Small works, big impact at A Gallery

"Little Bird Book" watercolor. —Art by Carol Barsha

Hidden away on a side street just beyond the busy commercial stretch of Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs’ A Gallery has quickly established itself as a showcase for contemporary and cutting-edge art.

A visit to the open-layout gallery, with its industrial gray walls and floor, offers the experience of viewing museum-quality work by masters of their media. The artists featured at A Gallery this past summer (whose work is still on display) include Irving Petlin, one of the world’s foremost pastel artists; the late famed avant-garde sculptor Stella Waitzkin, who was a fixture in the downtown New York City art scene in the 1960s and ’70s; and highly successful photographers Marianna Cook and Ed Grazda, both of whom have work in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA, and have been published in the New Yorker, among other magazines and journals.

Owner Tanya Augoustinos also tries out new and emerging artists every year. She seeks out work which is both contemporary and, in many cases, unusual for the medium or technique. Often it represents something larger than its visual appeal.

For those without the budget of a fine art collector, A Gallery is currently hosting a show of small works. In some cases that means small in scale, in some cases smaller price tags, and in some cases, both.

The annual show gives Ms. Augoustinos the chance to reintroduce some of the artists she has shown throughout the summer, as well as to incorporate some new people into her collection.

“It’s sort of a season-ending invitation to people who don’t make large work and a chance to include as many people as possible,” says Ms. Augoustinos. “The scale would also be a factor as far as affordability. There’s a range of pricing.”

The current selection at A Gallery features some very small-scale works, including evocative wave paintings by John Redick utilizing a unique acrylic process. Mr. Redick makes seascapes using the flow of the paint to create almost abstract works that really capture the energy and mystery of the ocean. The bright blue, very shiny little works are self-contained on small canvases.

Other standalones on small canvases are tiny mixed-media pieces by Ria Ray, a California artist and healer formerly of the Vineyard. Ms. Ray uses small square canvases to create the “Guardian” series: little visual talismans that, according to Ms. Augoustinos, are “a reminder to love yourself and take care of yourself.” The mini paintings are highly textural, flecked with bits of gold, and sell for the very reasonable price of $100.

Beth Parker, a local landscaper, is also a channeler of sorts. She has created a series of small crayon, pen, and ink drawings of what might be described as alien robotics. Her figures display a cross of mechanical and organic forms, showing a world of her own imagining. In handmade frames that have the look of burnished metal, they are both charming and fascinatingly futuristic.

Tom Mullins, who only recently started doing pastels under the tutelage of Valentine Estabrook, has his gallery debut in this show. Remarkable for capturing the essence of his subjects, Mr. Mullins’ masterful little seascapes and still lifes display a great sense of composition and a knack for simplifying images to their elemental forms in a very appealing way.

Midsize pieces include work by established A Gallery artists like Carol Barsha, who has contributed some simple little drawings of books; Doris Lubell, who has created works with faces peering out from dreamy abstract landscapes; Alejandro Ray, who has created some smaller versions of his signature geometric figurative work in bright colors; and Ed Schulman, whose semiabstract figures, done in an interesting muted color palette and rustic style, show off more of the emerging Vineyard artist’s unique vision.

There are also a few newcomers to A Gallery, whom Ms. Augoustinos is introducing for the first time with the thought of including them in upcoming exhibits. Among those is Roxann Leibenhaut, whose Brooklyn and Manhattan cityscapes capture the mood of New York. Her small and midsize oil paintings are great examples of everyday urban life, with all of the details of a mundane city scene coming together to depict the energy and atmosphere of the city. Ms. Augoustinos explains, “She takes an accumulation of a lot of information and brings peace to it. She reaches calm out of chaos.”

Also included in the small-works show are terracotta and bronze bas-relief panels by Ilka List, Christopher Wright’s infused-metal black and white photos, and Harry Seymour’s scratchboard and pastel works. All are excellent examples of A Gallery’s focus on unique vision and unusual technique.

Ms. Augoustinos will keep the gallery open through the end of the year, with new work by Heather Goff being added throughout this month and a final show sometime in November. The Gallery will also host several events, including a cabaret evening on Saturday, Oct. 11, featuring a short play, music, poetry, and video.

A Gallery, which has been situated in its present location for two years, has now established itself as an outpost for art lovers in the formerly rundown neighborhood behind the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. With the new bowling alley well under way in the construction process, the area is bound to become a new mecca of activity, and Ms. Augoustinos is looking forward to the change.

“I’m very excited to be staying in this space,” Ms. Augoustinos says. “I’ve definitely made myself a home in this neighborhood, and will continue to be in this space.” She notes that she will be adding more wall space next year, and has a full schedule of shows for summer 2015.

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