Piece of Work: Anthony Benton Gude

For me, using atmosphere and light conveys a sense of place and the feeling of a place, and it’s always an important aspect of what I’m painting.
Legacies can be tough stuff or they can simply be absorbed and appreciated, which seems to be where painter Anthony Benton Gude falls. His grandfather was the iconic artist Thomas Hart Benton, a fact that Gude believes led to his first mural commission, because there was an assumption that he, too, must be a muralist. After all, his grandfather’s famous America Today mural now occupies a room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

As it turned out, Gude did also become an accomplished muralist, with more than a dozen in Missouri and Kansas. And, like his “granddad,” he spent twenty years in the Midwest before returning to West Tisbury full time seven years ago. Gude was born on the Island and spent every summer on the family’s homestead overlooking Menemsha Pond, where he learned to quahaug and watched his grandfather paint in his studio.

Anthony Benton Gude, Vineyard Farm Stand, oil, 24 x 30 inches.

“I just enjoyed the Island back then,” Gude says. “It was quiet all summer long. It’s more active now in the winter than it was back then [in the ’60s and ’70s] in the summer.”

The painting here of Beetlebung Farm contains a technique adopted from grandfather Benton, which is to have a foreground of still life in a landscape painting. “It’s a combination of both,” says Gude. “I’ve loved doing that in a lot of my paintings, and most of my landscapes have it, because it brings you into the picture. It’s a compositional signature I’ve used over the years.

“The piece was fun because the people on the farm were out there,” he recalls. “I elaborated a bit on the still life, but it’s still realistic because those are the kind of vegetables you find on a farm.

“It’s basically what Beetlebung Farm is: the color of the sky with a little bit of heavy fog settling in.”

Gude still travels frequently to Kansas, where much of his work is shown and commissioned. “The more northern latitude here makes a difference in the light, and Kansas is probably 20 degrees south and much closer to the light in southern France, where painters have always flocked,” he says. “There’s a simplicity to the landscape and long vistas, whereas in New England it’s very tight, very busy, and there aren’t too many places where you can see for miles around.”

As for the questions or comparisons to his grandfather, Gude takes it in stride. While a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Art Students League in New York City, he dropped Benton from his name. Even so, his professors saw similarities. “I think some of his style just rubbed off on me, or maybe it’s in my genes,” he says. “I never tried to emulate him or paint like him. I’m often asked how I feel walking in his shadow. I like to say that’s a real long shadow, but I like to think I’m walking beside rather than in his shadow.”

Gude’s work can be seen at the Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah.