Living by design
Stuart artist combines inherited talent with love of boats
BY DONNA CRARY
It must have been in his genes. Kevin Hutchinson, a renowned Stuart artist, was born into the first family of Treasure Coast artists. His father, James Hutchinson, who recently died, was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, in part for his unforgettable paintings of Seminole Indians. His uncle was Beanie Backus, the famous landscape artist whose museum is a popular attraction in Fort Pierce. Hutchinson’s mother, Joan, was a portrait artist, too.
“I was surrounded by the art world from the very beginning and it was a major influence on me,” Hutchinson says. “My dad wanted me to be an artist right away. I was painting from 3 or 4 years old — as soon as I could hold a brush. The first thing I did was paint ships. I loved painting ships. So, it was almost like I was destined to be a painter and a boat designer.”
While growing up, Hutchinson’s exposure to art included monthly visits to Fort Pierce when he and his family visited Backus. It was Backus who painted iconic scenes that captured South Florida’s subtropical beauty, and his paintings have become a favorite with art collectors. His uncle loved to entertain, he recalls, and the doors were usually wide open so visitors could walk in off the street.
“It was almost like it was a running party there all the time,” Hutchinson says as he remembers those days. “There would be about 12 people I’d never seen before. They’d be eating and drinking.”
Backus had an art studio in his home. Hutchinson remembers him training students, including a group of African American artists who later became known as the Highwaymen. He says he didn’t realize at the time that they were traveling along Florida roads selling their paintings out of cars.
“Beanie was kind of amazing in that he was so open,” he reflects.
It was also during Hutchinson’s childhood when he developed a passion for sailing that sparked an interest in boat design. As a young boy, his father gave him the illustrated book Ships and the Sea.
The book inspired him to create early portrayals of stately Old-World ships from the Golden Age of Sail.
“I ate this book up, back and forth,” he says. “It goes through naval history, and I love that.”
A nature lover, Hutchinson also explored the local waterways while growing up in Stuart. At 9, he learned to sail and as a teenager spent countless hours cruising the waters on
a Hobie Cat.
“That was like heaven,” he says. “It was like having a car because I could drive it and go everywhere with it pretty fast. I knew every nook and cranny of the river.”
After graduating from Martin County High School, Hutchinson received an associate degree in art from Brevard College in North Carolina. He earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic art design from the University of Hawaii. He then spent a year in Hawaii working as a deckhand on a cruise ship, which he says was probably the most fun job that he had.
However, Hutchinson’s mind was set on a career designing boats. So, he moved to the New England coast and attended the Maine Maritime Academy, where he studied and received a degree in yacht design.
He returned to Stuart and put his boat designing skills to use. He was employed by various boat builders in the area working on interior layouts, exterior styling, cabinetry and construction drawings.
It wasn’t until years later, after Hutchinson graduated from college, that he began to seriously rediscover his talent for painting. He looked to his father and Uncle Beanie as sources for his inspiration.
“I thought, ‘Well, these guys are good — how do I get to that level?’” he says. “I basically learned by breaking reverse engineering. I can look at something and figure out how it’s done.”
After Backus died, Hutchinson says he closely studied the old master’s paintings from books and made thousands of pilgrimages to the Backus Museum in Fort Pierce.
“I was so stupid,” he recalls. “Beanie wanted to train me. When I was a teenager, I was tired of the art scene. I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer like everybody else and make money.”
Yet, Hutchinson came into his own as a professional artist in the 1990s when he was encouraged to pursue painting as a career. Within two years, his commission work took off. In 2003, he opened his own gallery in downtown Stuart.
The artist usually paints with oils and he describes most of his art as romantic realism. He enjoys painting landscapes, pirates, historical themes and a Florida retro style, which is influenced by vintage postcards from the 1950s and 1960s. He even created the artwork for the Sailfish Capital of the World banner that is displayed on lampposts in downtown Stuart.
More recently, he has delved into a new style that he calls Jungle Fantasy — inspired by Haitian art and the jungle paintings of French artist Henri Rousseau. Hutchinson says this abstract style that emphasizes color and shape depicts the danger and mystery that lurk in the tropical rainforests of South America. His varied collection of paintings has been exhibited in private galleries throughout South Florida.
RETURNING TO DESIGN
After several years, Hutchinson closed his art gallery in 2008. He began working for Jim Smith Tournament Boats where he designed large custom sportfishing vessels. These high-end boats were specially tailored to meet customers’ needs.
“Each boat was unique in some way,” he says. “We’d get people who wanted to create a room for just stereo equipment or for fishing tackle. They would give up accommodations for a room they could walk in and play with hooks, fishing hulls and things like that.”
Hutchinson works for Palm Beach Towers, a subsidiary of Viking Yacht, where he designs tuna towers for sport fishing boats. This summer, he plans to build an 18-foot Polynesian-style outrigger canoe for himself, so he can go sailing on the weekends.
“It will be more of a work of art,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I like building boats — they are sort of my sculpture.”
Being the natural-born artist that he is, another painting is always in the making. Hutchinson is preparing to create a painting in his latest jungle-fantasy style depicting an indigenous tribe living in the lush tropical rainforest. Whether it’s designing a boat or painting a captivating composition, Hutchinson creates beautiful works of art.