Before the dawn spills out over Nantucket, master painter Sergio Roffo has already assembled his easel, mounted his canvas and prepared his paints. He watches as the soft morning light ignites blades of sea grass and turns the sand into gold. His first strokes come from a pencil, a quick graphite sketch to establish composition and to lay in dynamic shadows that will soon disappear in the rising sun. And with that, the race is on to finish the painting. “Every three or four hours the sun shifts and it’s a whole new painting,” Roffo says. “That’s why I try to really work fast before the light shifts.”

Sergio Roffo is a plein air purist, beginning and finishing every one of his landscape paintings entirely in the field. While it takes him about four hours from start to finish, when you ask Roffo how long a specific work took to paint, he will say “thirty years.” The skills of painters like Roffo do not evolve overnight–they take decades to perfect.

Interestingly enough, Roffo’s artistic calling came not from within a studio, but from an office in corporate America. After graduating from Vesper George School of Art in Boston, he worked as an audiovisual designer for Fidelity Investments. A cushy job complete with benefits and an office overlooking Boston Harbor, Roffo thought he had it made. But within months, the view from the 38th floor on Devonshire Street started losing its luster. Every day during lunch, Roffo would watch a plein air painter in Copley Square and dream of having that same artistic freedom. “So one day I went back to the office and wrote a letter of resignation,” he says. “And that was it man, I was on my own: no health insurance, broke, painting Boston Harbor islands.”

Roffo began working in watercolors. He set up an easel on the banks of Boston Harbor every day with a sign advertising $200 per painting. Thus began his years of paying dues. He joined artists’ associations, trained under master painters like Robert Douglas Hunter, entered competitions, learned other mediums, and painted, painted, painted. The tipping point finally came when he moved his family to the South Shore of Massachusetts. There, Roffo met his muse. “I love to paint the serenity and peacefulness of coastal scenes,” he says. “Something about the ocean and the water made me a marine painter. And I have a deep passion for that.”

Roffo also has a deep passion for Nantucket. For thirty years, he has migrated from the mainland to set up his easel every summer. He searches out Nantucket’s hidden gems, capturing the essence of this place with his trademark palette and brushstroke. On the third week of August, Roffo has a solo show at Quidley Gallery that regularly sells out. In the meantime, you can catch Sergio Roffo in the predawn hours around the island setting up his easel and preparing to capture Nantucket under the shifting sun. “Every day here is a gem,” says Roffo. “Painting allows me to freeze time for others to enjoy.”

Written By
More from Robert Cocuzzo


There is an old English proverb, “What is bred in the bone...
Read More