Douglas Gilbert tracks visions in pencil

The light and shade resolve into a tree line across the water. You’re standing on the bank, looking across at the wooded shore and the light tracing of hills behind it. This half-abstract place is the James River, says Douglas Gilbert in his studio at GreylockWorks. In the steady northern light through tall windows, he has invoked a landscape in hundreds of lines of pencil. Individual strokes and a smudge on the horizon converge into a reflection on the current.

His studio itself is half translucent and permeable to the world around it. Outside the inner walls, people are walking through shops nearby and sitting at tables over coffee. Gilbert is part of a growing community of creative people and spaces within GreylockWorks, the creative complex growing within the old Cariddi Mill, and he has seen the place grow even within the past few weeks — with newcomers the Railroad Street Collective from Great Barrington, and chef and microfarmer Tu Le and artist Matt Bertles from 328 North in Williamstown.

Gilbert came in July last year, he said. He was one of a few artists for much of the year, and one of a compact group of people outside the Break Room cafe. But now the space around him is coming alive.

“This place is really starting to happen,” he said.

Tables and ferns line the outside courtyard at GreylockWorks on a sunny day.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Tables and ferns line the outside courtyard at GreylockWorks on a sunny day.

He sees more people walking through the old mill as a public space now, as the weather warms up. They come through the open door of his studio to talk, he said. They ask him about his process and his medium — his dreamscapes and lean long-eared rabbits with clear intelligent eyes.

They have brought conversations across the year, and steady interest, to the point that he is planning to offer drawing courses — he has taught art at college and highschool for many years, from the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Queensborough Community College in New York to USC in Southern California.

This warming into new energy parallels his experience of the Berkshires, he said, in the year and a half since he and his wife, moved to the Cable Mill in Williamstown. After their first winter, they both decided they needed work spaces in the community.

Graphite drawings line the walls inartist and graphic designer Douglas Gilbert's studio at GreylockWorks.
Douglas Gilbert

Graphite drawings line the walls inartist and graphic designer Douglas Gilbert's studio at GreylockWorks.

They moved to Williamstown in February 2022, in the snow and quiet. In comparison, Gilbert said, he has found GreylockWorks a warmly social space. People come into the studio to look and to talk.

He has met people interested in the craft, including one young comic book artist who does beautiful work, he said, and many people who want to begin to learn how to see and express what they see. He has talked with local kids and teens, parents of college kids, retired folk. And in response to continued interest, he is planning to teach composition and drawing from observation,working in pencil, shading.

He has taught art across the country, he said, recalling warmly his time at Queensborough and teaching art in public high schools. Teaching in the Bronx, he had the chance to let students work on their own time — they chose their own projects at the beginning to the semester, and he worked with them individually. They all had responsibilities, and they were all working on different projects, and he had the freedom to work with them in the ways they needed.

“That’s something I love about teaching,” he said. “You’re reading people … to evoke something creative in them.”

Here in his studio, people have asked him about his focuses and details, he said. They have found a kind of electricity in his lines.

“I’m inspired by quantum particles,” he said.

Quantum particles can pass through human bodies, he explained. They pass through everything, including the earth. At this level, a particle can act as a wave. What is solid and physical in this state, where bodies are permeable, and matter is made of particles so small they seem to dissolve into energy?

He sees these universal particles as coming together to form all that people see. In his drawings he builds a gradient from dark to light. Lines can radiate from solid into near invisibility. A dragonfly wing shades to the edge of transparency. Black strokes on white paper echo tree trunks in the snow.

Quantum particles pass through human bodies — they pass through everything, including the earth.

In his drawings, lines can radiate from solid into near invisibility. A dragonfly wing shades to the edge of transparency. Dark lines on white echo tree trunks in the snow.

Drawing compels him as a practice, he said, because the rhythm and repetition feel meditative. In his more abstract work, he often draws from memory in an exercise of pencil to paper, thousands of lines building — a practice something like free-writing — a dream vision.

His animals, the rabbits and pigeons, can become an exercise in hand-eye coordination, he said, but the landscapes are often more abstract. And he finds the physical and tangible rhythm of pencil and paper a contrast to the immediate gratification of computer graphics and technology. Gilbert is a graphic designer as well as an art teacher, and he has been throughout his early career, he said. Now he enjoys time working with his hands. He wants a physical experience, a work that takes touch and time.

His figurative creatures have themes and stories under the surface, and his landscapes can hold deep layers of time and experience. He looks at the the James River as a reservoir of more than 400 years. The waterway was a conduit for slavery, he said. Richmond Va. is the main inlet, recalling for him people forced to this coast from Africa for centuries.

“I see the river as an observer,” he said, “across the passage of time and the history that has been at odds with us since the beginning of this country.”

Take the time to look into his image, and faces emerge from the land. The line of the trees and closer hills become people looking up from the water into the sky.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

BTW Berkshires