Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00
1975 Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School graduate David Peikon has made major strides in the art world: not only has he sold over 400 paintings, which hang in private and corporate collections all over the world, but his upcoming show, “15 Years to Life: the Education of a Painter,” will feature his work displayed at the beautiful Old Westbury Gardens on the weekend of Sept. 17 and 18. Not too shabby for a painter who never went to art school.
Peikon, who grew up in Plainview right behind the Morton Village Shopping Center, credits high school art teacher Philip Greenberg with giving him the strong artistic foundation that laid way for his career, decades later, as a self-taught artist. He knew he wanted to be an artist from the age of 14, after seeing a gallery show featuring the work of famed landscape artist Neil Welliver. However, his parents weren’t terribly keen on the long-term prospects of painting as a career.
“They were both Depression-era people, and were worried about me starving to death,” said Peikon with a laugh. So Peikon graduated from the SUNY system with a degree in political science instead, and eventually migrated toward working in sales. However, despite the fact that he could never quite get a career as an illustrator off the ground in his 20s, Peikon never gave up on his childhood dream. He even purchased and displayed a signed letter from his favorite painter, John Singer Sargent, in his office for inspiration.
In 1996, at the age of 38, he risked leaving his position as vice president of sales at a printing company to pursue his art full-time.
“You know, in retrospect, it kind of worked out better, because the skills that I built in marketing and sales…I think gave me a huge advantage over artists who went to art school and didn’t know anything about marketing themselves,” said the artist, who went on to say that his business contacts helped him launch his art career much faster than he would have otherwise.
Peikon started his career with acrylic painting, going on to author an article on acrylic technique for American Artist magazine. However, as he became more familiar with the world of art galleries, he realized something interesting: the big galleries, by and large, preferred oil paint. With that realization, Peikon switched his medium to oils in 2004.
All this time, as Peikon garnered recognition in the art world, particularly for his landscape paintings, he still had virtually no formal art training. However, eventually it became apparent that if he wanted to see his work hang in some of the major galleries, he would need to take his skills to the next level. In 2005, he spent a month studying under Nelson Shanks in Philadelphia, whom Peikon considers to be the world’s best living portrait painter. Impressed with Shanks mentorship, Peikon seriously considered moving to Philadelphia, but there was his family to consider.
Rather than uprooting his family from their Bethpage home, he looked for experienced painters located a little closer to home, eventually coming to study under classically trained painter Robert Armetta at the Long Island Academy for the Arts (LIAFA) in 2007.
While Peikon takes pride in being self-taught— speaking fondly of spending thousands of hours in front of the canvas, and figuring things out by trial and error— he is quick to credit Armetta with giving him the tools to take his painting to the next level. “He was able to give me that extra knowledge much faster than I could have gotten it myself,” said Peikon of Armetta.
Now, the student has become the teacher; Peikon has become an instructor at LIAFA along with his mentor. The painter says that he’s an advocate of LIAFA and other local art academies, which give up-and-coming artists the chance to experience something akin to the apprentice program from centuries ago. “When I was a kid, there weren’t these academies- now, there are quite a few of them around,” said Peikon.
Currently, Peikon paints mostly landscape and portraits. However, his upcoming show at the Old Westbury Gardens will include the full breadth of his work, including still lifes and figurative paintings. For him, the show represents a rare opportunity to show the full range of his skills, as opposed to gallery shows, which tend to encourage artists to stick to one niche. To Peikon, tackling different genres makes for an all-around better artist. “A skilled painter should be able to paint everything,” he said.
Furthermore, having versatility allows an artist the option to offer different kinds of paintings to the same clients- and as Peikon learned in his previous career in sales, it’s easier to sell to an existing customer. Many of Peikon’s clients own a dozen or more of his paintings.
Thirty percent of all sales from the show will be donated to Old Westbury Gardens, something typical of the artist- in years past, he had donated limited edition prints to raise money for Planting Fields Arboretum. In total, Peikon says he’s given almost half a million dollars to charity over the course of his 15-year career in painting, something that helped keep him on track during the more difficult times in his career. Knowing that he was using his art to do good, whether he was financially successful or not, was a huge motivator.
Naturally, many of the paintings on display will be landscapes painted on Long Island- and some will depict the site of the Gardens themselves, one of Peikon’s favorite places to paint. “To be able to substantially donate to them- the place that has provided me so much inspiration- that was my primary motivator in proposing it to John [Norbeck],” said Peikon, referring to the president of the Old Westbury Gardens.
Moving forward, Peikon says he wants to experiment with sculpting, and to continue to hone his skills in painting until he can hopefully reach a higher level of mastery- where he ranks painters like Shanks. However, having the opportunity to display his work like this represents a major milestone. “The venue is amazing; I mean, you couldn’t get a better venue other than being in a major museum, because it is such a spectacular place,” said Peikon of the Gardens.
Furthermore, he gets to be one step closer to his hero as a painter, both literally and figuratively. One of John Singer Sargent’s paintings, Mrs. Henry Phipps and Her Grandson Winston, hangs in the dining room of Old Westbury Gardens, not far from where Peikon’s work will be displayed.
“To hang 50 feet away from one of John Sargent’s major paintings is a thrill beyond belief for me,” said the artist.
The opening reception for the show will be held Friday night, Sept. 16, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; advanced registration is required. The cost is $100 per person, or $90 if purchased by Sept. 12. The exhibit will be open to the public on Sept. 17 and 18 from 11 to 4 p.m. Admission to Old Westbury Gardens, located at 71 Old Westbury Road in Old Westbury, is $10 general admission, $8 for seniors, $5 for ages 7-17, and free for children 6 and under. For more information, visit www.oldwestburygardens.org.