Island influence on landscape artists
File photo by Ralph Stewart
From rolling farmland and ancient stone walls to dramatic beaches and colorful cliffs, the Vineyard's extraordinary variety of terrain offers inspiration to its resident landscape painters.
The physical and seasonal beauty of the Island, as well as its thriving artistic community, form powerful influences.
Kib Bramhall, regarded as one of the Island's highly respected landscape painters as well as avid fisherman and naturalist, has been painting here since the 1950s. "Light and the character of the Island are what influenced me all these years," he explains. "The landscape, the people, the buildings, the history — they all influence me daily."
Fascinated by water and its relationship to the land, Mr. Bramhall returns again and again to Menemsha and other coastline areas, particularly those with salt ponds. While he's made an occasional foray into more abstract work, this season he has come back to his roots and is showing — as he puts it, "traditional Bramhall stuff" — oil paintings depicting what he treasures most about his full-time home
"I particularly love the winter landscape," he says. While he finds it difficult to paint during the bustle of the summer ("so many distractions of a high caliber, with fishing chief among them"), he returns to his studio "when the people and the fish leave."
Though he says he is not part of the "art scene," Mr. Bramhall cites the late Stan Murphy, Island landscape and portrait painter, as significant both as a friend and mentor. Reminiscing, he says, "There were three galleries and about a dozen artists when I came to the Island in the '50s. At last count, there were 51 businesses calling themselves galleries and an unknown number of artists."
Andrew Moore, realist painter, fisherman, hunter, sailor, and naturalist is one of those who credit Kib Bramhall and Allen Whiting with helping influence his work as an Island artist.
"When I was in my late teens, Kib was the first person I knew who was a professional artist, athlete, and outdoorsman," Mr. Moore says. "When I walked into his studio as a young man, it allowed me to visualize landscape art as a livelihood."
Mr. Moore finds the Island an "endlessly fascinating place to live," and derives inspiration from both the natural environment and the people who live in it. With boyish enthusiasm, he recounts the ecosystems that keep him painting year-round: "We have woodlands, inland rivers, sweeping plains, dry areas, wet areas, farmland, sandy beaches that ease into the ocean, small ecosystems, and dramatic views."
He shows his paintings by appointment at his own gallery adjacent to his home in the Oak Bluffs community of Harthaven. With large and small pieces in progress, he hints at new directions: "There will be lots of surprises."
And while he used to paint much more in the off-season, he now creates year-round. "I span all four seasons in every show," he says, "from the bare bones of winter to the opulence of summer."
Landscape painter Wendy Weldon, represented by Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven, is best known for her luminous paintings of the Island's stone walls and barns. She has been painting them since the 1970s, finding fresh inspiration as the light and the seasons change. She says she finds the natural beauty of the Island intoxicating.
"I think everyone here is addicted to the beauty of our surroundings," she says. "I drive down Middle Road, and every time I see the Keith Farm barn it knocks my socks off. I have to stop and look at it. It's always changing. The red door, the green walls, in sun, rain and fog."
This year, she says, she has pushed herself to find new subject matter. "I'm finding new ways to express what I'm feeling and trying to expand the expression of the imagery I'm working with."
And while she obviously delights in the beauty of her Chilmark home and surroundings, she also credits the influence of other artists like Stan Murphy, and the community for her many years of professional success. A member of a women's art group for over a dozen years and an avid proponent of Nancy Aronie's Chilmark Writing Workshop, Ms. Weldon is quick to praise the support she feels from those around her.
To plein air painter Elizabeth Lockhart Taft, the influence of the Island on her work is both ever-changing and constant. Although she favors "old haunts" down-Island, she recently became enamored with Gay Head.
"I feel real magic at Gay Head," she says. "I have to hold myself back now from going there all the time. But I also love revisiting old haunts like Chappy, so calm in the summer and so sparse and flat. I have a love of familiar places, those that I see all the time."
In addition to her admiration for the Island's natural beauty, Ms. Taft revels in "feeling normal here." While artists in other communities might be regarded as what she calls, "rare birds," she enjoys the collegial support she experiences on the Vineyard. She, like Ms. Weldon, shows at the Shaw Cramer Gallery, and participates in the women's art group, finding comfort and inspiration in the company of fellow creative spirits. "We're an art family," she says.
But as a painter who only works outdoors, she is greatly affected by the Island's long winters. "I draw, putter in the studio, and plan," she says. "But I stop doing landscapes in the winter and the seasonality is very tough."
Island influences show themselves in myriad forms in the vivid landscapes created by the Vineyard's many gifted and prolific artists.