Martha’s Vineyard’s Kara Taylor returns to up Island roots

Martha’s Vineyard’s Kara Taylor returns to up Island roots

— Lynn Christoffers

At a recent visit to Kara Taylor’s new gallery in Chilmark, the youthful 37-year-old artist seemed perfectly in her element. The small, rustic, two-room building with cathedral ceilings and skylights, set smack dab in the middle of a field along State Road, is the perfect setting for painter/poet/photographer who clearly has an abiding love of the wild side of the Vineyard and has a real talent for of capturing the magic in nature.

For the last seven years, Ms. Taylor occupied a studio/gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven where she built up a loyal following and established herself as a preeminent Vineyard artist. Before that she showed her work for five years at her own Haystack Gallery at Nip ‘n Tuck Farm in West Tisbury.

“I started selling my work on a farm,” Ms. Taylor recalled. “Now I’m back to my roots again being up Island in this agrarian setting.”

That setting — a stone wall on one side and a field on the other with a spindly evergreen tree leaning up against the tiny barn-like building — is a scene that would capture the imagination of any landscape painter.

The building has always housed art and artists. It was built in 1978 by the late Stan Murphy, who painted and showed his work there for many years. Rez Williams rented the space for one summer. Most recently Joan Merry’s Gossamer Gallery occupied the space.

“Stan Murphy was one of the great masters,” Ms. Taylor said of the renowned and beloved artist who died in 2003, “It’s an honor to be here. It feels special to occupy his old space. I feel like I instantly have good karma.”

She is enjoying the change of scenery. While her former gallery did double duty as a workspace, she has now set up a studio in her West Tisbury home. “It’s hard not having my studio in my gallery, but it’s nice not to have to share my inner space with the public. The studio space is your sacred sanctum, your private space.”

Ms. Taylor officially opened the Chilmark gallery on Memorial Day weekend after completing a lot of the refinishing work herself. She plastered the walls (which were formerly peg board), ripped out some old carpeting, and painted the walls white and the floors a pale grey. Besides her small desk, the only piece of furniture in the space is a dove grey Victorian couch, which complements the soft, simple look of the gallery. On a sunny day, the building is filled with light from two corrugated fiberglass skylights. Two facing doors allow a breeze to pass through. It’s a lovely, peaceful space.

On a recent visit, a vase on the desk held a tall arrangement of wild flowers and grasses and a few spectacular blooms from the backyard of Ms. Taylor’s West Tisbury home. She plans to eventually put in a flower garden behind the gallery, revisiting her early days when she sold both paintings and bouquets at Nip ‘n Tuck.

The spare surroundings house a collection that represents the many styles — and media — that Ms. Taylor has experimented with over the years. There are a number of large paintings from her popular series featuring aerial views of the Island, and a lovely example of an icon series from a few years back. The piece is called “Forgiveness” and features two haloed figures in a wooded setting. Ms. Taylor says it was inspired by Giotto’s “The Annunciation.”

Religious and spiritual images are a recurring theme: “The only time my art makes sense to me when it has that mysticism,” she said.

This observation also applies to Ms. Taylor’s nature scenes. Last year she completed a series that combined poetry and photos of herself with paintings, often in wooded landscapes. The work, a few examples of which can be found in her new space, have a sublime, ethereal quality.

The beauty of a large image of a flock of geese is heightened Ms. Taylor’s use of stark white and gold leaf highlights — something that she uses often to excellent effect to bring an otherworldly radiance to a scene.

This summer Ms. Taylor will host two shows of new works in the back room — reserving the front room for a rotating selection of her older works. The two themes — trees and barns — are appropriate, given her new surroundings. The first show, called Deciduous, will feature Island trees as seen during the changing seasons — from a leafless tangled tree in a stark snowy field to a view of the top of Beetlebung tree holding on to the last of its scarlet fall leaves.

She has always been fascinated by trees. “I’m interested in how they’re shaped by their environment. They take their form according to their conditions — soil, light, water, space.”

With the new series, Ms. Taylor examines the static as well as the active nature of her subject. In some pictures the trees seem to dance — stretching their limbs gracefully and almost consciously unfurling their majesty to the viewer. In others the artist presents the idea of trees as gateways — the possibilities represented by a stand of straight-trunked trees inviting the viewer in on an unknown journey.

“It’s really about wandering,” she said of her latest series. “How we navigate through a landscape. Where we begin and where we end, or rather just being in without end.”

Ms. Taylor has captured that sense of exploration — both outer and inner — perfectly with the tree paintings and, as always, her new work has a spiritual quality.

While many artists focus on the unique beauty of the Vineyard, perhaps no one is better at interpreting the Island’s elusive magical essence, that which is very evident, yet intangible, to those who have spent time here.

Grand Opening Reception for Deciduous show, Sunday, July 7, 5–8 pm, Kara Taylor Gallery, 24 South Rd., Chilmark. 508-332-8171; karataylorart.com.