Versatile Kara Taylor explores grief through boats in ‘Hull in Memoriam’

An oil on panel, 29 by 40 inches. — Art by Kara Taylor

Now in her second summer at the former studio of the late Stanley Murphy, the prolific and protean painter Kara Taylor investigates the boat as a visual metaphor in her latest exhibit, “Hull: In Memoriam.”

Ms. Taylor lost both her father, Bob Taylor, and her grandmother, Geraldine Cronig, over the past year, and the deaths of these two Islanders touched the artist deeply. In her first show of the season, “Altar,” she concentrated on taking objects apart. “I had to deconstruct in order to reconstruct myself,” she wrote about “Altar.” “I have collected many objects in my lifetime, keepsakes that I never planned to part with, but like many things in life, you have to let go, and I began letting go in every way possible.” In doing so, she says she has tried to memorialize the sacred in composite pieces of art.

She described her relationship with her father as a complicated one. Mr. Taylor grew up summers in Hines Point, Vineyard Haven, and as an adult wintered in West Tisbury, working for the Hy Line Ferry Company and living on the Cape in the summer. “He was a real free spirit,” Ms. Taylor said. “Boats are an expression of who he was. He was like the weather, the wind, the ocean — always changing.”

Ms. Taylor’s new exhibit, “Hull,” represents the first time she has painted boats. Since closing her gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, she has occupied a studio that overlooks the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard behind the Tisbury Marketplace. “I started looking at the bodies of these boats,” she said in an interview last weekend. “I started seeing them as coffins, as preserving of the body and its essence,” she said. “A boat is such a beautiful shape. When you get close, you see how complex the shape is.”

While the work Ms. Taylor produced for “Altar” is more about taking things apart and reconstructing them in a new way — about healing and transformation — she suggested, “The boats are more about crossing over. I’ve never felt prouder of a series because it’s so close to my heart.”

She has painted some boats indoors, others outside, and some as suspended without their supports, “so they have this floating feeling of being lifted up,” she explained. Each painting conveys a different feeling. Some are wrapped as if in shrouds. The predominant colors Ms. Taylor employs are earthy greens and a reddish burnt sienna, a palette that reflects what she saw looking at the boatyard near her studio.

Other paintings in the “Hull” series include ropes, which the artist sees as reflecting the tension she felt in her relationship with her father. “They’re also about protection and preservation,” she said. “Boats are covered up in wintertime, and as springtime came around, they were uncovered, so they [my paintings] are about processing grief and impermanence.”

In the eulogy Ms. Taylor gave for her father, she said, “My father was not an artist, but he had this creative genius. He taught me through witnessing the polarity in life…My dad’s quest for truth is my same quest, to merge the intelligence of mind and the intelligence of the heart. These are the lifelong gifts my father has given me.”

Now in her 14th year running a gallery as a Vineyard artist, Ms. Taylor decided to give up her location in Vineyard Haven because she felt her work was suffering from the challenge of keeping the gallery open year-round. “This winter was the first one where I had a studio where I could just paint,” she said. “I think it made a difference. It’s taken a while to figure out the equation of being a gallery owner and an artist — how not to exhaust myself. It can be really tiring exercising both sides of my brain.” Ms. Taylor’s “Hull” exhibit will remain on view until August 17.

“Hull: In Memoriam,” Kara Taylor Gallery, Chilmark. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. For information, visit or call 508-332-8171.