From industrial design to landscape: The art of Linda Thompson

"Vineyard Summer" — Courtesy of Linda Thompson

For years, Linda Thompson worked as an industrial designer whose projects included a chain of stores, restaurants in the World Trade Center, and kitchens for high-profile clients. After retiring from a very successful career and moving to the Vineyard in 2002, Ms. Thompson is now focusing on creating artwork, painting what she knows best: up-Island scenes near her Chilmark home.

“I had always painted and drawn,” said Ms. Thompson, a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City who also studied art at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and at McGill University in Montreal. “In design work, you’re drafting, you’re drawing, you’re doing renderings. It’s just more fun to move with paint instead of just pencils.”

A series of Ms. Thompson’s oil landscapes will be featured in a solo show at the Art Space at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse this month. The show is titled “Inspirations: Where the Water Meets the Land.” The selection includes paintings of four up-Island landscapes: Lucy Vincent Beach, Menemsha, Allen Farm, and Spring Point on the North Shore.

“This show is about inspiration,” Ms. Thompson said. “I find that I paint the same places over and over again.” Her chosen scenes are those she has become most familiar with after spending time on the Vineyard with her family for decades.

Ms. Thompson has two distinct styles. Some of her work is executed with a painterly approach, with lots of texture and visible brushstrokes. Timeless images of windswept dunes and the gentle curves of the landscape have an impressionistic look. In her closer-up images of specific rock formations, the artist zooms in on detail in a stylistic manner that highlights shape and variations of color.

With both styles, Ms. Thompson captures scenes that anyone familiar with the unique local seascape will quickly recognize as the Vineyard. A favorite viewpoint of the artist is a long, skinny panoramic snapshot, conveying the desolation and tranquility of the Island’s landscape in the off-season. Two notable examples of these elongated images include “Chilmark Flats,” featuring vivid sunrise colors in sky and reflections on marshy pools, and “Lucy’s Waterspout,” which dramatically captures a wave crashing into offshore rocks.

“I love the light,” Ms. Thompson said. “Especially in the winter, the sunsets are sharp and very, very colorful. The colors are special. Before the book came out, I used to say that the Vineyard has 50 shades of gray. I love all those subtle colors. Up-Island reminds me a lot of Scotland, which was one of my favorite places. Instead of heather we have bracken.”

Through a friend, Ms. Thompson has off-season access to Spring Point, a very isolated part of the Vineyard. “We lived there for the first three years of the Island shuffle,” she says. “There’s a huge stretch of private beach. It’s a terminal moraine. There are lots of boulders, and five or ten miles of hiking trails throughout.”

The Vineyard provides a new perspective for the artist, who was previously accustomed to cityscapes. “I’ve lived in downtown cities since I was 17. I lived in Brooklyn and downtown Montreal. This is a very different lifestyle, to come here and have such quiet. It’s just so wonderful walking on the beach and watching the light change.”

The series of paintings included in the Playhouse exhibit were inspired in part by writing by Francis Duggan, which will be displayed at the show. The last section reads, “Some people love to live near mountains and others love to live in places even more remote. Scenic beauty inspires the landscape artist and magnifies the imagination of the poet. And others are coastal people by nature and one day their bones will rest in the cemetery that overlooks the timeless ocean in a place near where the land meets the sea.”

Ms. Thompson first discovered the Island while searching for a seaside getaway from her home in Montreal. Her family checked out various places. For one year, she had a weaving shop in Kennebunkport, Maine. The artist, who’s a certified scuba diver, eventually chose the Vineyard after doing methodical research. “I got out geographical ocean maps,” Ms. Thompson said. “I saw that Martha’s Vineyard was sitting in the middle of the Gulf Stream.”

When Ms. Thompson’s husband was offered a job with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the couple moved to the Vineyard full-time. Since then, the artist has discovered that the Island’s beauty is not the only draw. “We are so blessed to have this level of intellectual stimulation at our fingertips,” she said.

The artist has previously shown her work at the Gay Head Gallery, the former Dragonfly and PikNik galleries, the annual Family Planning Art Show, the Santander Bank Gallery, the Chilmark library, and the West Tisbury library.

Artist’s reception: Linda Thompson, “Inspirations: Where the Water Meets the Land,” Sunday, March 6, from 4 to 6 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. The show will hang March 4 through March 31.