The established and the emerging artist couldn’t be better represented than by the current show at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury. The two featured artists for the gallery’s final show of the season are nonagenarian Island institution Rose Abramson and 23-year-old recent art school graduate Tommy May.
“We thought it would be a nice juxtaposition to pair an iconic Vineyard painter and a young up-and-coming artist,” says gallery owner Chris Morse. “Both have a similar contemporary expressionist style.”
The gallery will feature a retrospective of Ms. Abramson’s work — paintings from the 1970s through the 2000s. The much-loved local artist, who was previously represented by the Shaw Cramer Gallery, recently moved off-Island, and has not had a show of her work here for quite some time.
“When she left the Island, there was quite a volume of her work in her studio,” says Mr. Morse. “Her family wanted to have a place to show it. Some needed repair work, and some needed framing. I was excited to have the opportunity to exhibit the work. This is the last time these pieces will be available on the Island.”
Ms. Abramson was born in the Bronx and grew up during the Depression. Although art had been a lifelong interest, It wasn’t until moving to the Vineyard in the 1970s that she really devoted herself to painting.
The Field Gallery will be showcasing examples of the artist’s different styles, as well as different media. Ms. Abramson created both abstract and figurative work — paintings and mixed-media. Many of the pieces represented in the show feature figures that often have a dreamlike, somewhat distorted quality to them. There is something both very familiar and very sympathetic about the subjects. Also in the show are a few examples of Ms. Abramson’s mixed-media pieces, often featuring images of natural elements. For years she collected rocks, shells, and other bits of nature, which she displayed in her home and studio and gathered inspiration from.
Ms. Abramson has often said that nature is very important in her work, noting that there is a sort of meditative, relatable quality to her work. In a 2009 video interview, the very articulate, insightful Ms. Abramson said in her characteristic offhanded manner, “My imagination is the collective imagination, because I’m human like everybody else.”
A recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Tommy May works solely in abstraction, although faintly recognizable figures often appear in his paintings.
“I work with the idea of breaking down my surroundings and putting them in an abstract expressionist style,” says Mr. May. For the Field Gallery show, Mr. May created a series of paintings inspired by the Vineyard, his part-time home for many years.
“I’m really into line weight and color — very vibrant colors,” says Mr. May. “When Chris called and said he wanted to do a show of my work, I literally hung up the phone and started working on a Vineyard series.”
Mr. May previously showed his work on-Island at the Workshop gallery, a collective that he was a part of for two years. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he and his artist girlfriend have established a gallery. “We do a lot of shows with Savannah College of Art and Design students and graduates,” says Mr. May. “We’re trying to introduce them to a new art market.” The couple’s cooperative, Grey Projects, has done projects for the Art Basel international art fair, and has worked with corporate clients.
For the Field Gallery show, Mr. May wanted to create new, more locally oriented work. “The paintings became more topographical, in a way,” he says. “A lot look like they’re images that have been taken from a plane. There’s a lot of different abstraction that has happened to landscapes of the Island.”
Mr. May’s two homes have informed his work in different ways. “I go for lots of walks with my dog, and do a lot of my observing and thinking for paintings that I am working on. While on Martha’s Vineyard, the landscapes inspire my work; while in L.A., I’m very drawn to the graffiti that has been covered up. I called them New Rothkos. I have an Instagram that I curate with that name of all the imagery that I find that will eventually make its way somehow into my paintings. For example, the blue painting ‘Good Catch’ has a lot of influence from this L.A. graffiti. In that painting, I would make very gestural lines and then cover them up in patches. That was the painting that was the pivot in the work I was making for the show; I began to see the body of work as topographical imagery.”
Using multiple layers in his work and often incorporating graphic images done in bold lines, more and more is revealed as one views his work. In that respect, both featured artists have something in common.
Of Ms. Abramson, Mr. May says, “She’s got such a great story with her work. I think you can look at them a long time. There are unanswered questions.”
The exhibit will be showcased at the Field Gallery from August 20 to Sept. 2. Visit fieldgallery.com for more information.