Cindy Kane: Art in public spaces

Fly, 42 x 60, Mixed Media on Luan Panel, 2014 — Art by Cindy Kane

Using public spaces for art has become a significant and productive source for Island exhibitions since Martha’s Vineyard Hospital established its permanent collection by Island artists. Both the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center and the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse also utilize their lobbies effectively for temporary exhibits. Opening Saturday, August 23, is a M.V. Playhouse exhibit of work by Vineyard Haven artist Cindy Kane.

Great snowy owls visited the Vineyard in unprecedented numbers this past winter, and Ms. Kane has used the opportunity to capture these majestic raptors on canvas in “Wing to Wing,” her new exhibit at the Playhouse. She employs a muted palette for the graffiti-like gray background against which the owls’ white feathers provide a stunning contrast.

She sighted Great Snowy owls, which are not nocturnal, three times over the winter, once at West Chop and twice at Katama Airfield. “Each time you’re totally surprised,” Ms. Kane said. “This winter, we were all about that.” She was also inspired by the bird images of Vineyard photographer Sarah Mayhew. In order to avoid copyright infringement, Ms. Kane ended up destroying the owl painting she based on one of Ms. Mayhew’s bird photos. That led her to re-conceptualize her owl portraits, refining some of them into portraits of an owl’s solitary wing. It became a central motif. “I’m very grateful,” she said, “because it [the copyright issue] led to wing paintings that are very provocative.”

Bird photographers such as Ms. Mayhew spend hours in the wilderness, often under wet and snowy conditions, to get the perfect shot. “They have the utmost in patience and stamina,” Ms. Kane said. In some of Ms. Kane’s owl portraits, the graffiti-like background that she has returned to over and over in her work has evolved into a more elegant scribble, what she describes as “Cy Twombly-esque.” The late, celebrated painter was known for his calligraphy style paintings.

Birds have long provided inspiration to Ms. Kane, and she will include early works that incorporate them in her paintings, including “Veil,” which features a red-headed flicker, and “Safta’s Quilt” that depicts a grid of handkerchiefs belonging to her mother-in-law on which the artist has painted parrots and other birds. In addition, less expensive work from her magazine-cover series will be on display only on the night of the opening reception.

“It’s really nice to show in a public building,” Ms. Kane said. “I’m intrigued by the art in public spaces.” She also has work on display at M.V. Hospital, and at The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury and A Gallery in Oak Bluffs. Ms. Kane’s helmet series, consisting of military helmets painted and displayed as icons of war, will be on display at the Prow Artspace in New York’s Flatiron Building on Manhattan’s lower West Side this fall.

Cindy Kane: Wing to Wing opening reception, 4:30–6:30 pm, Saturday, August 23, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Show runs through September 6. For more information, visit