Galleries : Once Upon A Time On The Island
After a winter off, West Tisbury's Ken Vincent is once again training his painterly eye on the Island's nooks and crannies. He returned to painting full-time a couple of months ago, and expects to spend the summer working on his powerfully iconic landscapes. The results will go on exhibit at the Granary Gallery July 20 for two weeks in a group show with Heather Neill and David Wallis.
"I took a little break from painting," Mr. Vincent says - not to imply he was creatively inactive. The Island-grown artist worked during the off-season on illustrations for three separate children's books that will arrive in bookstores in 2009.
"It's good to get back to the freedom of painting," he says, after the constrictions involved in book illustration. Illustrating children's books is a regular winter occupation for Mr. Vincent, who already has seven to his credit.
"It's what I was trained for," Mr. Vincent says. He majored in illustration at Providence's Rhode Island School for Design, graduating in 1999, and his career as an illustrator has slowly become established. He now has an agent, and the book projects keep coming.
Mr. Vincent's association with the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury happened serendipitously. He was driving past the gallery in 2002 and stopped in on impulse.
"Everything they tell you not to do, I did," he says. The gallery staff was getting ready for the summer season, and Mr. Vincent asked them how a native such as himself, trained at RISD, should go about showing some of his paintings.
Granary owner Chris Morse remembers being struck by Mr. Vincent's "creative confidence." He continues, "He takes guarded risks and has a unique geometric approach in translating landscapes. His style is clearly recognizable."
On first meeting, Mr. Morse encouraged Mr. Vincent to bring in his work, so he rushed home and grabbed every oil painting in his portfolio. Mr. Morse, who also owns and operates Field and North Water galleries, selected a still life and placed it in the Field Gallery. He urged the young painter to do more - even though nothing sold.
The next year, Mr. Vincent asked watercolor painter David Wallis, a staff member at North Water Gallery in Edgartown, what he should do to succeed as a painter. "You're an Islander, " Mr. Wallis responded. "Paint Martha's Vineyard."
After some attempts to emulate successful Island landscape painter, Allen Whiting, Mr. Vincent went to Cedar Tree Neck and started experimenting with linear and geometric ideas.
Filling the role of patron, Mr. Morse liked the results well enough to write Mr. Vincent a check for $500, requesting he go home and paint five more landscapes in the next five days. The money enabled the artist to quit his day job as a janitor. All of his landscapes sold in the first week or two. A year later, in 2003, Mr. Morse gave him his first show.
Photos by Susan Safford
"Ken Vincent is one of the artists who our entire gallery family is most enthused about. There is an excitement about his growth and success, and it can be measured by the people's response to his work."
"It wouldn't have happened that way anywhere but on Martha's Vineyard at the Granary," Mr. Vincent says.
Last year brought more breakthroughs for Mr. Vincent. He and his wife Cathleen, an acupuncturist who works for Integrated Health Care in Vineyard Haven, lived in Boston while Cathleen was training. After returning to the Island, they began building a house on family land in West Tisbury and started a family. The Vincents' son, Brody, the 11th generation of Vineyard Vincents, celebrated his first birthday in March.
Living off-Island and becoming a father changed Mr. Vincent. "I started seeing the Island with new eyes, and I feel like I'm a lot more motivated now," he says, adding that he now relies more on his intuition, instead of over-intellectualizing. "A lot of people search out the postcard. I'm looking for what's not a postcard."
He has been compared to West Tisbury painter, Rez Williams, who depicts bold and dramatic images of fishing boats, with an emphasis on planes of color.
"I like the line he uses a lot, but I want my stuff to feel like my own," Mr. Vincent explains. "But it's not necessary to consciously move away from an influence. I accept it. If you think about it too much, you'll just do it more."
He likes the sculptural feel of another Vineyard painter, Thomas Hart Benton. "Because I'm looking at planes, sculptural composition is so important to me - putting the pieces together, and moving the eye," he says. "If I didn't have strong, almost sculptural compositions with heavy objects to balance the planes, you'd move through the painting too fast."
This season Mr. Vincent finds himself spending more time painting in Edgartown. The public can expect to see animals in his new work, including ducks, sheep and cows. He is using a more naturalistic palette, and a different range of colors.
"I've always wanted to do art, and landscape painting was just something really easy for me to do," he says. "It fits me like a glove." He expects to have 10 new paintings - three are already finished - ready for the Granary's show, which opens on July 20 and runs through August 2.
Brook Robards is a regular contributor to the times, writing art and film reviews.