STONINGTON — The Jill Hoy Gallery on Main Street is humming with conversation.
The artist, Jill Hoy, helpfully processes a sale while her assistant attends to others mesmerized by the color-infused paintings on the walls.
Hoy’s work is sure-footed, yet free; reflects years of knowledge and skill, yet is fresh and inviting.
The artist tells a visitor that the paintings seen as a group are almost overwhelming in their rich and deft palette.
“You have to have just one on a wall and then live with it for a while,” Hoy said. “There is an inner reservoir in those paintings that is implicit if you live with them.”
She has intimate knowledge of depth and resolve. Hoy watched her husband, noted artist Jon Imber, struggle to paint while Lou Gehrig’s disease consumed his body.
Imber died in April 2014 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) but worked through it, aided by assistants who helped him stand before the easel, painting portrait after portrait.
He completed about 200 portraits before he died, most with his left hand when his right hand failed.
“I feel him on my shoulder,” Hoy said. “I still talk to him. I hear what he might have said. I carry his presence with me.”
She said she brought color and light into his art and he taught her “the fearlessness of gesture.”
This is Hoy’s second summer in Stonington without her husband and the first without her son, Gabe, a student at Bates College.
Worried she might be lonely, Gabe helped arrange for a friend to work nearby and live with her. A niece also is spending time at Hoy’s home on Thurlow’s Hill Road.
“I’m pretty amazed at how we can hold both grief and happiness,” Hoy said when asked about her life without Imber. “It rambles back and forth.”
“But, I love my life. I’ve always loved my life,” she said.
The two met in Stonington when she was 37. They were married for 23 years.
“The fact is I had it,” she said of their relationship. “We understood what each other was doing. It’s helpful to have something in common we share. For us, it was art and raising our son.”
She said both she and Imber were hitting their stride artistically at the time he was diagnosed with ALS.
Hoy has exhibited in galleries from Los Angeles to Boston, Key West to London and throughout Maine.
Her paintings are in the Portland Museum of Art, Harvard Business School, Boston Public Library, Wellington Management, Fidelity Investments, Art in the Embassies, Blue Cross Blue Shield, as well as in more than 700 private collections.
She studied at the New York Academy of Art and has a fine art degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
“It was going back and forth from the East to the West Coast that I began to really see how different the qualities of light were from place to place,” she said.
Hoy is a native of Middletown, Conn., where her late father taught English at Wesleyan University.
She has been coming to Maine since the mid-1960s when her father bought a sea captain’s home on the King Row in Deer Isle.
Hoy and Imber then bought their own home in Stonington in 1994.
“It was here that I became a painter with an appreciation of Maine land and seascapes, work ethic, architecture and gardens, as well as light, energy, pattern, flow and the documentation of place,” she said.
Hoy and Imber were artistically compatible from the start. Both were figurative, narrative painters, working in the studio in the winter and in plein air in summer and fall.
When working outside, “I’d face the water. He’d face the thickery,” she said.
While she enjoys the solitary nature of her work, Imber liked his family clustered closely around him.
She needed more quiet than he did, but then again, he didn’t like interruptions other than from family.
“I can paint through anything,” she laughed.
Hoy and Imber took turns caring for their son, working close to home to maximize their painting time.
“There was no competition,” she said. “We each were secure in what we were doing. We didn’t need a lot of strokes from each other.”
Hoy said her work has always been about documentation and love of place and time.
She captures what she sees in the moment because it may not be there the following week. Houses, unfortunately, come and go. Landscapes change.
From early on Hoy had the benefit of a tough critic, the late Joann Falbo at Yale.
Her mother recruited Falbo as a mentor for Hoy when art classes were cut at Hoy’s school when she was just a young teenager.
She also benefited from summers surrounded by painters who talked about the light in Deer Isle and Stonington, which Hoy said has a clear, hard edge to it.
Hoy said in her best moments she feels energy coming in and then through her, fleeting moments when one feels completely alive and a part of the whole.
“I feel cleansed by painting,” she said. “There is a lot of air, wind and light in the paintings.”
Hoy said she is fulfilling advice given her many years ago by the late sculptor, printmaker and graphic artist Leonard Baskin, who told she should try to find a way of combining her drawing and painting.
“You are given things by various artistic people in your life and it may take years to come back with the echo,” she said.
Hoy said she is enjoying this time in her life with no one to take care of, no need to stop painting to be home, the sheer freedom of devoting herself to her work.
She said Imber would say he only painted what he was losing, which is why his son is featured frequently in his figurative paintings — the child evolving into an adult.
Her paintings document a moment in time, spontaneous and unpredictable with an underlay of structure, composition and rhythm.
“Painting for me is tapping into the deep channel of the world,” Hoy has said.
She has an essay on her website written by a friend of her son’s when the boy was 13.
He chose Hoy for his character essay, the following of which is a brief excerpt:
“Jill is like Maine, bright colors and powerful oceans, Maine is different, unlike any other place, and so is she.”