Up-Island Plein Air Art Show started Friday

Kate Taylor paints a scene at the old Humphreys house in early May for this weekend's Up Island Plein Air Art Show. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

If you have admired the flower-filled orchard beside Argie Humphreys’ house as you drive along State Road in North Tisbury, you may have noticed artists painting there. You can see what they did when they exhibit their paintings across the street in the yellow house that is home to Yes, We Have No Bananas Gallery and Kanta Lipsky’s studio at 697 State Road, West Tisbury.

The exhibition opens Friday, May 25, with a reception for the artists and jazz piano by Ms. Lipsky’s son, Adam Lipsky, from 7 to 10 pm. The paintings will be small, as befits their plein-air origins and the available space.

Participating artists are: Ms. Lipsky, Thaw Malin, Marjorie Mason, Brandon Newton, Elizabeth Taft, Kate Taylor, and Valentine Estabrook. Their work is as different as they are.

Painting “en plein air” harks to the invention of packing paint in small tubes. It was popularized in the late 1800s by French Impressionists, who wanted to explore the effects of nature, a moment in time described by color and light. It remains popular today, as painters pack up their kits and head out to a favorite spot.

There are as many reasons for painting outside as there are painters doing it. For some, it feels truer to be “in the place,” surrounded by the scene as they record their observations. Others enjoy the rigors of the discipline it involves. For some, it is pure pleasure to be outside enjoying a nice day in a pretty spot. Some enjoy camaraderie, while others prefer solitude. This group is no different.

Brandon Newton was attracted to a cutout path heading up a hill at the back of the property, horses grazing on the hill. He works in an Impressionist tradition, his paintings made up of swirling, broken brushstrokes. He loves color, carrying all his extra hues in his bag, although he does lay out “the basics.”

Most basic palettes consist of a warm and a cool red, yellow, and blue, with white. That’s the simplest. Some add secondary colors — green, purple, orange — but the true basic palette is the simplest one.

Ms. Taft paints exclusively outdoors, returning to the same place at the same time of day, often for several weeks. She is drawn to certain places and committed to painting what’s there.

“Usually I pick some place where there’s nothing horrible,” Ms. Taft says. “I try to stay true to what I see. It’s about honoring the place.” She lays out a basic palette of colors, but carries extras in her bag. Just in case.

She lays her painting flat on the closed easel, full sun hitting it. A colorist, she sees shapes within shapes and breaks them into abstract patterns of flat colors that come together to capture the “magic” of the place. “It’s an overused word, but it really does happen,” she says.It’s a challenge to stick to it. Not better, nor less competent to use more colors, just a choice that each painter makes.

Kanta Lipsky also enjoys the challenge of the basic palette. She paints outdoors in good weather, in her studio in the winter. She returns to some favorite spots regularly.

Keith Farm, Lambert’s Cove, and Menemsha looking back towards Lobsterville are “like doing yoga. The poses are always the same, but you are always different,” Ms. Lipsky says.

Thaw Malin and Marjorie Mason have the most developed techniques and equipment designed for ease of operation. They both carry minimal “stuff.” It is laid out in advance, so they can step out, set up, and get started. They have painted and taught together for a while, inspiring some of the other painters in this group.

Mr. Malin has affiliated with the “painting-a-day” movement, going out between 4 and 5 pm every afternoon. He has everything ready, paints laid out with out-of-the-tube colors in a line, and the same colors mixed half and half with white below, to make the work go faster. He acknowledges and even welcomes serendipity: clouds may come in or a boat appear during a painting, forcing him to decide whether or not to include new elements.

“I love painting plein air because you think you have the perfect painting right where you are, and suddenly a long shadow stretches out along where you’re looking,” Mr. Malin says. “It makes the painting 10 times better than it was. You never would have guessed it would be there.”

Ms. Mason waited for the flowers to come out, for the pleasure of being in the field seeing the full range of “lovely darks and all the lights [that] would wash out” if she were working from a photograph.

She is a master of the big effect. A stripe of pink that momentarily reflects on the water’s surface. The perfect quality of light illuminating the white daisies in the field while making dancing shadows across the face of the barn.

Ms. Estabrook has been taught by both Mr. Malin and Ms. Mason. She learned fortitude from Mr. Malin, being out no matter what the weather. She credits Ms. Mason with teaching her how to find a composition within the wide expanse of a landscape.

She loves losing herself in the painting, “my sense of time and any other sense of any world other than the one before me,” she says. She describes the travails of setting up her easel, turpentine spilling in her bag, her painting caught by the wind and landing wet paint side down, the bugs. Add to that paint stiffening in the cold or oozing on a sun-heated palette, no bathroom, no coffee refills, poison ivy right where you want to set up, an unexpected downpour.

Kate Taylor’s paintings are the most fanciful. Attracted to a place, she regroups and rearranges reality to suit her vision, using wonderful colors and massed shapes to lead you into her world.

The show runs through Friday, June 8.

Up Island Plein Air Art Show Reception, Friday, May 25, 7–10 pm, Yes, We Have No Bananas, West Tisbury. Jazz piano by Adam Lipsky. Refreshments. Show continues through June 8. 508-696-5939.

Hermine Hull is the West Tisbury town columnist for The Times and owner of Hermine Merel Smith Fine Art.