Newport artist Eddie Fay has spent his life working on commercial vessels and is familiar with the gravity of a tumultuous sea. “When a boat goes down, you’d be surprised at how fast it disappears from under your feet, especially at night in a storm,” he says. “That’s what I would really like to convey in my paintings.”
Fay works from his home studio, half of which is devoted to making ship models and the other half to painting. He paints what he knows best, which are working boats. “My favorite pieces show a real disaster about to happen,” says Fay, who is 71 and has spent 53 years making a living from New England waters. “It’s not a cheerful thing, but it’s what really happens.” Fay’s depictions of close calls at sea evoke Winslow Homer, an artist he admires.
Fay started painting and drawing as a kid growing up in Boston. When he joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1968, he was unable to paint for four years, but he gained a lasting respect for the water. After the Coast Guard, he worked for a fishing fleet out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, setting trawl lines with as many as 2,400 hooks. Though arduous, the work inspired several of his pieces.
Today, Fay is retired from fishing, but he still finds himself drawn to the ocean. He goes clamming any chance he gets and works on a commercial dayboat out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, during the summer. Remnants from his commercial fishing days still reside in his studio. When he lobstered, he broke the claws off the largest crustaceans that died on the trip back to port. He then cut small sections out of the claws and turned them into folk art by placing clocks, ship models and other carvings inside them. He’s done the same with swordfish bills. His diverse portfolio includes boat portraiture and murals. Fay also pinstripes automobiles and paints an occasional custom sign.
Alongside his paintings of near disasters are others that, he says, he saves from mediocrity by going lighthearted. “Instead of having a guy cleaning fish on the drag, I’ll have a guy playing piano on deck and a sky full of water faucets and a chef running across deck with a bottle of wine and fine glasses,” he says. Fay has no desire to contribute to the plethora of stereotypical boats-on-the-sea paintings. Instead, he depicts the real experience of a life spent on unpredictable waters.
Fay’s work has been displayed at the Newport Public Library and the Armory Antique Marketplace, but there’s never a sales tag on his art. “It’s a labor of love,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue.