Tracy Thorpe is not only an artist, but also the program coordinator at the Chilmark Public Library, who created an inspiring upcoming exhibit there called “Up-Island Women.” His own watercolors of rural vineyard landscapes capture the essence of the scene, be it Keith or Morning Glory Farm, Beetlebung Corner or the like.
“I’ve always found still-life inspiration at farmstands,” she says “Recently, I started visually chronicling the farms I’m working on in this small farm series.”
In some areas, Thorpe uses watercolor washes, which allow the underlying white of the paper to shine through the pigment while in other areas he uses a thicker, more opaque application of paint. Although realistic, they are descriptive rather than photographic. “They’re not meant to be precious or sophisticated,” Thorpe says. “They’re an attempt to capture island farms as experiences rather than just purveyors of food.”
Artist Marianne Neal renders still lifes of flowers in pen and watercolor on gray paper, enjoying how the material deepens the colors in the impressions of life around her. Sometimes he focuses on just a few flowers and at others he presents the scene as he works on the table. “My friends sometimes call these ‘domestica’ or ‘the blue chair paintings,’ since I include the blue chair at the table where I work with snacks, art supplies and coffee cups,” Neal says. His art is detailed, and yet the loose rendering of the images feels particularly welcoming.
Maureen William’s colour-drenched, oil-panel paintings offer a different take on the island scene about her. With visible brushstrokes he creates vast, sweeping scenes dominated by a glorious sky, beckoning us to the landscape. “My painting process begins with seeing something in nature that moves me emotionally and deeply,” says Williams. “Then I began a process, studying from life, the colors and textures that combined my emotional and visual responses, to create a coherent and meaningful statement of what I found to be emotional. I hope that my painting draws attention to the subject in a new way so that viewers can also appreciate what I find enticing enough to study, explore and present.”
It is only recently that Heather Sommers has turned to painting after closing her ceramic sculpture studio of 40 years. Now working on a technique where you mix oil paint with viscous cold wax, he creates real texture by scratching, pulling, scrubbing, pulling or adding more pigment to the surface of the piece. Whether in landscapes or family portraits, Sommers draws his attention to the world around him.
He is excited about this new direction, saying, “When I was working with clay, it had a life of its own and I had to be very sensitive to its shrinkage during drying. With paint, I can do it for a while and leave it at that, and then come back and add more or take something off. I like the opportunity to revisit what I’m doing and change my mind.” In contrast, “Once a sculpture is fired, the construction is done. If you’re applying glazes, that’s determined by what happens in the kiln. I start the firing process. It’s out of my hands if it does. On the other hand, my paintings may not have a clear end point.”
Julie Jaffe focuses not on the vineyard but on the war in Ukraine, drawing inspiration from what she sees in print and TV films and what she learns through print journalism. Each time Jaffe begins at the top of his paper with the number of days of the war, which has now lasted more than 200 days, followed by a few sentences describing the atrocities of that day. Only then did he add a watercolor illustration.
Some images are challenging, including identifying exhumed bodies. For example, one section is titled “We’ll Know Him by His DNA.” It reads: “Voluntarily. caught handcuffed tortured Perfect. distorted Buried anonymously. has been lifted. Identity by DNA. Released to wife. Buried with honor.” “I just can’t imagine the pain,” says Jaffe. So I’m showing you this, in reality.” For another segment, he explained, “I admire the courage and resilience of Ukrainians. President Zelinsky recently sent a defiant tweet to Putin. (A tweet! Who tweets when missiles fall?) I used that bold tweet with a picture of the man whose face has become familiar to us to point out Ukraine’s defiance. I admire the way the perceived sweetness and innocence of watercolor contrasts with the unbearable events of unspeakable brutality that confront us.”
Hilary Noyes-Keen’s photographs leave the recognized world and instead come so close that they capture an abstraction in our ordinary landscapes. “I’m interested in how lines, textures, light, and patterns come together,” Noyes-Keene says. On her website, Noyes-Keene writes, “For me, art is about slowing down, taking what’s around me and rearranging it. I like to see the dance between elements sometimes otherwise easily missed… and through its visual and emotional connections. There is a tendency to see the world.”
Thorpe spoke about what inspired her to curate the exhibition: “I know a lot of Island women who are talented and should be seen. After the summer people leave, it’s nice to claim the little library space as our own and host a community-building event. I hope that people will accept the idea that there is a well stream here; That Chilmark is not such a sleepy little town.”
“Up-Island Women” runs October 29 through November 30 at the Chilmark Library There is an opening reception on Saturday, November 5, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.