“Martha’s Vineyard Magic,” a series of landscape oil paintings by Nancy Purnell, opened last weekend at the West Tisbury Free Public Library, and continues through July 28. The library will host a reception for Ms. Purnell and the exhibit on Saturday, July 8.
The artist summered or lived year-round in Vineyard Haven from 1978 to 2003 before moving to New York City, where she teaches art at Health Outreach and the New York Commission for Senior Citizens’ Isaacs Neighborhood Center. She continues to visit and paint on-Island, explaining in her artist’s statement, “I have absorbed this island into my whole being. I use brushes and paint on canvas and my eyes to present images that are the essence of our island.” The 15 landscapes on display primarily depict West Tisbury and other up-Island sites, and consist of work completed over the past 20 years. Thirty percent of sales will go to the library.
The intense colors in the landscape series reflect the influence of Josef Albers, whose color theory Ms. Purnell studied. In “Dark Sunset,” the artist echoes the yellow of a setting sun in a streak of color at the base of the painting to create a powerful effect. Bands of various-colored grasses dominate “Allen Farm,” and illustrate the underlying move toward abstraction of the composition.
“I have reduced the form, simplified it to its essence to create the heartbeat of the Island,” Ms. Purnell says. In “Storm Over West Chop,” more muted blues and grays are in the foreground below a mass of clouds in purple, gray, and white. A ragged line of black divides the clouds, again pushing the painting toward abstraction.
Despite West Chop’s more representational lighthouse placed in the background, a linear cluster of pastel blue water controls the composition. One of the more representational works on display, “Dusk, West Tisbury,” depicts the effect of wind on evergreens and grasses shaded in dark greens and blues and leaning in concert below the afterglow of a rosy sunset. “Moshup Trail Autumn” uses saturated oranges to build a series of dunes that overpower the line of blue water below an expanse of gray clouds in the background.
In thinking about the 40 years that she has spent visiting and living on the Vineyard, Ms. Purnell says, “Years ago an Islander said to me, ‘Just explore the Island, open up to it, let the Island talk to you, receive the magic,’ and that is the way it has been. For me, painting the light, the movement of the wind, simplifying the forms and mysteries of nature, all on a two-dimensional surface, has taken years of work.”