Artist Keith Mantell carefully chooses a spot to begin his next painting. It comes complete with a good vantage point of a winding dirt road and an old shed in the back of farmer Jim Stakey’s 24-acre field on West Lane in Aquebogue Friday morning.
Jim sowed the field with mustard seed back in March and it just started blooming this week.
Keith is a plein air artist who started “going pro” when he turned 50 after mostly working on the business side of art by managing galleries.
“When I turned 50 I said if I don’t try it I’ll never know,” he recalled. “Well I’m living the dream of doing what I was born to do. I was always artistic as a kid and always drew. After working in galleries I knew what kind of paintings sold. Blue skies and white sails always sell.”
Standing in the flowering mustard field in the bright mid-day sun he said, “being an artist is my job, welcome to my office. I knew what to do. It comes easy to me. I do both plein air and work in the studio when the weather is not cooperative.”
The Riverhead artist, now 59, moved to the East End in 1998. He says he positioned himself to sell as a plein air artist. He’s a member of Plein Air Peconic, now in its 11th year. He was asked to join the group of a dozen painters three years ago.
He paints on masonite panels with oils and it takes anywhere from three to six hours to complete a painting. His favorite subjects are farm fields, vineyards and any field that looks interesting and can be “paint worthy.” He said that the landscape is constantly changing and evolving. He can drive by a place often and then one day it finally looks great to him.
Of the scene he viewed in the mustard field Friday afternoon he said, “it is hard to paint it at this stage.”
“It’s half and half- green and yellow,” he said. “You have to pick what you want to make it and go for it — either green or yellow.”
The scene is evolving too. Farmer Jim said the mustard was almost in full bloom and will be plowed under this week to take full advantage of the fumigative properties of the crop.
Then the field will be planted with 18 varieties of pumpkins. It will be opening day at Stakey’s Pumpkin Farm before you know it.
To learn more about the artist, visit keithmantell.com.