Reality of aristocracy: Jennifer Delilah gives A Gallery talk

In an early version of "Empire 6," Ms. Delilah turns a map of the world into a aristocrat's game. — Photo courtesy of A Gallery

The A Gallery in Vineyard Haven hosted New York artist Jennifer Delilah for a recent artists’ talk. Doors were opened wide to provide shelter from a sudden thunderstorm that added excitement to the event. If you have to duck in somewhere to get out of the weather, why not have a look at some interesting paintings while you’re there?

Ms. Delilah focused on her historically based reimaginings of the Salon of Apollo in Versailles, the lavish French palace that symbolized the excesses of the aristocracy and their disregard for the plight of the impoverished. Her paintings portray the interiors of rooms accurately, but she replaces the elite who would normally be found there with the downtrodden.

In the foreground of the paintings, the Dauphin, son of King Louis XVI, plays on top of a globe, like a master of the universe, insulated from the suffering depicted on the paintings above him.

Though the issues they address are deadly serious, Ms. Delilah’s works are leavened by humor and playfulness. Some are dreamlike, some are distorted. Others depict satyrs and celebrate our animal nature.

Using slides, Ms. Delilah showed the various stages her paintings go through to reach completion. She starts with photographs and images that she finds, often combing through hundreds to find the one that feels just right. She then cuts up the images and makes a rough collage of what she will be working on. A pencil draft follows. After an imprimatura, she does an underpainting, succeeded by several steps of adding color on top.

The audience was shown the early stages of Ms. Delilah’s next major work, “The New York Cock Exchange,” which depicts two roosters battling it out as a circle of other birds watch and take bets — all of this in the shadow of Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange building. Despite the loaded nature of the imagery, the painting does not beat you over the head with a narrow political interpretation. The artist is tactfully unwilling to provide you with one.

“Putting it in black and white is so permanent,” Ms. Delilah said. “I don’t want to turn people off. I put time and effort into making it accessible, I don’t want to block people with words. Art functions so well, it gives people space to find their own meaning, emotionally and intellectually.”

Based in Brooklyn, Ms. Delilah comes to the Island to visit her stepmother. She hasn’t yet painted here, but she’d like to. “Not yet, but I would love to set up a studio here,” she said. “It would be a great place to work. In New York there are too many distractions.”

Ms. Delilah recommends that aspiring artists focus on drawing. “Once you know how to draw there’s no such thing as ‘hard,'” she said. “There’s just more time-consuming and less time-consuming. Drawing teaches you that you’re making a two-dimensional representation of [a three-dimensional object], and you have to train your eye to not move around, to lock it in. Once you do that with drawing, all else follows.”