I spoke with with Dallas Piotrowski at her lovely home that is filled with artwork, hers and others, in the Langtree section of Hamilton. I have known and admired her paintings for their precision and colors. Her subject matter is nature and how it integrates with humans in the world. Dallas’ work is well known in the area and beyond.
You paint many scenes about nature and wildlife. Why does this subject interest you so much?
I am a wild person! By that I mean I am a person in love with the wildness of nature. I grew up always being outside, here in Hamilton and the wild side of Lawrenceville. I have always loved flowers, plants and animals in their natural state. I love it!
What is your process?
I use photo references that I take myself. Then I take bits and pieces of these and form a larger composition. I will sometimes start in the foreground with an animal and sometimes start in the background with vegetation. After the drawing is composed, I paint.
Who influenced you artistically?
One of my memorable teachers was the artist Elizabeth Ruggles from Bucks County. She taught me about idea making, how to use references, all about paint, brushes and canvas, and of course how to paint. I also studied with Nelson Shanks who was a big influence, as is my friend Mel Leipzig.
How long will you work on a piece until you are happy?
Oh! I take forever! I can take up to six months to work on a painting. I work on the larger side, and I only work on one piece at a time.
What media do you use, and why?
I use acrylic paint on canvas or board. I used to use oil paints, but I was struggling to get crisp edges on a floral painting a long time ago. I switched to acrylics; got the edges I needed and never went back to oils.
You were a curator at Chapin School Gallery in Lawrence. Do you think we need more curated gallery spaces here in Hamilton?
Yes, definitely! I know they do some shows at the Hamilton Library but that is not enough for a town the size of Hamilton.
What fight/struggle do you have regarding your art?
Space to work is my fight! I have a large painting room, but I am a book person. I have many bookshelves and books in my house. Maybe I have too many!
Do you teach or act as a mentor?
I mentor my granddaughter. She is 13 and draws constantly. She was recognized as a natural talent by a Walt Disney representative and is currently composing a coloring book for Disney. I think my influence has inspired her for sure.
Locally, where do you like to eat and hang out?
I love to eat at Rat’s Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture. I did a series of five lotus paintings inspired by the lotus blooming near the restaurant. They are magical! We also enjoy Rossi’s on Whitehorse Avenue.
What one attribute should all artists have?
Artists need to have a love and appreciation for all the arts. I grew up with not a lot of money but a lot of siblings and love. For us to take a white paper and some tempera paint and make bright, boldly colored landscapes was magical. I still find that today. Taking a blank canvas and what becomes of it when you are done, magic!
What is your dream project?
I would love to do a very large complex painting that makes an environmental statement. The painting would show animals and plants and speak of their importance. I just need a generous benefactor!
What is on the horizon? What are you looking forward to?
I am working on a series about climate change affecting our environment. I think our government and private sector should act to make changes for the better. I have a ton of ideas and will make some large paintings on the subject. I will also continue to exhibit in shows around this area.
Thomas Kelly is a Hamilton-based artist and member of the Hamilton Arts Council. His work can be found at thomaskellyart.com.