Piece of Work: Tommy May

I love the Island so much and take a lot, if not most, of my inspiration from it.

Abstract painter Tommy May splits his time between California and the Island, where his parents have a home in Vineyard Haven. Yet even when he’s working in his Hollywood Hills studio, he is dreaming of Martha’s Vineyard and drawing upon its inspiration to fuel his next series of paintings.

This past winter’s focus came from his idea to showcase abstracted views of Vineyard scenes, such as fields and dunes. He is calling the series Blossoms.

“The piece [shown here], although titled Field of Poppies, is probably more inspired by wild beach roses on the dunes,” May says. To achieve the look, he worked wet into wet. “I soak the canvas first, then stain the backgrounds. Drips are then flicked from above and land on the wet canvas as rain would fall.”

The dark pinks loosely represent the roses found in Island dunes, while the orange flecks remind him of California’s wild poppies. East Coast and West Coast muses collide in many of his pieces. “Because of being between California and Martha’s Vineyard, I always try to bridge the gap of inspiration,” he says.

“I try to do these paintings within one session and finish them while the canvas is wet,” says May of the wet-on-wet process. “The stain effect, rather than paint on surface, that I aim to achieve with these works ends up best when it all dries together.” The larger pieces normally take him a full day to create.

“I love the Island so much and take a lot, if not most, of my inspiration from it,” he says of his overall body of work. “When I’m here painting in L.A. I dream of the Island all day and when I can get back.”

May’s work can be seen at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury and online at An opening reception at the Field Gallery will be held on Sunday, June 30.