Water for art

Painter Debby Rosenthal’s exhibit of Island-inspired acrylics is at the M.V. Playhouse.

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Living on an Island has clearly had an influence on the work of artist Debby Rosenthal. Since switching her medium from pastels to acrylics, Ms. Rosenthal has turned her attention to water, with plenty of it on view at her solo show at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse through Feb. 1.

“Recently I just found myself working with blue,” says Ms. Rosenthal. “I never worked with blue in my life. It’s basically water. Water is fabulous. It’s freeing. It has allowed me to be a lot freer to fool around with shape and texture and composition.”

There’s a whole lot of water in this selection of work presented at the Playhouse. The show is titled “Scape,” which could be interpreted as seascape or escape. Support of the latter can be found in the artist’s statement that accompanies the exhibition: “Art takes me to a different place. A place of color, of line, of shape. And especially a place of creation, an immersion in the beauty of nature, our world.”

During her long career in real estate in Western Massachusetts, Ms. Rosenthal started experimenting with painting. “I found this to be a great diversion, where my head runs into a separate space,” she says. “That’s what got me into it. I had some good friends support me. I made smaller things. We called it bathroom art.”

Since retiring and moving to the Vineyard full-time in 2008, Ms. Rosenthal has concentrated more and more on her artwork. She originally worked primarily in pastels, depicting both landscapes and still lifes. However, inspired by the constant presence of the sea, the artist turned to acrylics about two years ago. “I want to get freer, more abstract, away from the typical landscape,” she says.

You can see Ms. Rosenthal’s fascination with water in the 20 or so seascapes in the show.

It’s easy to get drawn into the waves and swirls, the motion and mystery that inspired the artist. There’s something both soothing and compelling in the work.

This is the first exhibition featuring the artist’s acrylics, although she has previously shown her pastel work at Dragonfly, the Louisa Gould Gallery, Featherstone, and the West Tisbury library. “I started out doing pastels,” says Ms. Rosenthal. “I love the immediacy and color. The medium is very satisfying, very childlike.”

The move to acrylics has proved equally satisfying for the artist, as she expresses in her artist’s statement: “Recently, I have also explored acrylics, to expand my compositions to create paintings less constricted by the reality of what we see and more expressive of what we feel with the movement, texture, line, and shape that working with a brush and paint can offer. I enjoy the learning process and its challenges.”

She has managed that expressiveness marvelously in the water paintings on display at the Playhouse. Although she has taken only a few art classes, Ms. Rosenthal majored in American studies at George Washington University, and has continued a lifelong education on art. And, of course, she has the inspiration of the Vineyard land and seascape to draw from.

As she notes in her artist’s statement, “I discovered that my love of nature, shape, composition, and color could be satisfied by explorations in paint. I am a novice to this world of creating, not of observing.”