old artist says. “There’s the play of the architecture against the water and the very dramatic sky. It’s a half-lit sunset, not a full-blown colorful sunset — just enough to create a kind of personal mood separate from the location.”
The cluster of boats form a recognizable mass of texture, Duffy says. “They are not truly articulated right down to every detail [because] this is what you would see if you were standing there at that time.”
The setting could be almost anywhere along the coast in the Northeast, where Duffy looks for inspiration. “I try to stay away from subject matter that is too overdone,” he says. “If I’m on Nantucket, I may pick something that gives a sense of place that is typical of Nantucket, but I might try to pick a day where the atmosphere is going to be pleasing to me. And hopefully the mood I create is something the viewer will experience, as well. If I can stir something in the viewer, part of my goal will be reached.”
The son of an amateur artist, Duffy began his career as a greeting-card illustrator while creating marine art on the side. In 1993, one of his works took an Award of Excellence at Mystic Seaport’s International Marine Art Exhibition. He’s been painting full time ever since.
“People ask, ‘Don’t you want to retire?’ I say, what would I do? Take up a hobby — like painting?”
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.