Gallery owners define “Island art”


It’s an expression that has sometimes been used dismissively to describe the fast-buck paintings of lobster traps, lighthouses, and postcard seascapes, but there is more to “Island art” than tourist appeal. The Carol Craven Gallery (in new location at 497 State Road in West Tisbury) displays an eclectic collection of contemporary and American modernist work, including the iconic paintings of Thomas Hart Benton, many reflecting his Island surroundings, Kib Bramhall’s compelling Island landscapes, and Anne D. Grandin’s Native American-influenced interpretation of Island scenes. To gallery owner Carol Craven, the term “Island art” suggests artisan fairs. “The artists of Martha’s Vineyard who create artwork that you [recognize]: the landscapes of the Island, the animals of the Island, things that are reminiscent of this place. You’re mixing all levels of ability. It’s a matter of picking which is the best work, not specifically because it’s a Martha’s Vineyard image.”

One of Ms. Craven’s artists is nationally recognized landscape painter Christie Scheele. “She comes here and she does a lot of sketching and she does a lot of photography. So this is paradise for her to get the landscape, but then she also does paintings from the Catskills.” When she mentions Anne Grandin, Ms. Craven first cites Ms. Grandin’s involvement with the mural on the north wall of the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop.

“She usually uses Martha’s Vineyard themes in her paintings,” she says of the artist who divides her times between the Boston area and the Vineyard. “And she does a lot of things that constitute what I would call ‘Island art.'”

The “Island art” that Ms. Craven admires captures the spirit of the Vineyard’s sea and landscapes and translates it into fine art.

“I’m more interested in the success of the painting than I am in the subject matter,” she says.

Elizabeth Eisenhauer’s North Water Street gallery in Edgartown exhibits figurative marine art, impressionist and expressionist paintings, jewelry, and sculpture. Her definition of “Island art” is also broad and inclusive. “I think it’s something that resonates about what particular island a person is thinking of. And people come into my gallery and say, ‘Do you have any Island art?’ I show them pieces that are landscapes of the Island, or interiors of Island homes.”

At Eisenhauer Gallery one finds Washington state native Cheri Christensen’s paintings of farm animals, very reminiscent of those seen up-Island, and world traveler Tjasa Owen’s paintings of rolling pastures in shimmering colors, typical of Island farms. These are images one might respond to as “Island art.”

“A lot of times it’s the light here that artists want to translate — a common inspiration for painters,” Ms. Eisenhauer says. She cites the atmospheric, dramatic landscapes of Island native Max Decker, who layers colors and reveals brush strokes in his impressionist scenes of trees and moody skies.

“I think that since we live in such a beautiful place, when an artist chooses a location there is usually something very endearing that the Island has inspired that’s made them want to paint it,” Ms. Eisenhauer says.

This story is reprinted from the The Times’ July 2009 ART supplement.