African American artists collaborate for one-day show

"Joy" —Michael Hunter

Five local African American artists have joined forces to host a one-day art show at the PA Club on Thursday, August 18. All five have shown their work at galleries around the Island and elsewhere, but this is the first time that they will exhibit together.

The artists who make up the African American Vineyard Artists (AAVA) group are Bettie Eubanks (painting), Harry Seymour (scratchboard art), JoAnn Bates (collage), Michael Johnson (photography), and Myrna Morris (painting).

“Our whole idea was to come together and do something that is really unique on the Island,” Mr. Seymour said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a group of African American Island artists who have shown together collectively.”

Mr. Seymour explained what makes the show unique: “We don’t all do ‘black’ art, but while we differ in our style and our content, we share a common experience which is rooted culturally and historically. That commonality, we think, is reflected in how we express our art. It gives a kind of uniqueness to it that we hope will be of interest to the community at large.”

The work in the show ranges from figurative to landscape to semi-abstract.

Mr. Seymour uses a scratchboard technique to create scenes from life. He draws inspiration from the Island’s beauty as well as from its rich multicultural community. His work often combines scratchboard with egg tempera or pastels, for a style that is uniquely his own. He has shown at galleries throughout the Island and is currently represented by the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs.

Bettie Eubanks, who organized the AAVA group along with Mr. Seymour, finds inspiration in nature. She creates seascapes, landscapes, and garden images in vibrant colors. With the upcoming show, she has focused on water.

“On the Island we are surrounded by water … beautiful, glistening water,” Ms. Eubanks wrote in her artist’s statement. “My paintings bring that water inside with texture and depth provided by my seven-layer process, so that the viewer cannot only enjoy the peace and calm and beauty of the ocean, but they can touch the layers of the waves in my paintings. My hope is that wherever my work is placed, it will light up the space with the shimmer and light that only views of the water can create.”

Michael Johnson is well-known on the Island for his black and white photography. He has a gallery off Main Street in Vineyard Haven, where he has developed quite a following. His iconic photo “Joy” features a group of women in the water at Inkwell Beach with arms raised to the early morning sky. Mr. Johnson is also known for experimenting with various formats like panoramic photography.

Myrna Morris’s work encompasses joy in her own way. She focuses on the human figure and movement, particularly dancers. Exhibitions of her work have been held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Bergen Museum of Art and Science, Harvard University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Wheaton College. On the Island, she is represented by Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs.

JoAnn Bates creates colorful, evocative images using a variety of media. Her work incorporates collaged text and shredded paper and painting. She has shown her work for a number of years at several galleries on Martha’s Vineyard, including the Featherstone Center for the Arts, Carol Craven Gallery, and A Gallery.

Ms. Eubanks sees the show as an intersection of art audiences. “Each of us has a following,” Ms. Eubanks said. “They [the artists’ fans] don’t necessarily know each other. How lovely to share.

“We’re bringing five artists together who love the Island and who have been here collectively for over 100 years, sharing it with our children and our grandchildren. We realized that coming together is a beautiful thing,” she said. “That’s what the Vineyard is about.”