Art and politics make good bedfellows in Martha’s Vineyard show

"Down The Drain" by Paulette Hayes. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Local artists have tackled a number of relevant issues with both imagination and passion in Featherstone’s current show, The Art of Politics. And, though the timing of the show might lead one to believe otherwise, there is nary a donkey nor elephant nor any sort of partisan message in the entire collection.

Instead, some talented Island artists have used various media to express their opinions on current concerns including environmental, economic, energy, women’s rights, health issues, and more.

There is also a selection of political cartoons by Denys Wortman (the late father of Denys Wortman of Vineyard Haven). The elder Mr. Wortman created a popular series that appeared in prominent New York newspapers during the 1930s through 50s. The wry dialogue between his two vagrant protagonists provided a running social commentary, which still has relevance today.

A few burgeoning teenage cartoonists have also contributed to the show, providing the exhibit’s most up-to-the-moment messages.

The show was co-curated by the Featherstone staff and artist Richard Limber. For the past few years, Mr. Limber has striven to bring a more contemporary perspective to the Vineyard gallery world. Former themes for shows he has curated along with Nancy Kingsley have included “Art that doesn’t match your couch” and “Not beaches and boats.”

“We’ve been trying to show something off the usual resort path,” he said. With the latest show, viewers will have the opportunity to enjoy a cerebral, as well as visually stimulating, experience.

Two artists have taken a stab at commenting on the American elections. A mixed media tabletop assemblage by Paulette Hayes titled “Down the Drain” features tiny flags printed with typical campaign issues, circling a wire mesh sink strainer. Although the piece was constructed during the 2008 election, the topics selected are, not surprisingly, the same issues tackled in the recent election.

Valerie Sonnenthal’s piece “Hot Issues” provides a somewhat less pessimistic view. She took a feature from The New York Times on the 2012 election, sliced it up, and wove it back together with wooden matches as a comment on the incendiary nature of the political arena.

Debra Gaines’s contribution is a set of encaustics — beeswax-based paintings. One, called “Our Perfect, Imperfect World” features an altered American flag above a splotchy field of color serving as a symbol of our nation’s cultural diversity. “Old Glory” is, similarly, a dual image with an American flag above a globe encircled by seven worry dolls representing the seven continents. The piece is entitled “100%: Not 99% vs. 1%” and expresses her concern over adopting an “us vs. them” attitude.

Of this piece she wrote, “What I love about our country is that anybody in it is eligible to become a member of the 1% club. No one is left out. Rather than resenting the 1%, I wish that the other 99% would promote examples of 1% members who have given back to, and improved conditions in, our country with their generosity, compassion, and forward thinking.”

Cindy Kane memorialized some life-changing moments in world history by creating circular collages centered around New York Times headlines. Of her choices — 9/11, the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin — she has written, “Page one of The New York Times can often feel like a eulogy. In this series, I have taken three front page stories which impacted me on a personal level and memorialized them by converting them into medallions to honor that moment in time.”

Fiber artist Paulette Hayes created two textile art hangings to express her views on both a global and a more locally focused issue. One called “Hijab Matters” features the repeating image of a woman in a burka surrounded by a quote from the Koran, “Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest.” Printed throughout the work are words like freedom, equality, independence, and respect. The other work, called “Lyme Disease,” features Eve in the Garden of Eden stuck with needles and surrounded by descriptions of symptoms and the phrase, “So tell me I don’t have Lyme.” It’s a very personal statement by the artist, who was misdiagnosed a number of times before finding a doctor who could effectively treat her condition.

Gail Bos’s two multi-panel works, accompanied by folded handouts, serve as mini graphic novels of sorts. One called “Voices of Afghan Women” includes the story of a persecuted female poet and the other, “Silent Voices,” comments on the American prison system.

Mr. Limber himself contributed figurative portraits of two infamous individuals — media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak — displayed on either side of a depiction of a young woman in front of a bullet-riddled wall in Tripoli. He notes that the juxtaposition of images of innocence and corruption is a statement in itself.

Adding a touch of humor to the exhibit are the wonderful cartoons by the late Mr. Wortman. His protagonists — two down-and-outers named Mopey Dick and the Duke — are seen commenting on the politics of the day. Mr. Wortman, who was recently honored with retrospectives at a couple of prominent art institutions, has been referred to as an American Daumier, and he was the first newspaper cartoonist elected to the Natl. Academy of Design and the Natl. Institute of Arts and Letters.

In the selections donated for the show by the younger Mr. Wortman, the characters are seen surrounded by campaign posters for, variously, Eisenhower and Truman, but their sentiments could just as easily apply to the current state of national affairs. The caption on one reads, “Do you realize Duke, it’s the likes of you and me who are going to have to pay all this debt that the government is piling up.”

The back room of the gallery features a wall of cartoons by Oak Bluffs eighth graders. With surprisingly sophisticated humor, the kids have commented on hot topics like gun control and same sex marriage, and also satirized the recent debates. This final take gives a promising indication of the level of awareness and social concern among the next generation.

The Art of Politics show continues daily through November 13 from 12 noon to 4 pm. For more information, call 508-693-1850 or visit