Ken Vincent: A brush with color and form

Artist Ken Vincent stands in front of a display of his paintings at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.. — File photo by Susan Safford

Last Friday, in the courtyard of the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury, accomplished artist Kenneth Vincent conducted a painting demonstration, a prime example of the quiet moments in the Vineyard’s summer season that are intellectually stimulating and esthetically rewarding.

Every aspect of the morning session was filled with pleasantries, making the two hours breeze by quickly.

People arrived at 10:30 am, sat on garden chairs, surrounded by the gallery’s art, and watched as the popular Island painter replicated a plein-air painting he made while at Lamberts Cove. The finished painting was displayed on an easel, so people could appreciate the different steps to achieving it.

As he worked, Mr. Vincent answered questions and described his painting process: “I will tell you, once you figure out something that works, everything gets a lot easier.”

His ability to make flat brushstrokes produce three-dimensional forms evoked little struggle; the artist’s delivery was void of the anxiety and restlessness that often characterizes many artists’ methodologies. Rather, his calm and direct mannerisms were reminiscent of an “old pro” with an established style and comfortable habits.

One might be surprised to know the artist only began painting landscapes under the mentorship of Granary Gallery owner Chris Morse. Mr. Vincent approached him in 2002 after starting as a still life painter. The artist admits he embarked on landscape paintings less than a decade ago in order to survive professionally as an artist on the Vineyard. But his unique style, on the contrary, speaks to a natural eye and shows no sign of immaturity, naiveté, or compromise.

“My first landscape painting was a complete rip-off of Allen Whiting,” Mr. Vincent said bluntly, noting his admiration for the well-established landscape painter. “I found my own voice when I began throwing geometric shapes into the painting,” he explains.

The concentration on form was something the artist explored in his undergraduate work at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in illustration. He returned to the Island after graduating, and began a career freelancing as a children’s book illustrator, which he continues today.

“My needs that are satisfied from illustrating are more cerebral and have to do with identifying with a character,” he said. “Painting alternatively allows me to put my own emotions out there and allow people to recognize how I’m feeling.”

Mr. Vincent’s geometric style is expressed in the infrastructure of barns, tractors, and other agrarian emblems that have characterized his work since 2004, when the artist was first featured at the Granary and sold all of his paintings in the first week.

The Vineyard’s farmland is a subject that he revisits often. It is not difficult for an artist whose familial roots on the Island date back to the 1650s to infuse his Vineyard landscapes with a personal touch and an abundance of meaning. Mr. Vincent’s father and grandfather worked on farms, and his family has a long professional history on both the Island’s lands and its seas.

“I’m drawn to the subject matter because of its rich culture,” Mr. Vincent said, adding, “People tend to idealize things,” and cited the romanticism of fishing as one example, “but there are so many grim realities of many of these professions.”

In his paintings he tries to capture the nuances embedded in the human range of emotions: “A painting may have many subtexts that exist beyond the typical ‘Here is a sheep and a sunset.'”

These emotions are revealed in the artist’s rich palette. Although the images in his landscapes are realistic, he demonstrated how his application of bright and disjointed colors intensify the image.

The completed piece boasts beige sand and realistic shades of green surrounding a shoreline sandwiched by a blue sky and sea. However realistic, the colors are only achieved after blending a host of yellow, orange, and red hues. In studies, this gives his images a fresh feel.

Mr. Vincent described his method of creating transitions in his colors. “All of the colors I use are in nature anyways. I’m observing what’s there but also abstracting to make people look at it more.”

He said, “I am passionate about the moment, and how things are constantly changing. I like to choose subjects that are personal, and to notice things that people might overlook, a character hidden from just off the road.”

He continued, “A lot of what I paint typically becomes automatic as it harkens back to muscle-memory. When people ask why I just did something, it makes me ask the same thing of myself. I begin to open my eyes and second-guess my actions in a way that has a great benefit for me and hopefully those in attendance.”