Edgartown painter Jeanne Staples shares space with Steve Mills and Ross Coppelman in the current exhibit at West Tisbury’s Granary Gallery. Among the work Ms. Staples has on display are her realist paintings from a fascinating narrative series she started four years ago, called Present Pending.
She has already completed eight or nine paintings in the series and expects to create four or five more, all of which tell different facets of the same story. While the individual Present Pending paintings stand on their own, each relates to the same geographical place and moment.
“All of them take place at a certain point in time,” Ms. Staples says. “Each relates to the other.” She calls “Solitaire,” which hangs in the Emergency Room at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the linchpin of the series. In it, a young man is playing cards, and behind him is a painting, “Deep Winter,” that appears on its own in the Granary show. That picture offers a winter vista of the houses across from the hospital, echoing the current setting for “Solitaire.”
In effect this artist gives the notion of narrative — and by extension, realism — in painting a new dimension. The individual works in the Present Pending series all carry visual cues that signal more views are available. There is more to the story.
In movies, scenes are often framed so that part of the image is missing or incomplete. This technique encourages the viewer to complete the scene mentally, becoming an active participant in the process of telling the story.
While Ms. Staples’s paintings lack the movement of film, they ask the viewer to do something similar — take the world of the painting beyond the frame. The boy playing cards in “Solitaire” is looking out the window, and in “Waiting,” another painting in the series, a second boy stands outside what looks like the same window. The same glass of red wine on the table in “Solitaire” appears through the window in “Waiting,” in effect suggesting the viewer connect the two paintings.
In yet another work, “Blenheim Spot,” a dog lies under the table that the viewer is encouraged to believe is the same one in “Solitaire,” since a playing card box lies on the floor next to the dog. Ms. Staples gives the viewer a metaphysical house of mirrors in Present Pending, and brings a third dimension into realist painting.
Ms. Staples even has designed a mutoscope, a mechanized flipbook that creates the illusion of motion in sequential images. Flipbooks and mutoscopes served as 19th-century predecessors to motion pictures.
“I enjoy that aspect of storytelling,” the artist says. “But I like to leave things open to the viewer’s interpretation. As the paintings go out to different places, there’s still a connection, another layer of meaning.”
Ms. Staples also explores issues of space and time in her landscapes. She finds that certain scenes fascinate her so much she forms a deep attachment to them. She may spend several years trying to evoke the attraction, by making sketches and taking photos. One such painting is “After the Derby,” a Menemsha scene set just after sunset with the iconic Texaco station and the Quitsa Strider fishing boat in it.
When she is not painting, Ms. Staples is involved in a humanitarian venture to promote Haitian women artisans. Called Peace Quilts, it supports 100 Haitian women in a project to make one-of-a-kind art quilts and other artisan products like bags and jewelry. The work was shown at the former Shephard Fine Art Gallery in Oak Bluffs and the Chilmark bank, and is marketed throughout North America. “It’s been a real joy,” Ms. Staples says.
Some of the Haitians whom she has met have become friends and appear in her paintings. “Drack” is the working title of one such portrait in the Present Pending series.
“The experience of distilling something essential in collective moments – I’m trying to tap that experience and evoke that accumulation over time,” Ms. Staples says.
Jeanne Staples, Steve Mills, Ross Coppelman, August 12–25, The Granary Gallery, West Tisbury. Call 508-693-0455 or visit granarygallery.com.