Nine Island artists celebrate the outdoors for a week of plein air

"Moshup Beach Morning." — Art by Marjorie Mason

We can all agree that we’ve loved September’s halcyon weather, and nine Island artists have taken full advantage by presenting a series of plein air (outdoor) painting events. Now in its fourth year, the “Painting the Island” arts show started earlier this month with painters working in sites at Bend-in-the-Road Beach, Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick, Aquinnah, Lambert’s Cove, and Edgartown off Down Harbor Road.

This past weekend a reception was hosted for the artists, who collectively represent  AIRE MV, an Island artists’ group dedicated to preserving and expanding the art of plein air painting. Their work is currently on display, from noon to 5 pm, through next Wednesday September 30, at 4 Church St. in Vineyard Haven (next to the Vineyard Playhouse), former site of Beadniks next to the Vineyard Playhouse.

“Painting the Island” continues this week with four separate events. They include Paint with an Artist, featuring Valentine and Kanta Lipsky on Thursday, Sept. 24, 6 to 8 pm; followed by Music in the Gallery, on Friday, Sept. 25, 6 to 8 pm; and Artist Demonstration with Marjorie Mason on Sunday, Sept. 27, 6 to 8 pm. This year’s “Painting the Island” series will conclude with Music Night on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 6 to 8 pm, when classical guitarist Nate Sprague performs. All of these events will also take place at 14 Church Street, Vineyard Haven.

The nine artists showing work include the seven founding members: Anna Lowell “Lowely” Finnerty, Judith Howells, Ms. Lipsky, Marjorie Mason, Liz Taft, Kate Taylor, and Valentine, as well invited artists Leslie Baker and June Schoppe.

“We are kind of struck by how beautiful the show looks,” says Valentine, who helped organize the event. She and Ms. Lipsky will paint sunflowers on Thursday, the evening when the public is invited to paint with the group. The two will provide acrylic paints and materials, and participants will be asked for a donation to cover costs. On Sunday, Ms. Mason will set up and paint to demonstrate how plein air painting works, as well as discussing her experiences working for this show.

Valentine explained in a telephone interview this week that workshops with Thaw Malin and Ms. Mason that she and Ms. Lipsky had taken a number of years ago were what inspired the two to establish “Painting the Island.” Adapted from the French Impressionist term plein air, AIRE is the event’s new title. “We love the room,” Valentine said about the exhibit site. “We’d like to do it there again next year.” Because of its large size, the public can view paintings at a proper distance and perspective. The paintings on exhibit are arranged by the sites used, so that viewers can see different viewpoints. “We all have different painting styles,” Valentine said. She explained that “en plein air” painting, which demands an acute visual sense, shakes up the artist.

Ms. Finnerty works primarily with pastels, and exhibits at the Old Sculpin Gallery. California-based Ms. Howells, who summers on the Vineyard, says in her artist’s statement, “Painting en plein air is my way of honoring the land.” A healer and teacher as well as an artist, Ms. Lipsky, whose father was a commercial artist, has studied at Featherstone and exhibits at Bananas in West Tisbury.

Ms. Mason, who studied with printmakers Kathy Caraccio and Paul Taylor, creates monotypes as well as oil paintings. Currently exhibiting at Christina Gallery and Copper Works, she says, “I find the deeper my outside investigation of nature is, the more fluid my studio work becomes.” From Ms. Taft’s first attempts en plein air, the artist was hooked. She paints both small studies and large works completely on location — no photographs, no finishing in the studio — and exhibits at Gay Head Gallery. Ms. Taylor, who has collected Island shells to make beads, now paints with oils. She says, “The beauty of all these disciplines is that though the materials may be the same used by each artist or artisan, every person has their own expression, and that is one of the miracles of art.” Valentine, who focuses on plein air in her work, finds painting outdoors both a challenge and most rewarding, but also finds it relaxing to create abstract paintings of sky and water.

In her artist’s statement, Ms. Baker says, “I am intrigued by ‘knowing’ something by painting it many times at different times of day and different times of the year.” The Copley Society member exhibits at A Gallery, and has illustrated 15 children’s books as well as painting portraits and landscapes. Designer and co-founder of the Wilbraham Children’s Museum, Ms. Schoppe says of en plein air, “I absolutely love working in the dynamic conditions, and delight in capturing the exquisite color and light options that can change moment to moment.”