What It Takes: Show Time


The process of creating and exhibiting art is different for every artist. The location of an art show influences what is displayed, as well as how it is hung. Preparation for an exhibition may be part of the artist’s usual routine or be a focused, intense period of work. It is as individual as the artist and the circumstance.

Max Decker grew up on the Island and graduated from the Museum School in Boston. He currently spends most of the year in Brooklyn, where he focuses most of his energy on music, while he also continues to paint.

“It was easier to paint when I had a loft,” says Mr. Decker. “I find it hard to paint when I’m sitting in a basement, although I do some urban-oriented painting.” On the Vineyard he works on his landscape paintings and urban scenes in a large studio next to his family home in West Tisbury. He will arrive here with a month to focus exclusively on painting in preparation for his September show at PikNik Fine Arts & Apparel gallery in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Decker says, “It really helps to see everything on the wall. I like to see the show as a coherent whole. I hang it all up at my studio and work on the worst painting and the next worst, until they’re better.”

He doesn’t finish painting until hours before the show opens. “Usually, I come back and paint right on the gallery wall,” he says, “hours before people show up, catching little things that I’ve missed.”

Ken Vincent is another art school graduate and West Tisbury native. He studied at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he earned a BFA in illustration in 1999. Since then he has been building his career as a children’s book illustrator and painter. His Island land- and sea-scapes are composed of slightly abstracted blocks and planes of saturated color. His work is currently showing at the Granary Gallery.

“It’s different being a parent,” says Mr. Vincent, father to a three-year-old son. “During school vacations, I don’t work at all. I try to work regularly, but as it comes closer to a show, I’m working a lot more. I like the pressure.”

He finds that he often wants to change work he’s done more than a few months before. “You do something, and in two or three months it’s time to correct it. I want everything to look perfect, and I have the benefit of showing with some really good artists, which raises the bar.”

Debra Gaines’ career in art actually began out of a desire to spend more time with her growing family — she has three children. She left a steady but inflexible job at the post office to show and promote her brother-in-law’s art. After a decade of selling Dana Gaines’ cards and prints at flea markets and artisans’ shows, Ms. Gaines began to work on her own art. She completed a three-year program in digital photography at RISD while she continued to manage a home-based art business for herself and other members of the Gaines family. She had her own gallery in Edgartown for two years, but found that it was better to do the summer shows and sell through her website, debragaines.com. On August 21 her show will open at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown.

“This job is full-time, year-round for me,” says Ms. Gaines. “I try not to cram, but there’s nothing more motivating than working the day of the show. While my husband Warren is setting up our tent, I’m still making things.”

She is constantly working on improving both her art and the business. “We both go to school during the year to get better,” she says, “but I’m not trying to add new products.”

Ms. Gaines and her husband share the role of gallery manager, but she also shows at Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs and Old Sculpin in Edgartown. “When I started showing at the gallery,” says Ms. Gaines, “they would choose what they liked. Now, I put out the things I want to sell, the way I want to sell them.”

Ruth Kirchmeier is a long-established Island woodcut artist. She studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and The Cooper Union School of Art, in New York City. Now in her 70s, she works on her woodcuts throughout the year.

“My work is labor-intensive,” she says. It begins with making a drawing in her West Tisbury studio, which she then traces onto a block of wood. She carves the master plate then transfers the drawing to two more sides of the block. Then, she works to get the colors right.

“We’re not talking weeks, we’re talking months,” says Ms. Kirchmeier. “If I have three new woodcuts a year, including one major, large one, then I’m satisfied. I do editions of 20 of each print, but only print 5 to10 at once. Each print is unique. I couldn’t make them the same if I tried, and I’m very experimental. I’m very rarely satisfied with the first print,” she says, “so I alter the second one, sometimes profoundly. It’s impossible for me to replicate a print exactly, both technically and temperamentally.”

When it comes to hanging the work, she leaves it up to the gallery owners. She shows at Hermine Merel Smith Fine Art in West Tisbury and at the Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven.

“My work looks better in an intimate space,” says Ms. Kirchmeier, “and in both of those galleries you can envision how the work would look in your own home.”