John Austin, Nantucket Artist
Welcome to the world premier of the John Austin Art blog. My father would have approved of his shiny, new web platform, cuz selling art paid the electric bill, but probably would have smiled and gone right on painting. “They know how to get in touch with me,” he’d probably growl, meaning knocking on the door of his little Nantucket cottage at 49 West Chester St. I shrug, nearly ten years after his passing, a month to the day after 9/11. Times change, people forget, but his art made a lot of people happy, and continues to. In some households, dedicated collectors who’ve filled entire walls of his stuff, he’s a household name. And he’s in some pretty rarified living room walls. And libraries, and churches, and town halls. Jackie Kennedy Onnasis used to come over to the island just to buy the latest offerings. One day she wrote a check for eight, (or her bodyguard did), told the gallery to deliver them to her little summer place over on the Vineyard. But in his eyes, everyone deserved to have some real art on their wall. Ask around, you’ll probably find a bunch of carpenters and plumbers and fishermen who own a John Austin or two, sometimes received as surprise birthday or anniversary gifts from grinning wives or sweethearts. He had a sliding scale, secret of course. The lofty captains of industry paid full ticket, the rest of us got a handshake deal, and that was that. No middlemen, no fancy marketing platform, no bullshit. Just sweet, old school ethics. Google him, you’ll get a half a dozen solid hits of the real John Austin, then the trail tapers off to still-living imposters plying their snuffy celebrity portraits and ooh-ahh sports photography in Arizona and England.
So who was he? To begin with, here’s a thumbnail bio that ran on the eve of a Nantucket auction held recently:
|Born in North Carolina, John Austin’s youth was spent in New Jersey. He raised his family in Connecticut, before settling
in Nantucket.Austin studied at the Art Students’ League in NYC under Reginald Marsh and was subsequently mentored by
Edward Hopper during two years in Truro and New York. As a commercial artist, Austin designed floats for the annual
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades. As a WWII serviceman, he produced training manuals for the Army.
During his tour, he was constantly compiling sketchbooks that recorded European cities, the countryside and troops.Post War,
Austin returned again to the Art Students League, where he met his wife, Emily. By the early 60’s, he had taken up painting
With a preference for egg tempera, he produced representational paintings that recorded place: the shore, barns, and cottages
of Cape Cod, Maine and New Hampshire.The Nantucket body of work is substantial, and entirely reflective of the locale.
Austin began exhibiting at the Lobster Pot Gallery, before moving on to Reggie Levine’s Main Street Gallery, where he remained
until the gallery closed, in the late 1990’s.John Austin was a keen draftsman, preferring to sketch out his line drawings in situ,
where he made studied color notations. His paintings were developed in studio. From the Chicken Box to the Pence School,
from pilot houses to cranberry harvests, Austin’s paintings captured the laid-back flavor of Nantucket culture. House
portraits and commissioned works were his specialty, as Austin thoroughly relished the social exchange with his
clients and collectors. Commemorative ships portraits, presented by the US Nantucket Coast Guard to retiring officers,
earned Austin an honorary post in the Guard.Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis collected Austin’s work, as did Mrs. Paul Mellon
and Joyce & Seward Johnson. In 1996, a high point in his career, Sotheby’s sold two Austin paintings from the estate of
Mrs. Onassis – a Brant Point close-up and a Tuckernuck landscape – for $29, 900 and $26,450 respectively.John Austin’s
paintings remain in the permanent collection of the Nantucket Historical Association, and are a treasured presence in
many Island households.