The art of politics

"Balance of Power," another of Diana van Nes's flag-themed statements from The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. — Photo courtesy of Granary Gallery

When the President vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, Island art turns into a political celebration. Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven proudly displays owner Louisa Gould’s digital painting of Obama (rendered from a photograph) in the window.

Margo Ouellette’s portrait of the Obama’s dog Bo, was displayed in the Gould Gallery last summer, and according to Ms. Gould, now hangs in the White House.

Both l’Elégance Upstairs Gallery in Oak Bluffs and Carol Craven Gallery in West Tisbury are currently exhibiting the work of summer resident Harry Seymour, who has done a number of celebratory paintings of the President, including “First Dance” in egg tempera and “Yes, We Can,” a scratchboard work of the Obamas bumping fists.

Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs carries the photographs of Boston Globe columnist/photographer Derrick Jackson, who traveled with Obama on the campaign trail. In one, the then-future President is standing behind a giant American flag in Madison, Wisc. In another, Obama is shown behind anonymous raised hands in Grand Rapids, Minn. The Peter Simon Gallery in Vineyard Haven is carrying Time Magazine photographer Callie Shell’s Obama campaign photographs as well.

At Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven, proprietor Nancy Cramer is expecting arrival soon of a clay sculpture , “Hope,” by Dona Dalton depicting Obama standing on a whale.

Political art comes in many other permutations than celebration of the sitting President. Sometimes the subject itself creates the political dimension.

Eugene Goldfield’s Penumbra Gallery in Edgartown carries vintage photographs of the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, another with Richard Nixon, and a third of Selassie disembarking from a train before speaking to the League of Nations. Mr. Goldfield has other photos of Winston Churchill and of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which he describes as particularly eccentric one-of-a-kind pieces.

Numerous political figures and celebrities have come into Mr. Goldfield’s gallery looking for political photos, including reporters covering former President Clinton and Secret Servicemen hunting for early photos of the White House. “I’m too discreet to mention names,” Mr. Goldfield says of other clients in search of political photos.

From the time of Leonardo da Vinci, artists have used caricature to satirize prominent politicians and celebrities. Ms. Craven’s gallery carries a series by well-known illustrator David Levine, some of which are “Jimmy Carter with Forked Tongue,” “Ronald Reagan as a Gladiator,” looking like a vampire, and controversial linguist “Noam Chomsky.”

Vineyard artist Stan Murphy delved into the world of political art when he rendered a portrait of Dr. Robert Weaver, secretary of the department of housing and urban development secretary in the Johnson administration, and the first African American cabinet member. This painting is also at the Craven Gallery.

Among the many politically oriented holdings of West Tisbury’s Granary Gallery is Diana Van Nes’s “All American,” a flag made of stamps. Although the original has been sold, the gallery still offers giclée prints of it.

The Granary and its Edgartown sister gallery North Water both show work by famed late photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, many of which qualify as political in nature like the famous post-World War II shot, “V-J Day in Times Square,” of a sailor kissing a nurse.

Much of metal and stained glass artist Barney Zeitz’s work is strongly political. “It’s funny how the metal goes one way (political) and the glass is more spiritual,” he says. His Vietnam Era Memorial, which will be installed at the M.V. Community Services office in Oak Bluffs this fall, is one powerful example. Others include the Holocaust Memorial in Providence, R.I., the Immigrant Memorial in Plymouth and his Hiroshima Memorial, currently for sale by the artist.

Work by Edgartown’s Eisenhauer Gallery artist Adrian Waggoner takes on a political dimension by narrative implication and title in a painting like “Apatheology,” which portrays a long-haired, singlet-wearing young man in a background iconographically more suitable for a saint.

Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs has an exhibit of quilts, a number of which are political in yet other ways. Two feminist quilts by Paulette Hayes are: “Tell Me I Don’t Have Lyme,” in which a classical, Venus-like nude is covered by ticks and acupuncture needles; and “The Madonnas of Martha’s Vineyard,” where photos of actual women have been transferred to the fabric surfaces.

The show also displays Haitian Peace Quilts. “Semon Kikeubetea” was created by the Haitian Peace Quilters, who call themselves in Haitian patois Artisanat Patchwork de Paix. Another, “Haiti Peace Quilt,” is on display in the Vineyard Haven Public Library, given to it by the Vineyard-based Fish Farm for Haiti Project.

Art does not always wear the mantle of politics comfortably. Rick Willoughby, co-owner of Edgartown’s Willoughby Gallery, who chooses not to carry political art, calls it the kiss of death. “It’s bound to offend someone,” he says. “If you show something in your gallery that’s political, people assume it’s your belief.”