Island artists are always evolving

Local artists reflect on inspirations in the year about to end.

"Sushi." — Painting by Daisy Lifton

It’s typical for individuals with a creative bent to continually recreate and redefine themselves. A few Vineyard artists did just that in 2014 and they describe the notable changes in the work they’ve created in the past year.

Painter Donna Straw is perhaps known best for her linear based depictions of houses and bird houses. But just two years ago she started working in a more fluid and organic style. She moved away from her former architectural subjects which lent themselves to the striated color block style and more towards Vineyard landscapes with curves and depth. More recently she has combined the two styles, which she refers to as modeling and taping (for the method used to render the straight lines).

“With the modeling I felt like I could articulate what I wanted to say with the landscapes,” Ms. Straw says. “Then lo and behold, I was in Chilmark and I looked at this amazing stone wall. It was so architectural and sculpted. It lent itself to the inner way that I express myself with color and line.”

Ms. Straw completed a series of 10 paintings of stone walls using both linear and modeled elements. “Because I had done landscapes for the past three years, I combined the two. I like that you can work with the fragments and the way the stones curve spatially. There are a lot of elements in a stone wall. You can play one element against another.”

The new series retains much of the stylistic, somewhat flattened quality of Ms. Straw’s classic style which focuses the attention on her use of color and light — often enhanced with touches of metallic paint to represent glints of sunlight. “I’m much more comfortable with the hard edged style,” Ms. Straw says. “I think it gives me the opportunity to work more graphically and to distinguish myself from other artists. I still get to represent the Vineyard, but I’m doing it my own way, in my voice.”

Ms. Straw will still continue to experiment with different styles. “It’s exciting to go into another passageway and discover something different,” she says. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I want people to realize that I have more breadth than one series.”

Artist Daisy Lifton focuses solely on traditional Asian techniques, including origami and brush painting. She is always dabbling in new things. In the past couple of years, she’s been experimenting with a collage technique called chigiri-e which involves creating images with pieces of torn colored handmade Japanese paper. Ms. Lifton has used the process to create beautiful Vineyard landscapes including depictions of the Gay Head cliffs and Menemsha harbor. These small works have a wonderful delicacy and almost an abstract quality that is quite charming.

More recently, Ms. Lifton has begun creating designs on black tee-shirts using bleach on black fabric. Although the method is not a traditional one, she works with typical Asian subjects like horses, monkeys, birds, and chrysanthemums. It’s amazing how much detail Ms. Lifton can extract with the bleach using subtle shadings of brown to created detail and depth.

Ms. Lifton is always refining and experimenting with her techniques. She recently managed to solve one problem with the mounting of the homemade hemp and mulberry papers on which she executes her brushstroke paintings.

“For years I have been mounting my paintings to another piece of similar paper with a cornstarch based glue,” says Ms. Lifton. “It’s a method that I learned from Sensei Koho in New York, but I always had problems due to changes in weather and humidity on the Island.”

This past year, Ms. Lifton started mounting the delicate papers directly onto canvases which have allowed her to create larger pieces while keeping her work very affordable. “It’s sort of like a collage combination. I tear the paper. People like the rough, ragged look.”

Always an innovator, Ms. Lifton has managed to combine ancient techniques with modern practices, creating stunning art at the intersection.

Painter Ed Schulman has a very distinctive, primitive style which relies on evoking his subjects with simple fluid lines and the use of a muted palette. This past fall Mr. Schulman spent a good deal of time in his native New York City where he drew inspiration from the people and energy of the city.

“I was born and raised in New York,” he says. “I feel very comfortable in New York. My work, I think, has an urban chic. I’m inspired by the city. There’s a heartbeat to New York that’s constant that is very sympathetic to an artist.”

This past year, Mr. Schulman has also been working on refining his skills and extending his vision. “My confidence is building,” he says. “I’m starting to use larger formats and increasing the amount of texture that I add to a painting. I’m a little more interested in composition. I realize that I’m developing my own style. I’m not going back historically quite as much as I was before. I’m trying to develop and enhance my own style.”

New works by Mr. Schulman demonstrate the unique qualities of his two homes. He does both simple, crude, impressionistic seascapes as well as cityscapes that highlight the colors and vibrancy of New York. His work has a very appealing contemporary feel that also harkens back to painters of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s — a time when artists were interested in depicting real life with passion and emotion.