Rick Hamilton has lived in Maine for most of his life, but it wasn’t until recently that pine trees and fishing boats began to appear in his paintings. Distinguished by elongated figures and objects inspired by the early twentieth century artist Amedeo Modigliani, Hamilton’s bright and breezy pieces previously featured palm trees and tropical scenes. “I’ve traveled a lot through the Caribbean, and I love the music and the culture and the colors—I felt really alive down there,” Hamilton says. “I’ve always loved the Maine coast and I see the ocean every day—but for some reason I just wasn’t ready to paint it.”
 

In one way or another, the pandemic has changed all of us, and for the artists I’ve chatted with for this series, evolution of subject matter or style is a common theme. For the first time in his 20-plus-year career, Hamilton began painting groups of orange overall-clad lobstermen, and his newer cityscapes include whimsically imagined local icons, such as the Portland Observatory and Portland Head Light. “My paintings have gotten lighter and happier over the past two years,” he says. While Hamilton paints primarily in acrylic, many of his newest works are labeled mixed media. “I hesitated at first, but now it’s really freeing for me. I can do what I want—I can collage, I can spray paint—there are no rules.”
 

What hasn’t changed is his process, which is different with every piece. “Let’s say I want to do a painting of lobstermen: I’ll take the white canvas and completely draw out the image before I add any paint,” Hamilton says. “Other times I will make it an abstract piece with different colors around just to get a sense of where I want the colors to be.” As an example, he shows me a canvas with sketches of small buildings and swaths of bright blue, black and orange-y red—the beginnings of a coastal fishing village scene. Or not. “This could turn out to be a cow, or a lobsterman, or what it is—there’s no telling.”
 

Hamilton’s story of his introduction to art is as candid and charming as the artist and his work. In 1999, he was living in an apartment on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. The family below him had a little girl who was about 10 years old. “She was out on the Prom, on the lawn, painting. I had no interest in or knowledge about art; I had traveled the world in the Navy, but it just wasn’t on my radar,” Hamilton says. “That day she said, ‘I’m painting, do you want to try it?’ I did, and I said, ‘this is really fun.’” A few days later Hamilton bought home his first paint set. “I remember the record I was listening to, I had a cold beer, and I thought, ‘I don’t know what’s going to come of this, but this feels really good to me.’ Ever since that moment, art has been a huge part of my life.”