Artist Wendy Weldon meets new challenges

The painting of Ms. Weldon's dog Mollie tells a story with its layered images. — Photo courtesy of Wendy Weldon

For the rest of this month, those who haven’t yet seen the show Wendy and her Friends at the West Tisbury Library have a chance to discover a different aspect of artist Wendy Weldon’s work.

Ms. Weldon, who shows at the Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven, has gained prominence with her multi-layered, intensely colored, impressionist acrylic paintings of stone walls, rocks, and barns, in which she incorporates metallic leaf for dramatic, shimmering surfaces.

The current show at the library, however, features images of birds and Ms. Weldon’s long-time, well-loved pets. “I’ve been trying to figure out where I want to go from here. I want to pull out emotion and feeling. I’m searching for creative pathos in my work and working with animals brings all that out.”

She says, “I’ve painted animals all my life — usually just for myself. I painted portraits of dogs for a long time. We’re all pet people on the Island. And although it’s a different subject matter than my landscapes, it’s not a different approach.”

Her large, composite painting of Mollie — a lab-mix dog who was more than 15-years old when she began the painting — incorporates a photo of Ms. Weldon in 1995. She admits she spent a lot of time representing Mollie’s eyes.

“I started the painting of Mollie when she was 15, in the last two or three months of her life, and finished it after she died,” she says.

She tells the story of rescuing Mollie when she lived in Sausalito, California and a young boy was outside a grocery, Mollie’s Foods, looking for someone who would take her.

Then there’s her painting of the late Mr. Squeak, a stray cat from Mill Valley, California — “He adopted us there and would not leave” — who she embellished with a halo-like image.

“I have been painting images of birds [there are two exhibited in this show] for over 35 years,” Ms. Weldon says. She refers to her paintings of birds on smaller canvasses as “a relaxing exercise to counterbalance my other work.”

A professional artist for 35 years, Ms. Weldon works in her studio overlooking Squibnocket Pond near her Chilmark home. The studio, a busy system of very organized commotion, is filled with tables with tubes of acrylics, bottles of gesso, bars of encaustics, and brushes that stand in glass jars. Ms. Weldon works on several paintings at a time that hang in stages of completion on a long white wall. Atop a file cabinet she arranged a shrine made of her large collection of found objects and icons from all the places she’s traveled around the world — angels, saints, Mexican tin paintings, Buddhas, crude and ornate crosses, and Retablos — Latin American devotional paintings.

“I’ve been collecting things for years, things that capture my imagination,” Ms. Weldon explains, describing the influence of photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976), who she says captured emotion in his images.

“It’s that emotion along with beauty that I want to capture,” she says. “I’m picking emotionally charged subjects and this new interest challenges me. Religious icons have so much history embedded in them. My new work is drawn from my home in Indiana, my collection of icons, and my trip to Afghanistan.

Referring to herself as “more interpretative than representational,” she says her latest explorations “make me feel I’m growing as an artist.”

Art display, West Tisbury Library, State Road. Hours: Monday 10 am–9 pm; Tuesday through Thursday, 10 am–6 pm; Friday and Saturday, 10 am–5 pm. 508-693-3366.