Susie Oken Painting
Susie Oken's massive sunflowers are alive with color and energy. Photo courtesy of Kara Taylor fine art.

A holiday feast of art at Kara Taylor's

By Pat Waring - November 30, 2006

Delight was in the air at the Kara Taylor Fine Art gallery in Vineyard Haven Saturday evening as guests greeted friends, sampled an elegant spread of baked brie, grape leaves and nori rolls, and then - with considerable wonder - feasted their eyes on the art. Kara Taylor, though commonly showing only her own paintings here, gathered together the work of 14 artists for a holiday season group show that is breathtaking for its diversity and quality.

"As an artist I feel we have a responsibility to show our art," said Ms. Taylor, explaining that many here seldom have the opportunity to exhibit. "I wanted to bring these people out." Along with highlighting a group of artists whose work she admires, Ms. Taylor said she wanted to try out the experience of curating and hanging a group show. "I was more nervous for this opening than for my own openings, " she laughed.

The works, from huge, vibrant abstract oils to homey little still lifes, from meticulous landscapes and seascapes to softly shaded black-and-white photos, all were hung side-by-side, close together. The range of styles and subjects was so varied that a viewer might as well have been traveling from one universe to another instead of just stepping from artwork to artwork. Unlike many exhibits where the creations are connected by theme or medium, each piece or series here was utterly individual, each deserving full attention.

Kara Taylor Fine Art
Art imitates life - nightlife in Worcester photos by Kirk Jalbert, and the opening night crowd at Kara Taylor Fine Art. Photos by Ralph Stewart

If the art itself offered a nearly overwhelming wealth of sensory experience, the atmosphere did too. The gallery began to fill with curious visitors just after 5 pm and soon was packed. By 6 pm the hors d'oeuvres were gone, and the wine and chocolates ran out a little later. But nothing quelled the enthusiasm of the stream of visitors who continued to arrive, keeping the gallery full of enthusiasm and upbeat conversation until well after the 8 pm closing time.

The crowd was as diverse as the art, mixing everything from ages (along with the more grown-up contingent there were many 20-somethings, rare at art shows here) to dress, which ranged from velvets to jeans. And although it was a holiday weekend with many off-Islanders visiting, familiar faces were everywhere.

Kara Taylor
Exhibit hostess Kara Taylor with her painting, "The Present Moment - Catch It if You Can,"

"It felt like it was one big happy family," said Ms. Taylor later. "The show was everything I wanted it to be."

Ms. Taylor, who grew up in West Tisbury and turns 31 this month, quickly made a name for herself after graduating from Maine College of Art in 1997. She opened a tiny gallery at the old Nip 'N' Tuck Farm dairy building, showing her paintings in the milk room and selling flowers, fresh produce, and gourmet edibles out front. Her paintings, mostly Island landscapes, were instantly popular, selling out each summer. Last June, Ms. Taylor moved her business to Vineyard Haven's Main Street where she maintains a studio and a gallery.

Among the most striking pieces were Canadian artist Peter Beckett's three large abstract oils with bold colors and assertive vitality. The four strong white swaths running top to bottom over a darkly somber and stormy background are as powerful as the four forte chords at the start of Mozart's "Requiem." "Looking through Time" is a layered polyphony of color, with wide swift brushstrokes interlocking, overlapping.

Peter Beckett art
A gallery visitor contemplates Peter Beckett's bold and colorful abstracts, "Icicles" and "Looking through Time."

Equally arresting were Susie Oken's giant sunflowers, the sensuous blossoms exuding such a sense of life force they seem about to burst off the canvas. One is captured at the peak of blooming, robust, golden petals reaching out, thick green leaves curving tightly; the other is an autumn sunflower, fading dark, petals withered, but still noble.

Ms. Taylor said that when she saw the works, only two of a series depicting the sunflower's life cycle, she was determined to put them in the public view. Ms. Oken, formerly a New York City photographer, was one of several artists represented who rarely if ever show.

Young West Tisbury artist Max Decker, a recent Massachusetts College of Art graduate now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., is best known for his modest scale Island landscapes. But here he shows a monochromatic oversized canvas, a surrealistic yet oddly lyrical scene - two creatures, perhaps human, a silvery background, a row of stark radio towers silhouetted in the distance. According to Ms. Taylor, this style is one Mr. Decker has long maintained, even while producing more conventional landscapes .

Max Decker art
Max Decker's "It's Almost Too Much to Ask" invites the viewer into a surrealistic world with a stark, monochromatic landscape.

New York artist Wendy Fulenwider floats gossamer bridges over the Hudson River. The water is sparkling and alive with impressionistic brush-and-palette-knife strokes, all watery colors of blue, white, gray - as though sun-struck.

Movie actress Brooke Adams exhibits several oil paintings, colorful and realistic scenes chronicling daily work life on the set of her husband award-winner Tony Shaloub's television show, "Monk."

Young people with attitude in flashy garb stare back at the viewer in color images of Worcester nightlife by Kirk Jalbert, a professor of photography at Clark University.

Islander Elizabeth Cecil offers a quartet of moody black-and-white photographs, intriguing for their varied textures and ambiguous subject matter - a hand here, the edge of a black garment, a swirl of leaves, bare toes. The mysteries are compelling, the compositions pleasing.

Along with an array of styles Ms. Taylor aimed to offer art for every pocket book. Price tags range from $10,000 for a Peter Beckett to only $150, for which one may purchase one of several idiosyncratic self-portraits in monotype by Greg Giegucz. His image ranges from average Joe to alien, with a variety of personalities from humorous to scary to fierce in between.

Rhode Islander James Steele paints oil on wood with the care and patience of an Old Master, his work precise and serene. Fishermen stand atop the Menemsha jetty, a citrus-colored twilight sky stretching far beyond them; three slender trees with tiny, crisp green leaves huddle in the breeze as a man pulls his rowboat ashore.

Lindsey Scott, a former Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School art teacher, shows a grid of small abstracts with soft rounded shapes, cloudlike settings, pastel tones accented with gold.

Fruits show up everywhere - glistening orange cantaloupes and purple plums in Ann Snyder's breakfast still lifes, succulent figs surrounded like jewels with gold leaf settings by Stephanie Danforth. David Rode, a Philadelphia software developer, plops his big sculpted pear and perfect round grape down on a high-tech metal-gray textured surface.

Ms. Taylor's own two pieces have a shimmery, mystical feeling and are the fruits of her recent foray into what she terms "more autobiographical work." "The Present Moment - Catch It if You Can," illustrates the old adage with charming literalness as iridescent snowflakes cascade down over a luminous turquoise sea and waiting hands reach, palms up, to catch them. The smaller "Give" depicts a serene female face, in a dreamy blue-green setting, while beneath are two hands, one giving, one receiving - "The best way to learn about myself is through giving," she confides.

"I wanted to step out of myself and show others' work," reflected Ms. Taylor this week. "When you look at your own work all the time you become your own worst critic. This allows me to see with new eyes."

14 Artists You Should Know, Kara Taylor Fine Art, 19 Main St., Vineyard Haven. Thursday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. The show continues through December and possibly longer. 508-693-7799.