Will Hemsley

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Will Hemsley has creativity and the life of an Eastern Shore waterman in his blood - quite literally.

Will comes from a family of boat captains and has his own captain's license. His father runs fishing charter and is an accomplished painter and a sculptor. His mother and sister are also artisans. Will got his training as an oil painter at St. Mary's college in Southern Maryland. He learned to sculpt watching his Dad. He is also passing that tradition on to his young children.

Will Hemsley:
"I work from home a lot because my studio is attached to the house. And, my son is always peeking his head in. "Dad come in and play Legos with me" and everything like that. You're always thinking when it is a hand to mouth existence like the arts are, "Oh, I really have to finish this painting." But n the back of your head is always lurking: "You're gonna blink and he's gonna be eighteen, and he's not gonna want to play Legos with you anymore." So..."

"Growing up as a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to play on the studio floor in the winter. You'd have a fire in the fire place. And, just watching the act of my father mixing oil paint, and seeing all those colors… I kind of equate it to walking into a candy shop. And. You see it happen. And, I want to provide that same experience for my children. I think it is an empowering experience. I want my children to be able to say that despite what everyone tells you about the arts, it is totally possible. Here is a template."

Last year Will collaborated with his father on a commissioned sculpture to honor the late Major General Harold Greene.

Will Hemsley:
"You might remember last year, he was a four star general, who was killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan at a NATO base. He is the highest ranking casualty since Vietnam. There's a contractor I do a lot of commissions for, for their lobbies and buildings and stuff. They do a lot of work up at Aberdeen.""

""They had said: "This guy is a really important figure in the Aberdeen family: Major General Harold Green. And, he has touched so many lives of the people who do business there and the people who are on the base. We want to d o something to recognize him. I put together a few proposals, and my father and I built this big sculpture up there in Aberdeen.""

""The concept is 'Fallen Star'. It is basically the star on the general's lapel. We made it big enough and imposing enough that it looks like it just fell out of the sky and landed in the ground and embedded itself. We just finished up that. And, it went over so well that they want do something now for the Gold Star Mothers in the same spot. If you are not familiar with that organization, it is mothers who have lost a son or daughter in war or in service to the military in service to the nation. So I will be a life size figure in bronze now whos seated on a bench looking at the big fallen star sculpture. Kindof in reflection."

Will's paintings are done mostly for sale in galleries. His sculptures which are done in bronze are often commissions. He describes his approach to these two very different mediums.

Will Hemsley:
"My style, I would say it is American Realism. But, the colors in the application have an expressionist boldness to them. I started painting very tight like all painters start to do. I've since kind of loosened up. But, I'm very much into that lonely American aesthetic that Hopper captured so perfectly. Um, just the play of light on the eaves of buildings; um, the luminosity of boats at sunset. Little things like that. Nuances. Um, and I just do my best to capture them. But, yeah, I would say that it is American Realism."

"You know, when you are sculpting, you are a wrestler. It's very direct. You know when you put your fist in a slab of clay it's going to have impact. Painting, you're an illusionist. You're a magician. You're trying to create a trickery with light. You're trying to create the illusion of something. So I really enjoy the direct nature of sculpture, knowing that when I stick my thumb in that it's going to leave an imprint."

You might say that Will's work is a love song to a magical place that will not be here much longer.

Will Hemsley:
"What I really like to do, what I am enamored of are these little pockets on the Eastern Shore, that are totally undiscovered like, uh, like Crapo or Wingate. You know? You go through places like Blackwater National Refuge and you wind up in these little towns that are forgotten by time. But you get the sense that these were once vibrant places when there was an industry around it. You know, working the water and things like that… But, there is just this sad little beauty about these places."

"So I come back, I do some sketches, take some photographs. But ultimately in the studio, I can invent my mood. I can invent the surroundings and the emotions. So I prefer a day on site to do a few sketches maybe a quick painting, and then go back to the studio and really kind of dive in."

"I just finished up a piece: 'Pound Net Scene'. John Lesant, he was an old pound netter down off Bloody Point. And, he used to carry a crew of women out there, who were every bit as tough as anyone on the water. I've seen them pull up big old turtles out of the bay, and everything. But, um, I'd sit there and do sketches of the process and the pound net. And, it's very much a spiritual experience. You know, the sun is cresting up behind Kent Island and they're silhouetted. And it is just the majesty of being on the bay right at day break is indescribable. I mean, that experience is every bit as spiritual as any you could imagine."

"So I very much try to convey that with my wok. And my work is very much, uh I don't shy away from the bones and the blood of it. You know, I want the physical nature of what I am describing. I want that house that is sunken in the mash to fell like it is soggy and fallen apart. I want those people that are pulling the fish out of the net. You know? I want their muscles tensile. But I want to show the light to convey the sense of spirituality I feel when I am right in front of them. And I hope that comes through in the work."

"I am portraying scenes on the Eastern Shore, mainly. Which is somewhat ironic because most of my clientele and my patronage is out of D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Virginia. And, I don't sell a lot on the Eastern Shore. But they all want what we have over here hanging on their walls over there which is kind of neat." (Claps)

"Um I'll just say this about the art. As much as I want it to appeal to the intellectual element of the gallery scene, of people coming in and saying: "Oh this is a really unique take on this"; I want the fellow who is hunting the duck blind or the old blacksmith who is working on repairing the oyster rig for the fellow who is in disrepair. I want them both to realize that as an authentic experience."

"So if I can get the blacksmith to appreciate it as much as the gallery patron, I've done something successful. And, I try to do that in my painting. And I try to do that in my sculpture as much as I can."

Find out more about Will's work at his website: