Antonia Tyz Peeples
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Tyz Peeples Dives Deep In New Exhibit
Originally published on IndependentRI.com
July 12th, 2012

by Betty J. Cotter


CHARLESTOWN - Antonia Tyz Peeples had been painting for years, this and that, oils, pastels, sketches. She had displayed her work in art galleries in South County, and for more than a decade she taught art at the Neighborhood Guild in Peace Dale.

But it was only two years ago she hit her stride with large-format paintings of waves - intricate, light-filled studies of water that invite the viewer to step into the littoral zone, that place where the ocean meets sand, where sea and land collide.

Immediately, she knew she was on to something.

She decided if she was going to commit herself to being a wave painter, she was going to do it right. "I'm going to paint it big," she recalls thinking at the time. And from the beginning, the paintings were a hit.

Now Peeples, who never had a solo show until recently, will open her fourth show at the Charlestown Gallery on Saturday with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibit will include a lot of new work, including "Diamond Fest," a study of Napatree Point at night, and "Citrine Window," a stunning wave study from Charlestown Beach with a yellow pane of light in the center.

Maybe it's the fact the ocean is "ever changing," as she puts it, or that she had entered a time in her life when she was ready to commit more time to painting. Whatever the reason, the artist has entered a period of intense creativity and focus, with a subject matter that is absorbing and the determination to capture it.

Her coastal world stretches from Narragansett Pier to Napatree Point in Westerly, with Charlestown Beach being a favorite stop in between. She doesn't paint plein air, as some artists do, but instead takes dozens of photographs, trying to capture in stop-motion the physics and architecture that are lost to the human eye.

"It's not the beach so much to me, as it is the ocean has its many moods," she said. "I take a lot pictures, because sometimes it's very soothing and tranquil, and sometimes it's very dark and mysterious. I love going out at storm time."

Back in her home studio in Lebanon, Conn., she studies the photographs. What emerges are odd juxtapositions the human eye can miss. Arcing spray takes on the geometry of a drip castle. Lines of froth run like latticework in a window, or veins down an arm. Sometimes the spray adopts an almost human form, as in "Primal Dance," where the vertical shapes seem to be standing on the water's surface.

"There's a lot of things that happen, but because it's so fast you never get to study it," she said of the waves. "… There's like a whole world in between frames."

Sometimes, the images are so "unnatural and so bizarre" she can't paint them, she says, because no one would believe them.

On days when she's not working - at the Charlestown Gallery and Complements Art Gallery in North Smithfield - she treats painting like any other job, walking into her home studio at 9 o'clock with her coffee and quickly setting to work. She typically has two to four pieces in various stages of composition, starting with a base layer, then moving onto a firmer composition. While one painting's layer is drying, she can turn her attention to another, and the next day, her perspective on the first work might have changed. She calls this a "period of marinating.

"You have to go back and look at it," she said. "That's another reason I do it in steps. The next day I look at it and think, 'My God, I'm so glad nobody saw this' or … 'Not so bad,' and I know what to do."

Her new painting "A Small Breakthrough" is a case in point. An unframed oil, it's a departure from some of the wave work, with an almost surreal quality. The viewer looks down on a sandy beach with a rock half covered in sand. You can almost hear the tide gently sucking away at the stone. But the focal point is a small, kite-shaped "rip" in the canvas, through which appears a light-filled wave very much like her other paintings. It's an almost eerie composition, playing with the viewer's point of view. Are we seeing a window into another world, or are we being watched?

"I had painted the small rock about a month ago," Peeples recalled, but she wasn't happy with it. She added sand to the paint, to give the shore some texture, but it wasn't until she painted a "puncture" in the canvas that she had a breakthrough, in more ways than one.

In "Citrine Window," the point of yellow - she calls the shade a "lemon-lime" - is like a portal into another world, a window, a peek into the other side, perhaps, that invites the viewer to pass through, like a ghost.

"There's something I like about it," she said. "There's a lot of stuff going on in the front, the rocks, the light green over there. I bumped [the colors] up a little, but it's there. The softness, the muted purples."

But it's the yellow that startles, and makes the painting so much more than just a pretty picture of the ocean. "It reminded me of a stained-glass window. The foam becomes the metal part of the stained-glass window."

In "Later that Same Day," a view of low tide at Charlestown Beach, the retreating water, not the breaking wave, is the focus, with the backwash creating a hook in the sand, folding back on itself. The goal here was to paint "a certain volume of water in a certain place." In effect the water takes on a material quality, like lace.

Peeples traces her fascination with the ocean to childhood vacations spent off-season on Cape Cod. "So I was usually there when there were no people. I'm a big looker, I guess," she added. "I'm a scientist at heart."

But she has artistic genes; her father was a photographer and her mother a painter. She attended Eastern Connecticut State University and the Silvermine Guild of Art in New Canaan, Conn. For years she showed her work and belonged to such galleries as the Mystic Art Association and Wickford Art Association. It was through her membership at the South County Art Association in Kingston, though, that she turned to teaching. Peg Gregory, a member of the association, was giving up her class at the Guild and chose Peeples as her successor.

"I don't have a teaching degree," Peeples protested, but Gregory was convinced she would be good at it. "Oh, no, you can do it," Peeples recalls her saying. "Tell 'em what you know."

She stayed at the Guild for about 10 years, until the late 1990s, when she realized to practice her own art she would have to give something up. It became all about time - time to find her artistic place, and time to practice her art. She found the time on the shore, where the waves battering the sand roar on, both a reminder of mortality and a symbol of eternity.

"People like to see the light through the waves," she said, adding, "It's pleasant to the soul."

"Water Works," paintings by Antonia Tyz Peeples, will be on display at Charlestown Gallery beginning Saturday and continuing through Aug. 8. Saturday's reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. is free and open to the public. The gallery is located at 5000 South County Trail, at the intersection of routes 2 and 1. For more information, visit www.charlestowngalleryri.com.