Nature fills local artists' studios

Jul 6, 2018

For two weekends, the studios of artists across the South Coast will be open to the public as part of the 15th Annual South Coast Artists Open Studios Tour. Dartmouth Week sat down with several Dartmouth artists ahead of the tour, scheduled for July 21-22 and August 18-19, for a preview. Visit for a complete listing and schedule.

JP Powel

JP Powel’s studio in the Salt Marsh Pottery building is light and airy, with classical music filling the air where a barefoot Powel worked -- as he always does when he paints.

“I have to feel rooted,” he explained. “Painting with shoes on is like trying to paint with gloves on.”

Nature and the world around him are his central themes. Born in New Bedford, he grew up with his mother on Jordan Road near Lloyd State Park as his father went off to fight in World War II and took a job in New York City. He vividly remembers a summertime tradition of camping along the edge of the marsh.

“I just have to be here,” he said. “I don’t care how it is, as long as I have a roof over my head.”

His wife Betsy grew up in Maine. Scenes easily recognizable include Lord Hill by Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine, the Slocum River Reserve, Allen’s Pond, and a spectacularly gnarled tree on Horseneck Road.

“I love snarly, gnarly trees,” he said. “The history there, the expression.”

Susan Cabral

“If you’re passionate, everything you see makes you happy,” Susan Cabral said.

The lifelong Dartmouth resident works and teaches out of a studio in her home that is filled with paintings, photographs, and still life materials that range from a skeleton to a tiny fake bird to dozens of colored glass bottles.

“I keep everything,” she explained. “Everything is a still life. I don’t care if it’s a doorknob-- it’s a still life.”

Her paintings cover a variety of subjects, reflecting her wide-ranging interests. Boats, landscapes, houses, and ducks coexist with a monochromatic painting of ravens, intricate still lives, and a portrait of her granddaughter.

Cabral is frequently inspired by the Dartmouth area, and is always looking for new places to photograph or paint.

“We’ve got the best of everything: farmland, the sea, and beaches,” Cabral said.

Close observation is another signature element of Cabral’s work, like her paintings of a series of duck feathers, and a photorealistic painting of a Newfoundland dog. Her work can also be looser and more painterly, depending on what her goals are for the piece, or what experiments she is currently conducting in the studio.

All her work, however, is suffused with a sense of calm and carefully observed light and rich color.

Jill Law

Jill Law is a painter, the president of The South Coast Artists, an interior designer, and the president of the Dartmouth Cultural Center, which is an effort to preserve and revitalize the Old Southworth Library.

In addition to oil and acrylic paints, Law uses aluminum and silver foil, modeling paste (a plaster of paris type material), wax mediums, and resin to create textures from mirror-like smoothness to rough patterned surfaces.

“My work is mostly abstract,” Law said. “I use a lot of blue. I’m very interested in the water we’re surrounded by.” She said she used to ride her bike all over the South Coast, and is inspired by the ocean and landscapes of the region.

Many of her recent paintings are what she calls “dirty pours,” which look like a cross between marbled paper and a geode in their intricate organic patterning and vivid colors. To create them, Law uses acrylic paint mixed with various mediums and silicon, which she layers in cups and eventually releases onto the surface of her canvas.

Many of her paintings are finished with a thin layer of resin to reflect the world around it. This sleekness, combined with the organic and intentionally irregular quality of the painting beneath, has a mysterious effect and makes moving around the paintings an experience.