Expression through abstraction: Local artist’s work on display at Hampton Town Hall

At 72 years old, Tim Gilbert’s life has been one full of family, work and responsibility. But after retiring from his 40-year day job of advertising design, Gilbert finally has the time to invest in the passion that’s inspired his entire life: painting.

Gilbert can often be found at his studio at the Art Center in Dover, where for the past two years since his retirement he’s been hard at work honing the craft he loves. Although Gilbert still helps run Sweet Hannah’s on Hampton Beach with his daughter and son-in-law, which takes up much of his time in the summer, he is mainly able to paint full-time. This focus has awarded him newfound recognition in the world of art, beginning with his exhibit at the Hampton Town Hall.

Gilbert is the July Artist of the Month at the Hampton Town Hall as announced by the Hampton Arts Network, with an exhibit featuring three of Gilbert’s paintings on display.
“For me, Tim’s paintings are visually interesting,” said Julie Martinelli, the secretary of the board of directors for the Hampton Arts Network. “Being abstract, his paintings allow the observer to use imagination and have a unique experience.”

Gilbert’s artwork falls within the bounds of abstract expressionism, an art movement that began in the 1940s and put America on the map as one of the new-school leaders of art. He finds abstract expressionism to be a truly moving experience for both the creator and the viewer.

“It’s exactly that: an expression through abstraction,” Gilbert said. “It’s shapes and sizes and relationships and color and motion and balance and unbalance. But it’s to create a sensation, a positive sensation when viewed.

It’s the viewer who determines if it’s positive or not. And the thing is, I like painting that way because it’s a little spiritual in nature.”

Gilbert first showed a proclivity toward art in boyhood. Surrounded by a family of musicians, Gilbert was encouraged to be creative, and took to art as a means of creative expression. He began painting as he grew older, taking art more seriously once he hit high school. Gilbert would go on to attend Syracuse University and study fine arts, and eventually graduate with a B.F.A. in advertising design and a minor in painting. Gilbert was especially inspired by professor Larry Bakke, the head of the painting department at Syracuse.

“Bakke taught us how to put paint on canvas freely but with a little discipline in terms of our subject matter,” he said. “He was a very powerful teacher and mentor for a lot of people.”

Gilbert took a break during his college career when he found the opportunity to travel. Working his way through Europe, he and two friends jaunted through Sweden, Rome, France and other European hotspots for around nine months. During this excursion, Gilbert took advantage of the opportunity to view some world-class art in foreign cities that had much to offer.

“I always spent a lot of time in art museums — the Louvre, of course,” Gilbert said. “I spent two weeks in Paris just because of the Louvre. But I was just traveling, and I was a young guy, I was having a good time, too. … It was a good experience.”

Once Gilbert returned to the States, he started a family while finishing his degree and realized he would have to soon join the workforce to provide for his wife and children. So, despite his love of painting, he pursued advertising design, opting for a career choice that would allow him immediate financial support. Though he still painted throughout his busy adulthood, Gilbert never had the time or the means to take it as seriously as he would’ve liked. That’s all changed since he entered retirement.

“It was difficult, because I didn’t have a studio and it’s tough to work in your cellar and so on and so forth,” Gilbert said. “And I work on a large scale, and I’m messy. … I’ve only been painting seriously the last year and a half, two years; I’ve dedicated myself to get back into painting. You’ve got to paint every day to be serious.”

With the time to dedicate to his craft, Gilbert has been able to tap into what he calls “the groove”: a period of time where an artist is creating stunning pieces that are the result of painting almost every day for months on end.

“Most canvases, you hate them,” he said. “It’s only a few that just pop and make you go, ‘Wow, where’d that come from?’ You’re always pushing a style, another style; it’s an evolution, it really is. You don’t just sit down and say, ‘I’m going to paint something.’ It flows through you.”

Of Gilbert’s three paintings on display at Hampton Town Hall, only one was created while he was in his “groove.” Yet he says the other two are solid canvases and strong examples of his style and artistic zeal.

Gilbert believes the opportunity to display his work is just another chance for exposure and to continue doing the thing that he loves.

“When someone loves one of my pieces, it’s one of the most rewarding things in the world,” he said. “My oldest daughter just admitted on Facebook that she stole three of them when she left the house as an adult. She didn’t steal them, I knew she had them, they’re hers, but she just loves them. That’s what you really appreciate — it’s not money or anything like that.”

Gilbert’s work will be on display at the Hampton Town Hall until Aug. 2 where the public can visit and view the canvases during regular business hours. Visit for more information on Gilbert’s art.

— Caleb Jagoda

*Featured photo: Painting by Tim Gilbert. Courtesy photo.