The Field Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard opens with three artists

At West Tisbury's Field Gallery, Jeff Hoerle's "Island Shore – Rocks" is part of the current exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Field Gallery

At West Tisbury's Field Gallery, Jeff Hoerle's "Island Shore – Rocks" is part of the current exhibit.

The Field Gallery in West Tisbury has established itself as an iconic part of the up-Island landscape. With founder Tom Maley’s whimsical life-size figures frolicking on an inviting stretch of lawn, and the angular architecture of its gallery, the gallery’s grounds are a popular stop for sightseers.

Fitting, then, that the gallery will open its season with two landscape artists known for their ability to capture up-Island vistas, scenes that, like the gallery itself, conjure that mysterious Martha’s Vineyard magic. The gallery will feature work by Jeff Hoerle and Jhenn Watts, as well as jewelry by Kenneth Pillsworth in its opening exhibit Sunday, June 24, with a reception from 5 to 7 pm.

“We’re taking the Field Gallery in a more contemporary direction this year,” says Ms. Watts, who doubles as gallery manager. “The work is really fresh and modern. Not like work we’ve seen traditionally on the Island.”

The change will be immediately apparent to visitors. The outside, street-facing wall currently features three large Traeger di Pietro paintings whose unusual subject matter includes an elephant and an astronaut. Inside, an original Andy Warhol of the late senator Edward Kennedy is prominently displayed for the first time.

Local landscapes will still be featured, but the gallery will present, “…not just pretty landscapes, but work by artists who focus on the transcendence of those landscapes,” Ms. Watts says.

A seasonal Island resident, Mr. Hoerle uses a painterly technique to produce stunning sea and landscape oils, rich with texture and multiple layers. Making use of a palette knife, the gallery’s best-selling artist can almost be said to sculpt his paintings, which border on the abstract.

There are no curves or soft lines to Mr. Hoerle’s work. The strokes are all blunt, and the angles sharp, perfectly capturing the rugged wildness of the south shore. Subtlety and emotion come from his intuitive sense of color and juxtaposition. With an expertly placed daub of yellow, he can make a scene come to life. Only an artist who has spent a great deal of time on local beaches and fields could capture the Island’s signature colors — coral pink and purplish brown cliffs and soft grays of a Vineyard sky — to such appealing effect.

Ms. Watts shows an aesthete’s love of the Vineyard, and her vibrant color photos capture many of the same vistas. Where Mr. Hoerle’s work is impressionistic, Ms. Watts deals in clarity. A purist, the Vineyard Haven resident captures moments in time on her favorite out-of-the way beaches.

“Film is like a proof. With Photoshop, everything can be doctored or changed. With film, what you see is what is there,” Ms. Watts says.

As well as large, limited edition giclée prints, Ms. Watts also mounts small transparencies between museum plexi and glass for a wonderful three-dimensional effect.

She shoots in winter and spring, when she has Island spots to herself and spends time waiting for the perfect shot. “The light in the off season here is really unbelievable,” she says. “There’s something that happens in the sky and the water.”

Ms. Watts breaks the rules by shooting with the sun at its height. “I like the sharp, harsh shadows and lines,” she says. The result is a naked, unapologetic view that strikes a chord with its boldness.

There is a timeless quality to her seascapes, but Ms. Watts’s work is actually informed by change. Erosion is the theme of her most recent work. “I’ve visited Lucy Vincent every spring and every fall for the last few years,” she says. “I’m just fascinated with these places that we fall in love with that speak to us on some level… It feels like every time you visit it’s the same place but it’s totally different. You don’t get bored. I love that.”

As well as documenting her favorite remote beaches, for the first time this past winter Ms. Watts set up her camera at Menemsha, where she recorded change of a man-made nature. “Minus the Coast Guard barracks, there’s a totally different feel,” she says. Her Menemsha close-ups of boats, shacks, and tools of the trade have a gritty appeal. Ms. Watts likes the coarseness and utility of the place, and she seems to have a fascination with the corroding power of nature.

There’s also nothing exactly dainty about the work of jeweler Kenneth Pillsworth, Ms. Watts’s husband. Working with sterling, titanium, and gold, Mr. Pillsworth fashions contemporary pieces featuring semi-precious stones and softened geometric shapes.

His most unique pieces are rings featuring wonderful little Vineyard beach pebbles — some with flecks of mica, some with interesting striation. Uncut, the pebbles are set very simply — sterling silver framing the tiny beach finds on an unadorned wide band, allowing them to speak for themselves. Like the work of Mr. Hoerle and Ms. Watts, these stones evoke the inexpressible lure of the Island.

Opening Reception for Jeff Hoerle, Jhenn Watts, Kenneth Pillsworth, Sunday, June 24, 5–7 pm, Field Gallery, West Tisbury, Hours Mon.-Sat., 10-5; Sun., 11-4. Contact: fieldgallery.com; 508-693-5595.