Photographs by Jill Gordon and Mary Shustack

You have to make your way through a narrow closet – but it’s worth it to reach what artist Jill Gordon calls her “lair.”

Two skylights shower morning sun over the petite second-floor space of her Westport home, putting the spotlight on her latest work in progress.

And that oversize canvas dominating the studio is a landscape scene.

“I used to be drawn to architectural subjects like porches, houses, archways,” she says. “Now it’s total landscapes.”

Gordon just connects with the outdoor scenes, whether she’s capturing something she experienced on her extensive travels – or something from her imagination.

Her home is filled with her art, mostly unframed works that turn most every room into a gallery of sorts.

A particularly striking painting off the foyer captures a memorable moment in St. Kitts.

“The storm had just passed and this man was sitting on this bench and something just caught me.”

Gordon says she often takes photographs on her travels – her latest trip to bike through Italy with her husband will no doubt provide more inspiration – and then turns them into paintings.

Jill Gordon

Everything she sees influences her work. There are no rules as to what gets in and what’s left out, though she does return to certain elements.

“I always put some humanity in a painting,” Gordon says, pointing to the vague structures seen in the distance of a misty landscape that hangs in her hallway.

“It’s a story anyone can interpret,” she says. “They might think these are lavish homes or little shacks.”

It’s all about the personal connection one feels to art, something Gordon long experienced even though she only began painting after moving to Westport in 1984.

“I always adored art, especially (the) Impressionists’ paintings,” she says. “I would look at paintings and just be brought to tears by how effective they were.”

Gordon did not turn to art as her first career or even her second.

Born in New York City and raised in Greenwich, she went to the University of Arizona for two years before finishing up – studying English and Spanish – at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

From there, she worked as a television producer in a Manhattan ad agency for some 20 years before transitioning to the hospitality industry when she moved to Westport. She was the director of sales and marketing for a boutique hotel for five years before turning to her art fulltime. She was working with noted Westport artists Arlene Skutch and Claudia Mengel and was gratified to find she had a talent for something she long appreciated.

“I just took off,” Gordon says. While she certainly credits her mentors, she says she was learning about art her whole life, by “osmosis.”

Her father was a big art lover and took Gordon to countless museums where she would closely examine paintings and think about the artists.

“I’d look at how they accomplished it, the brush strokes, the paint.”

Early in her work, Gordon said she found her preferred medium – acrylics.

“I don’t have a lot of patience, so if I don’t like it I can paint over it immediately,” she says. And, she adds, “The color spectrum is tremendous.”

She likes nothing more than to whip through a work.

“Painting fast and being effective is my goal, not because I want to save time (but) because it’s more expressive. It’s not belaboring things.”

In addition to commissions – a growing segment of her work – Gordon still exhibits, most recently as part of a group show, “Different Strokes,” at the University of Connecticut in Stamford. The show, which closed in mid-May, featured the works of the Pink House Painters, a society mentored by Skutch since 1970.

A period of figural work was also a part of Gordon’s painting life. Sparked by a newspaper image she saw of women in vibrant dress fleeing their African village, Gordon created works that led her to become a part of the Sudan Canvas Project. The group features art inspired by the region, with proceeds donated to social programs there.

Gordon says her art has taken her to a lot of places, both real and imagined, and when she takes up her brush, she likes to go big.

“I feel comfortable with a bit of a larger painting. It’s just… substantial. I feel I can be free with a larger canvas and that is what I strive for, being loose and free with my brush, creating movement.”

Like the wind swirling through the clouds in one of her landscapes.

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