They each work on the Island, surrounded by sea, sky and its special quality of light. All four approach their work with freshness, vitality and integrity. Some of them are close friends. Yet the art created by Traeger diPietro, Kara Taylor, Dan VanLandingham, and Adam Thompson shares an even more crucial characteristic: It pushes the bounds of what for decades, has been called “Vineyard art.”
Regardless of the medium or subject matter, all four of these young artists approach their work with freshness, vitality and integrity.
“Some people read books — I painted,” Traeger diPietro, 33, says of his teen years. A native of Swampscott, he graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in studio art, came to the Vineyard 10 years ago, and drove a truck for the summer. “I started painting, got my work into galleries, and I’m still here,” he says.
While it might be somewhat disconcerting to see Mr. diPietro at a gallery reception one evening and driving a Pepsi delivery truck early the next morning, he shrugs it off with a chuckle. “I’ll probably always work. I love my job. I have a fantastic boss, and I drive around all day looking at the Island from 10 feet off the ground. This is where my ideas come from.”
Mr. diPietro’s ideas now line the walls of two galleries in the Oak Bluffs Arts District: Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery and PIKNIK Art and Apparel. His paintings fall into two categories: Impressionistic oils reflect his everyday interactions with people and the world around him, and the more personal and contemporary mixed media works.
“Something grabs me,” he says. “My impressionistic paintings are like taking photos. I try to capture something that is beautiful to me.” These “Islandscapes” — studies of the sea, the land and the people who inhabit the Vineyard — have hung at Dragonfly for the past six years.
At PIKNIK, owner Michael Hunter champions the edgier mixed media collages and works that Mr. diPietro describes as — “more me, more from my underlying subconscious.” A staple of the gallery’s annual Urban Show opening on August 14, Mr. diPietro has found a home for these canvasses.
He works contentedly on both genres in the living room of his Vineyard Haven apartment, moving from one painting to another, creating pieces that he hopes will be “valued and appreciated.”
By age 25, she had enough of her own work and enough of her own confidence to open a gallery at Nip ‘n’ Tuck Farm in West Tisbury. It was, she notes, “an immediate success.” Now in her 10th year as a gallery owner, Vineyard native Kara Taylor has reached another milestone: her fifth year on Main Street in downtown Vineyard Haven.
Known as an artist who regularly reinvents herself, Ms. Taylor’s archives include a wide range of genres, including haunting landscapes, allegorical mixed-media works, and a new body of paintings inspired by a series of aerial photographs of the Island she shot while in a small plane with a friend. The resulting landscapes, painted from an unusual perspective, proved to be a challenge. But Ms. Taylor’s expansive views of graceful curved lines where land and sea meet are captured in rich blue and green hues, soft and compelling abstractions of the Vineyard from an ethereal point of view.
Influenced in her formative years by William Barnett, Milton Avery, and Richard Diebenkorn, as well as by local artists Allen Whiting, Doug Kent, and Cindy Kane, Ms. Taylor has achieved reputation as an artist of striking originality and sensitivity. Her work, she explains, comes from her honest struggle with life.
“The self is determined to surface,” she says. “Life is a long question and answer process. I’m moved by the provocations of emotion.”
Ms. Taylor’s studio is in a space in the back of her gallery, something she would love to change for a workspace adjacent to her West Tisbury home. Kara Taylor Fine Art allows her complete creative freedom but also requires her to produce a daunting number of paintings each year.
She is enthusiastic about a new series of allegorical figurative work she has beginning. Never at a loss for ideas, her greater struggle she says, is with the fleeting passage of time: “I have a strong desire to accomplish as much as I can while I’m here.”
He grew up in West Tisbury and realized his passion for art at an early age, finding encouragement from teachers Janice Frame and Cynthia Wayman. Now 24, Dan VanLandingham has spent the past academic year pursuing a graduate degree in art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. A familiar face at the Vineyard Artisans Festival for the past three years, Mr. VanLandingham has returned to the Island to show his recent works on Sundays at the Festival at The Grange, and in a solo show at the Chilmark branch of the Bank of Martha’s Vineyard, in August.
Known for his evocative landscapes and depictions of Island tradesmen, Mr. VanLandingham is eagerly making his way from his earlier traditional training toward a more conceptual style.
“I’ve been painting traditional landscapes but adding a contemporary feel,” he says, often in the form of an unsettling element such as an unexplained figure or a smear of paint. Combining a representational approach with new “vagueness and uncertainty,” he plans to use both to address social unrest and cultural change.
With exploration and experimentation as his current goals, he is quick to laud such contemporaries as painter Max Decker, Traeger diPietro, and Kara Taylor for their groundbreaking efforts. “I’d love to work with them at some point in the future in a co-op gallery,” he says. In the meantime, he is excited about the summer internship he’s lined up with friend and mentor Allen Whiting as part of his graduate studies.
Adam Thompson, painter, college instructor and art critic, divides his time between New York City and the more idyllic settings of Martha’s Vineyard and Maine. He grew up outside Portland, ME, and spent every summer at his family’s home in the Oak Bluffs Campground. At 28, he has been showing his work at Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery for more than 10 years, first impressing former owner Holly Alaimo with his talent at the All-Island Art Show when he was just 17.
He and Mr. diPietro enjoy parallel dichotomous lives. He, too, maintains two distinctly different bodies of work and exhibits at both Dragonfly and PIKNIK. Pragmatic in nature, Mr. Thompson says that all of his work is designed for other people’s enjoyment. “No solipsistic navel-gazing here,” he reports. And while he wants his work to sell, he says, “You don’t have to buy it — just enjoy it. The definition of art is transferred between people.”
Mr. Thompson’s work at Dragonfly includes Vineyard landscapes, a well as images of trucks, airplanes, and cars. People are usually only vaguely suggested. Influenced by Edward Hopper’s realism and rural experience, as well as Island artists Rez Williams, Allen Whiting, and Dragonfly owner and artist Don McKillop, Mr. Thompson’s paintings have gradually moved toward greater realism and increased evidence of humanity.
His work at PIKNIK, included in Mr. Hunter’s August Urban Show, reflects the energy and density of city life, its skyscrapers, highways and brownstones replacing the Vineyard’s more graphic representations of boats, fields and other serene images.
These “Next Generation” artists, as well as others — including Max Decker and owners of the new Pep Art gallery in Vineyard Haven Greg Watson, Carrie Mae Smith, and Elizabeth Cecil — are collectively inspiring a new era of imaginative and risk-taking art on the Vineyard.
As Michael Hunter of PIKNIK observes: “I’ve witnessed many of the Island’s current crop of artists give themselves permission to try, and, in some cases, miss, but eventually push through to a voice beyond that of just the Island landscape. It is through a broader vision of what lies ‘out there’ that they are able to bring fresh interpretation to what Island art can be.”
Dragonfly Fine Arts Gallery, 91 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs, MA; 508-693-8877; www.mvdragonfly.com
PIKNIK Art & Apparel, 99 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs, MA; 508-693-1366; www.piknikmv.com
Kara Taylor Fine Art, 19 Main St., Vineyard Haven, MA; 508-693-7799; www.karataylorart.com
Vineyard Artisans Festivals, Grange Hall, West Tisbury; 508-693-8989; www.vineyardartisons.com