She thinks in words, he in pictures. And yet they finish one another’s thoughts and nod in agreement when they speak. Idealistic, yet pragmatic, they are 29 years of age, living the artists’ life in Brooklyn, where they each create their own form of expression. Helen Phillips has just debuted her first collection of linked short stories, “And Yet They Were Happy,” published by Leapfrog Press, while her husband, Adam Thompson, has captured bragging rights as the artist with the longest tenure — 12 years — at Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery in Oak Bluffs.
This Friday, from 5-7pm, both will be on hand at the Dragonfly Gallery to share their recent work. Ms. Phillips will read from her unique collection of stories, and Mr. Thompson will discuss drawings from his book, #1359 — #1458, published by Regency Arts Press Ltd. last year. This event, one of several author readings and artist appearances hosted by the gallery this season, offers other writers, artists and patrons an opportunity to meet and to gain insight into an emerging generation of creative professionals whose work has been inspired, in part, by their Vineyard experience.
Mr. Thompson grew up spending summers at his family home in the historic Oak Bluffs Camp Meeting Association campground community surrounding the Tabernacle. Although currently he and Ms. Phillips are limited in the time they can spend on the Island, they both credit the Vineyard with inspiring their shared aesthetic. They married, in fact, in a Tabernacle wedding and hosted their reception at Lola’s restaurant on Beach Road in Oak Bluffs, after Ms. Phillips grew attached to the Island through her husband’s long-time connection.
They credit one another for adhering to their goals as artists.
“When I was working on a more conventionally structured novel, I lost my enthusiasm for the project,” Ms. Phillips explains. “Adam had experienced a similar problem with his paintings, and he turned to simpler pencil line drawings to get unstuck. He suggested I try something like that and he was right.”
“And Yet They Were Happy” emerged from her less daunting new goal of writing one 340-word short story each day that could be linked to others to create a cohesive whole.
Called “brashly experimental,” by Elle magazine and “cunning” and “imaginative” by Publishers Weekly, the book displays Ms. Phillips’ deceptively uncluttered prose in approximately 150 “short-shorts” that combine myth, autobiography, humor, history, religion, pop culture, contemporary life, and fantasy to trace the path of a young couple setting out to build a life together. Each page offers a quirky step of the journey, from chapters entitled “the far-flung families,” and “we?” to “the floods” and “the apocalypses.” With her extraordinary daring, Ms. Phillips has found an audience among readers with a taste for the unconventional who embrace newer forms of hybrid genres.
Mr. Thompson began showing his work after being discovered by former Dragonfly Gallery owner Holly Alaimo when he was 17 and showing at the Tabernacle’s All-Island Art Show. Her confidence in his work and the influence of other Island artists, he says, encouraged him to persevere.
“I saw work by Rez Williams and Allen Whiting and wandered around Waban Park and the Tabernacle at night,” he explains. “Summer is a heady, artistic time of the year here, and it strongly affected me.”
In addition to his new paintings at Dragonfly that focus on, as he puts it, “vehicles as avatars of human presence in the landscape,” Mr. Thompson is also experimenting with other mediums such as animation. Summer collectors of his work, however, will delight in his boldly graphic depictions of such vehicles as automobiles, Airstream trailers, and boxcars. His more urban landscapes are represented by Michael Hunter’s PIKNIK Art & Apparel just a few doors down from Dragonfly Gallery in the Oaks Bluffs Arts District on Dukes County Avenue.
On Friday evening, Mr. Thompson will discuss his book of 150 humorous, “New Yorker-ish” minimalist drawings he selected at random from his ongoing project, “The Drawing Archive.” He, in turn, credits his wife for her unflagging work ethic and its effect on his own productivity.
“She’s a huge inspiration,” he says. “Her tenacity, her creativity, her demonstration that it’s art is more about labor than flashes of insight.”