Something old, something new: A Kib Bramhall retrospective at Granary Gallery

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"Shore House" by artist Kib Bramhall. — Kib Bramhall

Kib Bramhall painted his first landscape at the age of 15 in an art class where he discovered, much to his surprise, that he had a gift for capturing the natural beauty that surrounded him. This Sunday, August 3, the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury begins a two-week retrospective of Mr. Bramhall’s work, featuring 21 paintings reflecting nearly 30 years of commitment to the Vineyard’s luminous vistas.

While Granary owner Chris Morse said he has been delighted to represent Mr. Bramhall for the past year and a half, he is particularly pleased to host the painter’s first “full feature show” at the gallery.

“Kib represents everything I admire in a Vineyard artist,” Mr. Morse said, “as a man, a fisherman, and a painter. He translates his naturalist sensibilities into paintings that capture fine detailing as well as a broader sense of space. At 81, he is a Vineyard patriarch.”

Mr. Bramhall’s cerulean skies, cumulous clouds, and sunlit dunes depict the Island’s warm weather charms while his icy blue and gray palette evokes the cool, sharper serenity of winter. A timeless collection, the retrospective also includes several still life paintings. And while the artist is no longer as prolific as he was when he was younger, he is excited by the prospect of exhibiting a spectrum of work, both old and new.

“I don’t push myself anymore,” Mr. Bramhall acknowledged during a conversation in his West Tisbury studio.  “I paint when something strikes me. But I think it’s a good idea after a long absence for people to see a body of work as a continuum.”

Here are some highlights of his six-decade-plus history as an Island painter and summer-turned-full-time resident.

KA: What inspires you to paint?

KB: I get pleasure out of seeing something that makes me catch my breath and then trying to transcribe that feeling onto canvas. As a boy, I met Island artist Stan Murphy and I loved everything about the man and the way he lived his life — he painted, fished, hunted, and lived outdoors. I was being groomed for a life on Wall Street, but I quit after three weeks. I kept thinking about Murphy.

Do you approach your work differently now than you did as a less mature painter?

Yes, I don’t have the painting energy. I used to paint up to 15 hours a day. Now I get in three hours, max. I run out of steam. I guess it’s an emotional fatigue. I play music when I paint — Dylan or reggae, never classical — and when it’s intense I feel like I’m in a trance.  But the trances don’t last as long.

Do you have a favorite season for your subject matter or for painting itself?

I love winter for subject matter. The landscape is revealed in its most basic forms and shapes. The light is sharp and scenes are etched against the sky and snow. I like fall, and summer is fine, but I’ve never been able to capture the subtle changes of color in the spring to my satisfaction. My favorite time to paint is off-season. Summer is too distracting and the fishing is good. When the fish leave I get serious about painting again.

Tell me about your painting process, from finding a subject to the actual creation on canvas.

I decide on an image and revisit the scene numerous times, shooting photos on my iPhone and doing pencil sketches. Then I produce a small study, oil on paper, and play around with it, possibly doing multiple versions. I decide on the size and sometimes complete a smaller painting before committing to a larger one. Years ago, I set up a “studio” in the back of a four-wheel-drive vehicle to paint piping plovers.

Do you show your work to anyone for feedback?

Yes, I often share it with Tess [his wife]. She’s very knowledgeable about painting and is ruthless.

Do you have any new ideas or possible new directions for your next body of work?

None. I’m working on a meadow of butterfly weed in front of my house, but aside from that my mind is blank.

What emotion would you hope to elicit in viewers of your work?

Stunned silence.  [Pause, chuckle.]  I would hope they would think, “That really captures the way I feel about this scene.” I would hope to get across the feeling I had about it.

Do you paint every week?

I don’t adhere to any set schedule, but I’ll often miss the studio by mid-afternoon and head over here. Sometimes I just read about art or listen to music, but I like being in my studio. It’s always a treat.

What are your other passions or pastimes?

Fishing, tennis, cross-country skiing, friends, family, and red wine.

Can you offer any sage advice to younger painters that might shave years off their learning curve?

Paint. Just do it. Look and see how others are doing it. In galleries, museums. And keep your fingers crossed. You need lucky breaks.

What are your favorite places to paint on the Island?

Where I live and Squibnocket. There’s too much traffic to travel around and I can find subject matter anywhere I look on the Island.

Can you describe where you work?

In a freestanding studio built in 1998 surrounded by acres of preserved land. It’s like being in a national park. The view from my house is west/southwest across Vineyard Sound to the Elizabeth Islands and up to Aquinnah and Gay Head Light.

What would you like to be remembered for as a painter?

That I was deeply moved by my subject matter and able to express my feelings about it on canvas.

Opening Reception for Kib Bramhall, Scott Terry, and Mary Sipp Green, Sunday, August 3, 5–7 pm, Granary Gallery, West Tisbury. For more information, call 508-693-0455 or visit granarygallery.com.