There is something about colors, textures, shapes and patterns that appeals to Jay Petrow, whether they are dancing before him on a canvas or growing from the soil in a garden.
Petrow is an award-winning Westport artist who uses paint and plants to create works of art, some that are confined to an area as small as a 2-by-2-foot canvas and some that cover acres of a residential property.
The former art director, senior art director and international art director for Business Week magazine, and layout designer for Time and Sports Illustrated magazines, now is the owner and chief landscape designer of PetrowGardens Landscape Design in Westport.
While it would be a challenge to curate a show of his living art -- he has designed the landscaping for properties throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties and the Hamptons on Long Island, the public is invited to view his work on display in his first solo art exhibit, "Painted Abstractions," at the Westport Library through Sept. 26.
"I love the colors. They're my kind of colors. The Impressionism is just thrilling. They're upbeat," is the way Joan Beer of Westport described Petrow's paintings as she walked through the Great Hall while members of the library's art-hanging committee recently were installing the exhibit.
Ellen Naftalin, a member of the committee, said the Great Hall lends itself to work like Petrow's because it is a large space that allows the viewers to step back and take in the paintings as they should be.
A reception is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, July 11. The exhibit includes 17 Petrow paintings, which he said are unlike his early work. He used to paint representational portraits, landscapes and still lifes, but two years ago began experimenting with abstracts.
"I was tired of the constraints of trying to represent reality and wanted the freedom to express myself with color and brush strokes and see where that led me," said Petrow, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in studio art (painting) and biology at Middlebury College in Vermont.
He thought he would return to painting in retirement but realized life is too short to put off anything when his wife Nancy's sister died. She was only 54. "Better do it while you can," he said.
He also always had an interest in landscaping and visualized colors and textures in living plants. "When you look at nature there are so many details in the landscape. As a landscape designer I've got to be inspired by that but abstract it to its core essence," Petrow said, explaining that his representational landscape design work is not really all that far removed from his abstract art on canvas.
Looking for a career change in the summer of 2006, Petrow studied landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden. The following May he established his landscape design company.
"Landscape designing combines so many of my talents, skills and interests," he said. "When I design a garden I think about massed plants of one kind to create an area of a certain color and texture. I'm piecing together in my mind a composition. When you stare at a blank space you have to imagine where it can go. It's a journey, an exploration," he said.
"I use a similar process in painting as well as in landscape design," said Petrow, who does not just design the gardens. He does the planting, too. "I need to see all the plants in place and move them around." He did the same at the library, moving his paintings around to find the optimal spot to display each one in relation to the other.
"When you're in a space or a garden, it's very different than on paper," Petrow said.
"As I'm painting I'm constantly flipping the painting around so the composition and colors work from many vantage points," he said. "I'll stare at a painting for a while and let it talk to me."
In the full, creative process he works fast and says he's not thinking. He's just doing. "When I'm in the process of painting I throw it on the canvas, I drip it on, I brush it on, I use my fingers to create texture, I use a palette knife. And I'm exploring new tools to use," Petrow said.
To see Petrow's paintings, visit www.jaypetrowfineart.com.
To view his landscape work, visit www.petrowgardens.com.
To view his graphic design and art direction work, visit www.jpetrowdesign.com