Bi-lingual and bi-visual: Brazilian art at Featherstone

0
Painting by Leni Gonçalves.

You enter to behold a large canvas and a tree massed with red, blue, and yellow macaws. Something tells you you’re not in Kansas anymore, not even Oak Bluffs, where the Featherstone art gallery sits amid its sprawling fields and woods. This oil painting is by Brazilian-born Leni Gonçalves. She contributed other works, including an orange-and-blue canvas of mountains and river from her home country, Minas Gerais, but this young woman whose day job is that of a house painter is so insanely artistic, she also carved a melon for the hospitality table as a fanciful head of Carmen Miranda. In front of the melon, much discussion took place over what varnish could be deployed to save it for posterity.

We caught up with 18-year-old Vineyard native Abraham Nunes, and made sure we snapped a picture of him between two of his acrylic birds, one an eagle to represent his American sensibility, the other a bold toucan for his Brazilian side. I and my colleague, photographer Ana Petrakova, were all over him. “Are your eyes a pale green?!” asked Ana, and he removed his glasses and smiled shyly. For my part, I grilled him about his art, to which he replied, “I’m an abstract painter who loves birds and fishes.” He pointed to a huge canvas on the far wall, a background of pale turquoise with orange and white artful metaphors of fish. “I love Japanese modern art,” he said, revealing that these particular figures were inspired by a tattoo glimpsed on a young man’s forearm.

Mr. Nunes’ intention is to spend his college years at the Montserrat College of Art outside Boston. He started painting in his freshman year of high school, and found himself overcome by a passion to paint more and more: “I taught myself, but now I’m ready for guidance.” And what do his parents think about their son becoming a painter? “They’re very supportive!” he said with a big grin. (As I spoke with this endearing and smart young man, I felt an abiding need to adopt him, except that he’s already devoted to his biological parents, as are they to him, clearly.)

We had to inveigle the shy artist Lucas Barros to pose before his wall of rural settings

from his home region of Mantenópolis in Espírito Santos. “Why wouldn’t you want to pose?” said Ana, and I followed up with, “Your paintings are beautiful, and you’re handsome!”

Jhonny Florencio, who presented tropical landscapes in oil and finely etched facial drawings in pen and ink, was born in São Paulo, began painting at the age of 9, and never stopped.

Vallery Peters, from Edgartown provided three unusual portraits in oil pastel. Mr. Nunes happened to be standing nearby, and I asked him to explain what made these paintings so riveting. He said, “There is no focus point. All of the faces and objects are of equal interest. This captures the viewer’s attention for the simple reason that there is no focus.” He agreed that Ms. Peters’ style was distinctive. “It’s loose and youthful,” he added.

One additional painting was brought into the mix by Featherstone director Ann Smith; it was by Brazilian artist Romilda Marçal Pinto, whose work has graced the gallery many times before. The single painting submitted is of multicolored circles in a bold, modern, pointillistic style. It’s called “Gratitude brings happiness.”

The exhibit of Brazilian artists, which opened last Sunday afternoon, was the brainstorm of Juliana Germani, high school Portuguese teacher, journalist, columnist on the goings-on in the Brazilian community for this paper, and local liaison for Brazilian Vineyard activities, joys, and concerns. Ms. Germani said, “People in our Island community tend to think of Brazilians as gardeners, house cleaners and handymen, which is fine, but there are also much richness in our community. We have talented painters, musicians, teachers, you name it.”

And speaking of musicians, outdoors and under the ever-useful Featherstone tent, a

group of three musicians and one singer — Helloizio Gomes, Oziel Santos, Leonardo Alves, and Valquiria Velmer — entertained music lovers with their own brand of Brazilian jazz, on trumpets, drums, and keyboard.

One final project added luster to the event: First, everyone who’s lived on the Island for untold years is aware that the name Lynn Ditchfield always signals adventure and creative output in some form. When she taught Spanish to my son back in the early 2000s, the class filmed scenes from Lorca’s “Bodas de Sangre” in their families’ homes. She also organized a cohort of Argentinian teens to visit the Island, followed by a voyage of their Vineyard buddies to Buenos Aires. Our kids learned how to tango, eat dinner at 11 pm, club until 3 am — on the weekend, to be sure — before attending class with them, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, on Monday morning.

In the recent past, Ms. Ditchfield and Charter School Spanish teacher Victoria Dreyfoos assembled Michael Ditchfield, Barbara Murphy (retired Spanish teacher from MVRHS), Chris Murphy, and Shari Geistfeld (speaker of Portuguese from years spent in Brazil) for a 12-day, three-cabin boat trip down the Amazon. The film footage they shot — now edited with full subtitles to connect English-speaking viewers to native speakers of Portuguese — is on hand to enjoy in the sunroom of the main Featherstone gallery. The Ditchfield/Dreyfoos team felt inspired to help the schools they visited along the river. They organized gofundme.com/amazoneducation to send subsidies to the schools and teachers they’ve taken under their wing.

The five Brazilian artists represented at Featherstone are all young, shy (with the exception of the personable Mr. Nunes), and hugely talented, and permit me to make a prediction that they’ll all go far with their art. The show will run through Oct. 5. Ms. Germani expressly wished to mount the exhibit in September, when Islanders have a respite from summer madness to come and partake of paintings by their friends and neighbors.