Chris Roberts-Antieau calls me from a cemetery, somewhere in her home state of Michigan. A storm knocked out her power and cell reception the previous evening, but she is still jovial. She laughs. She has found a way to communicate with me, even though it meant traveling through a rather dismal place.
Ms. Roberts-Antieau is the owner, and artist, at Edgartown’s newest pop-up, The Antieau Gallery on North Water Street. Her work includes mixed media sculptures, and colorful, folk art inspired fabric work. Rest assured, these are not your grandmother’s quilts.
Like many young women, Ms. Roberts-Antieau first learned to sew in seventh grade home economics class. “I’ve always been drawn to fabric,” said the artist, who first tried channeling her creative impulses into clothing design. “That was horrible,” she admits. “I burnt out on that pretty quickly.” One day, a friend recommended that she try framing some of her fabric-applique designs, and – voila! – a style was born.
“It’s basically an old quilting technique,” Ms. Roberts-Antieau said of her applique work. “It’s cut fabric sewn onto a fabric background. I sometimes do up to four or five layers.” She also uses machine embroidery, which she describes as “basically drawing with a sewing machine.” Her newest works involve “scribbling with different color thread, so you get sort of a painting effect.”
The result is an homage to the American quilting tradition, a nod to folk art inspired subjects like birds roosting in a tree among stars. In one work, a stone-faced man with a guitar looks straight ahead. It is unclear whether he is ignoring the temptresses surrounding the frame, or if he has already submitted to them. Other pieces appear to be tapestries of advice: “Anything can kill you” reads one quilt work, depicting several of the more comical ways to meet your maker. Another advises what to do “in case of fire.”
There is a decidedly dark undercurrent ripping through the joyously colorful works, but Ms. Roberts-Antieau still makes it hard to keep a straight face. Her snowglobe collection, for instance, takes the beauty and innocence of a delicate child’s toy, and places it inside disastrous scenes of murders and chimpanzee attacks. On display now is a diorama-like dollhouse depicting the rooms of the Clutter house, where a family of four was murdered in 1959 in Kansas. (If you haven’t read Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” put down this article and go do it.) “Even with the dark pieces, people laugh,” said gallery director Heidi Henrick. “They find the humor in either the absurdity or reality of it.”
“As an artist, you need to explore all aspects of the human existence, the dark and the light side,” Ms. Roberts-Antieau explained. “I’m intrigued by both, by joy and sadness. I kind of do whatever I want. Hopefully all artists are able to do that — that’s kind of the point.”
The Edgartown pop-up is the second Antieau Gallery in the United States. Ms. Roberts-Antieau opened the first, in New Orleans, as a pop-up opportunity after displaying her work at Jazz Fest in 2010. The gallery has since become a staple in the New Orleans art scene.
“New Orleans is one of those places you sort of fall in love with,” Ms. Roberts-Antieau said. “The Vineyard has a lot of the same properties as New Orleans. It’s a great mix of people, it’s down to earth, it’s a very similar vibe, with its own flavor.”
The New Orleans style has percolated into Ms. Roberts-Antieau’s work in more ways than one. The colors, the themes, the subject matter: there’s a music to it that’s part jangling ragtime and part bittersweet delta blues. The Big Easy has also worked its way into the way Ms. Roberts-Antieau and Ms. Henrick run their gallery. “We’re trying to bring a little bit of New Orleans to Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Roberts-Antieau said. No quiet wine and cheese receptions here. The Antieau Gallery will host Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsored live music bashes all summer, along with special New Orleans guests that may include spoken word poetry and a brass band.
The whole gallery, the work, the vibe, is wonderfully unpretentious, one of those refreshing reminders that life is for the living. Just like laughing in a graveyard.
Opening Reception: Friday, July 11, 6 pm. Music by Jeremy Berlin and Randy Eckert. Antieau Gallery is located at 11 N. Summer St. in Edgartown. For more information, call 508-627-7471 or email email@example.com.