Galleries : Jules Worthington: At home with his art
Landscapes in luminous shades of purple and green dominate the new work of Jules Worthington exhibited last week at the Chilmark branch of the Bank of Martha's Vineyard. "My new direction," says the artist, "is to be more primitive and child-like through simple and stylized forms in bold colors. I want to find the natural freedom of the child within me and let it express itself."
Freedom of expression is at the very core of Jules Worthington's art career. In the span of 50 years, this academically trained and highly inventive artist has worked in a broad range of styles, including realism, op art, impressionism, and abstract expressionism. His curiosity and imagination have led him to experiment in a multitude of media - photography, printmaking, shaped canvas painting, and kinetic sculpture in the form of chronographs. These clock-like sculptures, which move and change design, won the artist a place at Leo Castelli's Gallery in New York with Andy Warhol and Donald Judd in 1972.
While such prestigious company might have kept some artists working in the same formula to try to bottle success, it is not in Mr. Worthington's nature to stay with one genre. He seeks new creative challenges. "I always remember what a professor told me: "If everybody likes your work, go back and do it over, or do something else."
The expanse of Mr. Worthington's inventive spirit is best found in his solar home, which he designed and built off of Chilmark's Tea Lane in the 80s. "This is the house that tempura built," the artist muses, referring to the edible tempura that he made and served for eight years at the Vineyard fairs to help subsidize the construction of his house. He refers to his house as " The realization of a dream; an environmental sculpture," which serves as his gallery and studio - the center of his creative world. The walls, some straight, some curvilinear, are covered top to bottom in his eclectic artwork. "People come in here and think I've been collecting art from all these different artists," he says. It's not surprising, since Mr. Worthington's paintings of impressionist land and seascapes a la Monet hang alongside his geometric shapes reminiscent of Vasarely. "I paint what moves me at the time," he says. "I'm fiercely independent."
It is not the market that motivates Mr. Worthington, but rather his own sense of wonder and joy. "I need to express what's in me, not what I think people will like," he says. "I understand that many people prefer realistic paintings and it is important for me to prove that I can technically render representational art," he says pointing to a series of photo-realistic scenes of Cornwall, England.
Minutes later, however, he enthusiastically turns to a large canvas of a swirl of bright colors. "It is a microscopic picture of a vitamin C cell. I had to paint it," he says. "It looks like an abstract painting, but it is just another form of reality. It hones in on a very small section of something and creates its own little world."
In the case of his impressionist paintings, which evolved from studying at the Cape Cod School of Art, the market and the artist are in harmony. The light and colors are naturally pleasing, and the artist is happy that people like them. "Monet is one of my spirit guides for his sense of light," he says. Other inspirational artists he mentions are: "Da Vinci, who shows us that all artists are inventors; Turner for the atmospheric element in painting; and Kandinsky, my current muse, for his bold abstraction."
Prints and posters of these artists line the walls of Mr. Worthington's studio, which he affectionately calls the "Ivory Tower." "This is where I go into the zone to paint for three months before a show," he says.
The Ivory Tower, on the second floor of the house, has a big window looking out to Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island. These are familiar sights to the artist who grew up sailing in the Vineyard Sound in the 1940s. "We lived in Connecticut and used to vacation on the Cape until it became too developed," the artist says. His family made the Vineyard their permanent home in 1950.
"Look at this painting of Menemsha," he says, pointing to a recently painted harbor scene. "You won't see outboard motors on boats or telephone poles because I take them out. I want to preserve what the Vineyard looked like in the 50s," he says.
"I left the Island in1960 to go to graduate school in Hawaii and to pursue my art career in California. When I returned in 1979, I was shocked to see the development," he says. He has played an active role in Island preservation ever since, serving as a trustee of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society for 15 years.
Despite Mr. Worthington's changing styles, one thing remains constant. "This year, " he says, "the Island inspired an epiphany. I was at Buzzard's Bay and could see the Vineyard in the distance, and it was suddenly very clear that this is where I belong; these are my roots."
Jules Worthington, Louisa Gould and Carol Craven Galleries in Vineyard Haven; Labor Day Artisans Festival, Sept. 5 & 6, at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury; or by appointment at his Chilmark studio, 508-645-2278.
Barbara Case Senchak is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.